SPECIAL REPORT                                                                                                                                           FROM THE INTERNET

Guided Missiles

From the Internet DJ takes out a special report on guided missiles

Guided Missiles, self-propelled aerial projectiles, guided in flight toward a target either by remote control or by internal mechanisms. Guided missiles vary widely in size and type, ranging from large strategic ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads to small, portable rockets carried by foot soldiers. Although most are military weapons with explosive warheads, others may carry scientific instruments for gathering information within or above the earth's atmosphere.

Guided missiles consist of three separate systems: power source, guidance and control mechanism, and warhead or payload. Power sources normally are either self-contained rocket motors or air-breathing jet engines, but may also be airfoils or outside booster charges from ramp or tube launchers. The type of guidance and control system employed depends on the type of missile and the nature of the target. Inertial guidance systems sense the position of the flight path in relation to a fixed target; other guidance systems use a variety of more active sensors to help direct the missile toward a moving objective. Payloads are generally warheads designed for specific missions, from piercing armour plate to destroying entire urban areas.

Before World War II guided missiles were limited to experimental, pilotless aircraft controlled by radio. During the war, however, rapid technological advances in such fields as aerodynamics, electronics, jet and rocket propulsion, radar, servomechanisms, inertial guidance and control systems, and aircraft structures, coupled with the intensive search for better weapons, led to the construction, testing, and finally mass production of the modern guided missile.

Guided missiles today are grouped into four launch-to-target categories: surface-to-surface, surface-to-air, air-to-surface, and air-to-air. 'Surface' in each case signifies on as well as below the surface of the land or sea. Missiles may also be grouped by their area of operation: Tactical missiles are used by military forces in direct combat on and above the battlefield; support missiles are employed behind the main battle area; and strategic missiles are designed for intercontinental warfare. Missiles may also be separated by their flight characteristics. Aerodynamic missiles are supported in flight by air pressure around their wing and body surfaces similar to conventional piloted aircraft; ballistic missiles depend solely on their internal power source, usually a rocket engine, to remain airborne. Aerodynamic missiles normally travel on a straight-line or flat trajectory toward their target, and ballistic missiles are usually surface-to-surface weapons that follow curved or arched trajectories similar to that of an artillery projectile.

Surface-to-Surface Missiles

The first successful guided missiles were the German V-1 and V-2 Vengeance weapons launched against Antwerp and London during World War II. The V-1, or buzz bomb, was an aerodynamic missile powered by a pulse jet engine with a preset guidance system that could sense the correct deviations in altitude and direction. Its average range was about 240 km (about 150 mi), after which the missile automatically sent itself into a steep dive and detonated its 1-metric-ton high-explosive warhead upon impact. The V-2, on the other hand, was a true ballistic missile fuelled by a mixture of alcohol and liquid oxygen that produced a 25,000-kg (55,000-lb) thrust for about one minute after takeoff. With a maximum range of about 320 km (about 200 mi), the V-2 carried its 730-kg (1600-lb) warhead through an arching trajectory, reaching a maximum altitude of 95 to 110 km (about 60 to 70 mi) and a speed of more than 1.6 km (more than 1 mi) per second. Both missiles were relatively inaccurate and were used only against large cities. The V-1 could be destroyed easily in flight by conventional fighters, but no defence existed against the V-2. Allied attempts to destroy their mobile launching sites proved ineffective. Germany managed to launch about 4000 V-2s before the end of the war. Wire-guided anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles and air-to-air guided missiles were tested by German scientists but were never produced.

Appreciating the great potential of the German efforts in guided and ballistic missiles, Allied intelligence teams scoured Germany in 1945 for technical data, design drawings, and missiles, and they interrogated key German scientists and engineers. During the war the Allied powers had made little progress in these fields; they were quick, however, to integrate German research and technicians into their own development programmes, and most postwar research was based on the work done in wartime Germany. The German V-2, in fact, served as the prototype for all large space and missile rockets built in the United States and the Soviet Union.

Strategic Missiles

After World War II, the U.S. defensive policy of strategic deterrence depended on a large fleet of long-range bombers that could deliver accurate nuclear strategic attacks. Defence planners also experimented with air-breathing sub-sonic missiles similar to the V-1. Three developments in the mid-1950s, however, led to the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM): (1) development of the thermonuclear bomb with a much greater destructive power than the original atomic bomb; (2) the rapid refinement of inertial guidance systems for ballistic missiles; and (3) the development of powerful booster engines for multistage rockets, greatly increasing their size and range. As a result, ballistic missiles became sufficiently accurate and powerful to destroy targets 8000 km (5000 mi) away. At last, the U.S.'s first successful ICBM, was tested in 1959 and was followed one year later by the Titan. Both were multi-stage liquid-fuelled rockets using extremely low temperature propellants that had to be added just before launching. The U.S. Minuteman ICBM that went into service in 1961 used solid fuels stored within the missile, could be launched on short notice, and was sheltered in underground concrete silos. The U.S. Missile X, or MX, which was under consideration in the early 1980s, was designed to carry a larger warhead and to have a mobile launching site capability.

Strategic delivery systems went through the same evolution in the U.S. Navy, as slow air-breathing missiles, liquid-fuelled rockets, and carrier-based piloted bombers were abandoned for the two-stage, solid-propellant Polaris ICBM. Carried in two parallel rows of eight aboard large nuclear-powered submarines, these missiles are launched from underwater. The U.S. Navy is replacing Polaris with the longer range Poseidon ICBM and developing an entirely new ICBM compatible with the large Trident submarines under construction. The newer ICBMs of both the U.S. Air Force and Navy carry several nuclear warheads and have the capability to attack a series of different targets.

Recently the U.S. has also resurrected the air-breathing cruise missile for both strategic and tactical missions. The experimental Tomahawk and the Boeing AGM-86 can be launched from ground, ship, airplane, or submarine against short-range tactical targets such as ships, or against strategic targets several thousand kilometres away. The anti-ship version travels a few meters above sea level toward the general area of a target. It then climbs, locates the target through its own sensing devices, and dodges before making a final, high-speed diving attack. The land version of this missile also travels at a low altitude to avoid radar detection, guided by an internal terrain contour navigation system. Some strategists argue that the air-to-ground cruise missile would greatly increase the effectiveness of the U.S. strategic piloted bomber force.

Tactical Missiles

Tactical surface-to-surface guided missiles range from hand-portable anti-tank rockets to large ballistic missiles able to attack airfields, supply lines, and communications hundreds of kilometres behind the battlefield. Small missiles often employ line-of-sight guidance systems that relay corrections in the flight path of the missile by means of trailing wires or infrared signals. In newer types, like the U.S. Copperhead guided projectile, the target is marked by a laser beam on the battlefield. The missile is then launched several kilometres to the rear and searches for the marked target while in flight. On a larger scale are battlefield support missiles that vary between ballistic weapons such as the U.S. Pershing to tactical cruise missiles such as the U.S. Lance. All are mobile, carry nuclear or high-explosive warheads, and have a range of 160 to 640 km (about 100 to 400 mi). Since 1970 similar types of midrange cruise missiles such as the U.S. Harpoon have replaced artillery as the major armament aboard warships, although the continued development of rocket-assisted and guided projectiles may reverse this trend in the future.

Air-Launched Missiles

Air-to-air and air-to-surface guided missiles are generally short-range, light, rocket-powered projectiles with sophisticated internal guidance systems. Both types were tested in wartime Germany, and German radio-controlled glide bombs were responsible for sinking numerous Allied ships. Although these early missile weapons relied on optical tracking and control from parent aircraft, most current air-to-ground guided missiles depend on their own target-sensing mechanism once launched. The U.S. Walleye and Maverick use a miniature television homing system, the Shrike follows radar emissions from hostile positions, and others, such as the unpowered 'smart bombs' employed in Southeast Asia, use laser or infrared target designators to help guide the missile to its objective. The Soviet Union developed several versions of large, air-breathing missiles similar to U.S. cruise missiles, designed to be used against shipping or as a nuclear delivery system for strategic bombers.

Air-to-air guided missiles are used to destroy hostile aircraft and are generally smaller, lighter, and faster than air-to-ground projectiles. Most employ infrared or radar homing devices, and they have replaced automatic gunfire as the main armament of fighter aircraft. Like almost all tactical missiles, however, their success depends on the skill of the operator, in this case the aircraft pilot, to identify hostile targets visually or by radar and to manoeuvre the launching platform in order to place the missile in the vicinity of the moving target.

Surface-to-Air Missiles

This type of missile was developed to protect ground areas from hostile air attack, especially from high-altitude bombers flying above the range of conventional anti-aircraft artillery. During the 1950s and '60s batteries of Nike-Ajax and the improved Nike-Hercules provided strategic air defence for the U.S. against long-range Soviet bombers. Subsequently, with the replacement of piloted bombers by the ICBM as the Soviet Union's primary nuclear delivery system, and with the signing of an agreement between the U.S. and the USSR to limit the deployment of antiballistic missiles, most research and development went into shorter-range, tactical surface-to-air missiles to protect ground combat units and warships against low-flying aircraft and hostile missiles. Most air defence missiles employ separate radars to locate, track, and guide the missile toward hostile aircraft; final interception is accomplished by the internal guidance system of the missile itself. Some of these missiles are air-to-air weapons adapted for ground units; others, such as the U.S. Navy Standard, can also be used against ground targets. Since 1970 almost all the major industrial nations have developed many different types of these weapons to cover overlapping areas above the battlefield. A new addition has been the hand-portable anti-aircraft missile, sighted optically and using an internal infrared homing device. More important has been the development of integrated fire-control systems for ground units, enabling them to separate friendly from hostile aircraft and to engage them with the most appropriate air defence systems available.


Military guided missiles carry either high-explosive or nuclear warheads. Short-range tactical missiles employ high-explosive charges that produce damage through their force of impact and blast or through fragmentation. Anti-tank missiles, for example, normally depend on a concentrated blast effect to penetrate or splinter armour; warheads used against less protected targets such as aircraft rely more on fragmentation to produce the greatest damage. Nuclear warheads are weapons of mass destruction carried primarily by ICBMs. To enhance the effectiveness of these long-range delivery systems, several new types of warheads have been developed: The multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicle (MIRV) dispatches several nuclear warheads from a single missile while in flight; the U.S. experimental rocket-powered re-entry vehicle enables an individual warhead to change course as it falls. The Soviet-built fractional orbit bombardment system (FOBS) allows missiles or warheads to remain in earth orbit before beginning their descent. FOBS gave the USSR the ability to launch a mass attack against the United States from any direction rather than just depending on a ballistic pathway arching over the North Pole.

Nuclear warheads were also used in the now defunct U.S. anti-ballistic missile system and in several U.S. air defence missiles with the intention of breaking up mass bomber formations. Most large tactical missiles also carry nuclear warheads to destroy military concentrations on or behind the battlefield. In the 1980s, Soviet airborne or shipboard nuclear-tipped cruise missiles posed a threat to U.S. Navy carrier task forces.

Guidance and Control

Missiles are guided toward targets by remote control or by internal guidance mechanisms. Remote control missiles are linked to a human or mechanical target locator through trailing wires, wireless radio, or some other type of signal system; internal guidance mechanisms have optical, radar, infrared, or some other type of sensor that can detect heat, light, or electronic emissions from the target. Most missiles have some type of movable fins or airfoil that can be used to direct the course of the missile toward the target while in flight. The inertial guidance systems of ballistic missiles are more complex. Missile velocity, pitch, yaw, and roll are sensed by internal gyroscopes and accelerometers, and course corrections are made mechanically by slightly altering the thrust of the rocket exhaust by means of movable vanes or deflectors. In larger rockets, small external jets are also used to alter direction.