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Looking Under the Hood: How ICBMs Work

Written by on Monday, September 24th, 2012

Missiles have been kind of a hot topic lately, what with China making the world nervous with how it handles its nukes and the recent missile attacks in Israel. Coincidentally, we took a look at America’s defense system against nuclear missiles last week. It was uplifting to know that the US Air Force is strong enough to handle a missile threat from Iran, but at the same time it was disheartening to learn that the US boost phase missile defense strategy might be a wash.

So, if other countries are going to continue to mishandle missile technology (and this week has certainly proven that they will) then the US needs to examine other missile defense systems. But before we get into that, first we need to have a solid idea of just how ICBMs work. Luckily, the experts at Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. can fill you in on the intricacies of modern combat.

The best way to approach ICBMs is to think of them less like the type of missiles that get fired from a fighter jet and more like a spaceship. They don’t cruise through the atmosphere the same way a plane would – they literally leave Earth, orbit the planet until they approach the desired target, and then reenter the atmosphere.

The first phase of launch, or the boost phase, is similar to any of the liftoffs that you’ve seen NASA perform over the years. The missile fires a booster and continues to burn until it run out of fuel, then the tail-most section breaks off so that another booster can fire.

The second buy antibiotics online europe phase is the ballistic phase, which also happens to be the simplest. At this point, the missile is already hurtling through space at speeds greater than Mach 23, or about 15,000 mph. Now all the missile needs to do is coast and wait until it gets closer to its target.

Eventually, the orbiting missile reignites its boosters to push the ICBM back towards Earth. From here, a lot of what happens depends on the individual model, because you can theoretically fill a missile’s warhead with just about anything you want. The LGM-30 Minuteman, for example, has decoy warheads that break off as the missile reenters the atmosphere in order to confuse enemy missile defense systems. Less advanced ICBMs might only have a single warhead and extremely destructive missiles could have several warheads that spread out, kind of like a shotgun blast, to pepper enemy terrain.

It’s easy to see why the US poured so much money into a boost phase defense system. Taking out a missile before it enters the atmosphere seems like the easiest option, but without enough warning or time to prepare taking down a boost phase missile could be impossible. Missiles in the ballistic phase could be even harder to take down – a projectile moving at 15,000 mph takes the concept of a moving target to a completely new level. And if you wait for the reentry phase, then you have to worry about decoys and multiple warheads spread out over a large area.

Suddenly, Reagan’s Star Wars missile defense system sounds a lot more tempting, doesn’t it?

If you want advice about the world of military aviation, there’s no better people to turn to than men and women who have sat in the cockpit and flown some of the world’s most advanced aircraft. With over 50 current and ex-warfighters on call, Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. can give you access to up-to-date, first-hand technical and tactical expertise.

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