Although the terms “rocket” and “missile” are sometimes used interchangeably, when speaking of weapons the term “rocket” generally refers either to the means of propulsion or to a relatively small rocket projectile, and the term “missile” usually refers to a more complex weapon.
Although the terms “rocket” and “missile” are sometimes used interchangeably, when speaking of weapons the term “rocket” generally refers either to the means of propulsion or to a relatively small rocket projectile, and the term “missile” usually refers to a more complex weapon. A ballistic
At its most basic, a rocket motor is simply a chamber with a nozzle at the rear. Fuel is burned in the chamber to produce hot, pressurized gases that then are exhausted through the nozzle. In accordance with Isaac Newton’s third law of motion, which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, the rocket is pushed forward by expelling these exhaust gases backward out of the nozzle. The rocket is not pushed forward by the exhaust gases pushing against the air behind the rocket, as is sometimes supposed. In fact, because a rocket carries its fuel along with an oxidizer to burn it, a rocket does not need air and can operate in the vacuum of space.
Although it is not known exactly when the first rocket was invented, its origins likely lie with the
Congreve considered rockets to be ideal weapons for ships, because there is no recoil, as there is with cannons. In 1806, during the Napoleonic
Rockets and missiles can be divided roughly into three groups, depending upon their ranges. Battlefield weapons are used in a local area, with the combatants often within sight of each other. Theater missiles have ranges of 160 to 3,200 kilometers, whereas intercontinental missiles have longer ranges. Both theater
A U.S. Air Force TM-76 B Mace tactical range ballistic missile in a 1961 test launch at Cape Canaveral.
After military interest in rocketry declined, progress depended upon the efforts of a few indefatigable individuals, such as American physics professor Robert H.
World War II battlefield rockets included barrage rockets, antitank rockets, and rockets fired from aircraft. Although barrage rockets were not extremely accurate, they could be fired by the hundreds to saturate an area. The German
U.S. troops took the Germans by surprise in North Africa with the introduction of the
Germany worked on several air-launched
The V-1’s motor was a surprisingly simple pulse jet: a long stovepipe with shutter strips across the air intake at the front end. Air mixed with fuel was exploded by a spark plug. The explosion closed the shutter strips, forcing the exhaust gases out the back end. Incoming air opened the strips, and the process repeated forty-two times a minute, making a characteristic low rumble or buzzing sound that inspired the name “buzz-bomb.” The motor only worked at high speeds, so the V-1 was flung into the air at 400 kilometers per hour (250 miles per hour) from a 48-meter-long ramp equipped with a steam catapult.
Beginning in June, 1944, more than 8,000 V-1’s were fired at London. Many failed, many were shot down, but about 2,400 arrived. When a timing mechanism indicated that the missile was over its target, the flight control surfaces put the missile into a dive that normally extinguished the engine. Londoners learned to dread hearing the buzzing stop. Over six thousand people were killed and another forty thousand were wounded by V-1’s. The bombs destroyed 130,000 British homes and damaged an additional 750,000. The Germans sent 9,000 V-1’s against various cities in Europe, including 5,000 against the Belgian port city, Antwerp.
More than 1,100 V-2’s fell in southern England beginning in September, 1944, killing about 2,700 people and injuring over twice that number. About half of these V-2’s hit London. Between December, 1944, and the end of March, 1945, when all V-2 operations ceased, about 2,100 V-2’s were fired at Antwerp. Seventeen percent of these exploded on the launch pad, 18 percent failed in the air, but 65 percent reached Antwerp, often striking within several hundred meters of their targets. A total of 7,000 people were killed by V-2’s. The V-1 killed about two people per launch, and the V-2 killed about five people per launch. Had either weapon been used in sufficient numbers two or three years earlier, the course of the war might have been different. Although neither weapon ultimately had much effect on the war, the development of the V-2 led directly to the missiles and spaceships that followed it.
Great improvements in missile accuracy required the development of better sensors and of sophisticated electronics based on integrated circuits. Integrated circuits became available in the early 1960’s and grew progressively more complex and more reliable.
After a TOW is launched, the gunner must keep the crosshairs of the launch tube sight centered on the target until the missile impacts. As the missile flies at half the speed of sound, a thin wire unreels behind it. A small beacon on the missile’s tail sends an infrared signal to a sensor on the launch tube, and a computer in the launch tube sends flight corrections back to the missile through the connecting wire and guides the missile to the target. The TOW can be fired from the ground using a tripod-mounted tube or from launchers mounted on vehicles, including the high-mobility multipurpose wheeled
Antitank missiles such as the TOW and the Sagger often use a shaped charge that explodes on impact and focuses the explosive energy into a small jet that can penetrate the tank armor. In defense, sandwich armor consisting of an outer steel plate and a thick inner steel plate was developed. Three types of sandwich material have been used: honeycomb ceramic that flows under impact and disrupts the projectile’s explosive jet; depleted uranium that retards the projectile’s momentum with its massive inertia; and a layer of explosive that detonates and pushes back against the impacting projectile. The latter is called Explosive Reactive
The nose of the TOW 2A has an extended probe and a small disrupter charge. The probe and the disrupter charge detonate the reactive armor, and after its protective effect is expended, the main shaped charge explodes and penetrates the main armor. The TOW 2A can penetrate any armor currently in use. The TOW 2B flies over the top of the targeted tank, which is less protected than the sides. When laser and magnetic sensors alert the missile that it is above the tank, two tantalum penetrator projectiles are explosively formed. One is fired directly downward, and the other is fired slightly off to the side to increase the hit probability. The projectile material is designed to start fires within the target. The TOW 2B is expected to be effective against any tank developed in the near future. The TOW FF, a wireless TOW fire-and-forget missile allowing gunners to dive for cover or engage other targets, is under development.
A Soviet surface-to-air missile being deployed in Egypt.
One of the most widely used systems, the FIM-92
The Tomahawk cruise
All versions of the Tomahawk use an inertial navigation
The Tomahawk BGM-109B is a ship-to-ship weapon with a range of 470 kilometers. When it reaches its target area, it circles until it locks onto the enemy ship’s radar or locates the ship with its own radar. It carries a 450-kilogram semi-armor-piercing warhead and can either strike the target broadside or pop up and dive down on the target. A ground-launched Tomahawk, the BGM-109A, was briefly deployed in Europe but was removed under a provision of the 1988 Intermediate-range and shorter-range Nuclear Forces (INF)
The Tomahawk BGM-109C and Tomahawk BGM-109D have ranges of 1,600 kilometers. Both weapons use, in addition to INS and TERCOM, the Global Positioning
The air-launched cruise
On January 17, 1991, at the start of the Gulf War, 297 Tomahawks were prepared to be launched from ships, but nine failed prelaunch tests. Of the 288 actual launches, 6 failed to cruise and 242 (81 percent of those launched) hit their targets. At about the same time, high-flying bombers launched thirty-five ALCMs at targets in Iraq. Televison reporters watched in amazement as missiles streaked past their hotel and made right turns into the next street on their way to their targets.
In January, 1993, forty-five Tomahawks were launched against Iraqi nuclear development facilities and similar targets. In September, 1995, thirteen Tomahawks hit surface-to-air missile sites in Bosnia. As a response to Iraqi harassment of Western aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone, 13 ALCMs were fired from B-52Hs and thirty-one Tomahawks were fired from ships in the Persian Gulf in September, 1996. In response to the terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, thirteen Tomahawks destroyed a suspected chemical weapons factory in the Sudan, and sixty-six Tomahawks hit guerrilla training camps in Afghanistan in August, 1998. Striking against weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi air-defense sites in December, 1998, the United States and Britain attacked about one hundred targets in central and southern Iraq. They used fighters, bombers, ninety ALCMs, and 330 Tomahawks. In March, 1999, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) forces struck targets in
Cruise missiles seem to have become the weapon of choice in many situations. Although laser-guided bombs can be up to ten times more accurate and are significantly less expensive to build, they put pilots at risk. Even though a few cruise missiles do go astray and cause unintended damage, they have proven accurate enough and reliable enough to be used against targets surrounded by civilians. Future upgrades will cut the production costs of cruise missiles in half by discontinuing the capability to launch them from torpedo tubes, including a small television camera for tracking the target, replacing mechanical gyroscopes with laser-ring gyroscopes, and giving them the ability to be redirected to new targets while in flight.
The Soviet SS-6 had a range of about 5,600 kilometers (3,500 miles) and had to be launched from northern latitudes in order to reach the United States, but the bitter northern cold often rendered the missile inoperable. Perhaps in response to the failure of the SS-6 and to the deployment of the Thor and Jupiter, the Soviet Union attempted to base SS-4 Sandal
Missiles deployed in the homeland are not subject to the consent of other nations. The
In the mid-1960’s, the Soviets, the British, and the United States equipped some of their missiles with multiple reentry
A Minuteman III missile being launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The United States feared that not enough Minuteman missiles in its silos would survive a Soviet preemptive strike and decided to build a mobile missile, the MX
The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II (START II, 1993-2000) required the United States to remove MIRV capability from its ICBMs. Although the treaty was never formally put into force, both the United States and Russia generally followed its provisions. MX missiles were retired and Minuteman III missiles were refitted with single 300-kiloton warheads. Their updated guidance systems have a CEP of 100 meters. Trident submarine missiles were allowed to continue to carry up to eight warheads. Russia was required to make corresponding reductions.
Nuclear explosive devices are difficult to make and involve two basic kinds of nuclear reactions:
For a nuclear explosion to occur, the chain reaction must be supercritical; that is, each fission must lead to more than one new fission. For example, suppose that each fission produced two neutrons and that each of these two neutrons produced two new fissions. If there were two fissions in the first generation, there would be four in the second, eight in the third and 2N in the Nth generation. At this rate, every nucleus in 17 kilograms of uranium could fission in fewer than 85 generations. This would take less than two-millionths of one second.
The minimum amount of uranium required to produce an explosion is called the critical
The bomb that was dropped on
For several years weapons scientists speculated about building “the super,” in which light elements would be fused into heavier elements and give off a great deal of energy in the process. After the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb in 1949, work on the hydrogen
Inside a 300-kiloton hydrogen warhead may be a uranium-238 cylinder about 1 meter long and 0.5 meter in diameter. Inside the cylinder at one end there is a small fission bomb about the size of a soccer ball that serves as a nuclear trigger. A fat rod of lithium deuteride (LD) lies along the cylinder’s axis with a slab of uranium 238 (the pusher) between it and the trigger. Deuterium is heavy hydrogen, and its nucleus is a proton-neutron pair. A thin plutonium rod (the spark plug) lies along the center of the LD rod, and the outside of the LD rod is covered with a uranium-238 tamper. The space around the rod is filled with plastic foam. The exploding trigger creates a pressure of 1 billion atmospheres and a temperature of 100 million Kelvins. X rays turn the foam into plasma while the outer uranium cylinder momentarily channels the energy and pressure onto the LD rod. As the rod and its plutonium core compress, neutrons cause the spark plug to fission, and then lithium fissions into tritium, a proton linked to two neutrons, and helium. Tritium and deuterium now fuse, releasing a tremendous amount of energy along with high-energy neutrons. These neutrons cause part of the outer uranium cylinder to undergo fission as it disintegrates. Hence this is a fission-fusion-fission weapon.
By 1964, the Soviet Union (1949), the United Kingdom (1952), France (1960), and China (1964) had all developed nuclear weapons. In an attempt to prevent further expansion, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was negotiated in 1968. Although it was generally effective in discouraging further development of nuclear weapons, India, Israel, and Pakistan failed to sign the treaty and later acquired nuclear capability. Iran, North Korea, and Syria are widely regarded as supporting programs that might lead to the development of nuclear weapons.
During the Cold
World War II military strategists used the Nagasaki bomb to show that the Hiroshima bomb had not been a fluke and that more such bombs would be used if necessary. This ploy was partially a bluff, given that the next bomb would not have been ready to deploy until the end of August, 1945. However, the Japanese initiated surrender negotiations the day after Nagasaki was destroyed. Most historians agree that the use of these nuclear weapons probably saved more lives than they took, because they ended the war quickly and without the necessity of invading the Japanese homeland. Even as World War II ended, the Cold War with the Soviet
Several years before the Western Allies believed it would happen, the Soviets exploded a plutonium
After the Soviets had developed a large number of nuclear weapons and its own intercontinental bomber force in 1955, the doctrine became “mutual assured
The nuclear stockpile of weapons in the United States peaked in 1966 at about 32,000, more than four times the number possessed by the Soviet Union. Soviet stockpiles peaked in 1986 at about 41,000. As a result of a series of agreements that began with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty I (1991), by 2009 those numbers had been reduced to about 10,000 in the United States (with 6,700 in reserve or waiting dismantlement) and 13,000 in Russia (with 8,100 in reserve or waiting dismantlement). These numbers tell only part of the story, however, as different types of nuclear weapons have varying yields of power.
With the election in the United States of President Barack Obama in 2008, new impetus was given to the reduction of nuclear arsenals. Speaking in Prague in April of 2009, Obama argued that the United States had “a moral responsibility to act” and committed America to “a world without nuclear weapons.” Among the steps he planned to pursue were negotiation of a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia, ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and a new treaty ending production of weapons grade nuclear materials. Although none of these had been achieved by the end of 2009, his efforts gained worldwide attention and widespread international support. In bestowing on Obama the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, the committee “attached special importance” to his “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”
The Phalanx system is deployed on nearly all U.S. Navy ships and in the navies of several allied nations. The Phalanx is a fast-reaction, rapid-fire 20-millimeter gun system. First deployed in 1978, current models fire 4,500 rounds per minute, although the magazine holds only 1,550 rounds. The rounds are hard and dense–they were originally made from depleted uranium but are now made of tungsten–and they fly at very high speeds. Their muzzle velocity is 1,113 meters per second, more than three times the speed of sound. The system uses radar and a forward-looking infrared (FLIR)
The Avenger Pedestal-Mounted Stinger
In March, 1983, U.S. president Ronald Reagan gave dramatic impetus to the development of missile defenses with announcement of his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), with the “ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles.” This spawned a series of expensive and technologically unproven initiatives, including the creation of laser defenses, that led critics to dub the program “Star Wars,” after the fantasy film series of the same name. By 1993, the program was renamed Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), and the emphasis had shifted from national to regional defense. Although a comprehensive global defense system was never developed, a number of the technologies emanating from the SDI were pursued and eventually deployed.
Testing of weapons using high-energy lasers has demonstrated the technology’s battlefield potential for combating missile attacks. Israel and the United States collaborated in developing a Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) system, which was expected to be useful against short-ranged (20-kilometer) Katyusha rockets frequently employed against Israel by Hizbullah units. The system’s weakness against medium- and long-range missiles led to interest in various mobile systems (MTHEL), including the creation of a prototype of airborne units, unveiled in 2006. With funding for the MTHEL discontinued by the United States in 2004, its deployment became unlikely in the short term. The first generation of lasers required chemical reactions to produce high amounts of energy in a short period of time, usually burning ethylene with nitrogen trifluoride before adding deuterium. Studies suggested that effective MTHEL systems would require electrically produced lasers, which likely could not be deployed until the 2010’s.
The Navy Area Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (TBMD) system was developed to protect U.S. and Allied forces and areas of vital national interest against theater ballistic missiles. The lower-tier defense uses Aegis cruisers and destroyers, which have phased-array radars and battle management computers that can simultaneously detect and track more than one hundred targets. Incoming enemy missiles are intercepted with the Standard Missile (SM)-2, which has a range of 185 kilometers. Missiles slipping through that defense are then engaged by the Phalanx system. As a result of massive cost overruns in perfecting radar and SM-2 Block IVA capabilities, the Department of Defense canceled the program in December, 2001, though upper-tier defense uses the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system’s long-range, hit-to-kill interceptor, which was first activated in 2008. Surviving enemy missiles aimed at ground targets are then engaged by the Patriot (PAC-3) system. Arrow-2 is a two-staged interceptor developed jointly by the United States and Israel. It uses a blast-fragmentation warhead to destroy enemy missiles and has a range between those of the Patriot and the THAAD interceptor. It could be employed by the United States if deemed necessary.
The lower tier of the theater missile defense systems seems to be well founded. The upper-tier THAAD interceptor is less well developed, and the National Missile Defense (NMD)
An ABM system can attack missiles as they rise through the atmosphere (boost phase) and are most vulnerable; as they coast through space (mid-course phase), when decoys are the most effective; or as they plunge back into the atmosphere over the target (terminal phase), when time is short. The boost phase lasts from three to five minutes; the mid-course phase, up to 20 minutes; and the terminal phase, about 1 minute. To maintain enough assets in orbit to destroy a massive attack during launch would be prohibitively expensive. In fact, since MIRVed warheads and decoys are cheaper than antiballistic missiles and their support system, it is cheaper to overcome an ABM system with a massive attack than it is to build an ABM system extensive enough to stop a massive attack.
However, it might be practical to stop a limited attack. Such an attack might be a missile, or a few missiles, launched by a renegade military commander or by a rogue
If built, the National Missile Defense system would have several elements. Large, phased-array surveillance radars would detect and track missiles aimed at the United States. X-band radar has a shorter wavelength than normal radar and can therefore see finer detail. Ground-based X-band radar would be used to track targets and discriminate against decoys. Infrared sensing
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Swords, Daggers, and Bayonets
Gunpowder and Explosives
Small Arms and Machine Guns
Tanks and Armored Vehicles
Aircraft, Bombs, and Guidance Systems
Chemical and Biological Weapons