Ballistic missile

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Diagram of V-2, the first ballistic missile.

A ballistic missile is a missile that follows a sub-orbital, ballistic flightpath with the objective of delivering a warhead to a predetermined target. The missile is only guided during the relatively brief initial powered phase of flight and its course is subsequently governed by the laws of orbital mechanics and ballistics. To date, ballistic missiles have been propelled during powered flight by chemical rocket engines of various types.

A missile may be largely ballistic but be capable of some evasive maneuvering, as has been claimed for the Bulava under development. In that case the term "quasi-ballistic" is sometimes used.

The first ballistic missile was the A-4, commonly known as the V-2 rocket, developed by Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s under direction of Walter Dornberger. The first successful launch of a V-2 was on October 3, 1942 and began operation on September 6, 1944 against Paris, followed by an attack on London two days later. By the end of World War II May 1945 over 3,000 V-2s had been launched.

A ballistic missile trajectory consists of three parts: The powered flight portion, the free-flight portion which constitutes most of the flight time, and the re-entry phase where the missile re-enters the Earth's atmosphere.

Ballistic missiles can be launched from fixed sites or mobile launchers, including vehicles (Transporter Erector Launchers, TELs), aircraft, ships and submarines. The powered flight portion can last from a few tens of seconds to several minutes and can consist of multiple rocket stages.

When in space and no more thrust is provided, the missile enters free-flight. In order to cover large distances, ballistic missiles are usually launched into a high sub-orbital spaceflight; for intercontinental missiles the highest altitude (apogee) reached during free-flight is about 1200 km.

The re-entry stage begins at an altitude where atmospheric drag plays a significant part in missile trajectory, and lasts until missile impact.

Missile types

Submarine launched Trident II ballistic missile being fired.

Ballistic missiles can vary widely in range and use, and are often divided into categories based on range. Various schemes are used by different countries to categorize the ranges of ballistic missiles.

Medium to short range missiles are often called theatre or tactical ballistic missiles (TBM). Long and medium range ballistic missiles are generally designed to deliver nuclear warheads because their payload is too limited for conventional explosives to be efficient (though the US may be evaluating the idea of a conventionally-armed ICBM for near-instant global air strike capability despite the high costs[1]).

The flight phases are like those for ICBMs, except that for a range less than ca. 350 km there is no exoatmospheric phase.

Specific missiles

India's Agni-II missile (Photo: Antônio Milena/ABr)

Specific types of ballistic missiles include:

Ballistic missile submarines

An artistic image of the Ohio class submarine firing the Trident ballistic missile.

Specific types of ballistic missile submarines include:

See also


  1. ^ Hebert, Adam J. (2003). "The Future Missile Force". 86 (10). Retrieved 2006-05-26. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help); Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

Bate, Mueller, White (1971). Fundamentals of Astrodynamics. Dover Publications, New York. ISBN 0-486-60061-0

Cirincione, Joeseph & Andrew Wade (2007). "Get Smart on Ballistic Missiles" The Center for American Progress

External links