Missile and Missile Defense System

Pawan Bhatnagar - Missile and Missile Defense System

Colonel Pawan Bhatnagar (Retd)

Missile and Missile Defense System

Head- Missile and Missile Defense


An Overview into Missile and Missile Defense System

In parallel to the development of offensive weapons, anti-weapons systems have emerged. In the past, ballistic missiles posed one of the most significant threats to states because of their remarkable ability to deliver one of the world’s most destructive weapons: nuclear warheads. Therefore, some states have invested heavily in the construction of missile defense systems. During the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union experimented with and deployed missile defenses for fear of an uncontrollable arms race.

As a result of these concerns, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972 restricted each side to 100 interceptors at one site. Furthermore, the agreement marked a turning point that led to subsequent agreements that limited strategic offensive forces. The Bush administration abrogated the ABM treaty in 2002, leading to cruise and hypersonic missiles gaining sophistication. There has been a corresponding increase in funding for attempts to defend against threats beyond ballistic missiles coming from everywhere.

Formerly, missile defense systems aimed to defend against ballistic missiles, but there is now a greater emphasis on protecting against other types of missiles.

The general classification of tactical guided missiles depends on the launch platform and target location. It can be either air-to-air, air-to-surface, surface-to-air, antiship, or anti-tank, or assault.

Typically, ballistic missiles fall into the following categories: Short-range (SRBMs), Medium-range (MRBMs), Intermediate-range (IRBMs), and Intercontinental-range (ICBMs). An SRBM can be effective up to 300 miles (480 km), an MRBM by up to 600 miles (965 km), an IRBM by up to 3,300 miles (5,310 km), and an ICBM can be effective up to 3,300 miles (5,310 km).

A silo is a reinforced canister buried in the ground for protection, from which ICBMs launch. Some shorter-range ballistic missiles and ICBMs launch from railroad cars or wheeled trailers that provide mobility protection. A “hot-launched” ballistic missile is fired directly from its canister, whereas a “cold-launched” missile ejects with compressed gas before the rocket engines fire. Tubes within the submerged vessel eject ballistic missiles (SLBMs) to the surface of the ocean. Initially propelled by rockets, ballistic missiles fall toward their targets in free fall and parabolic trajectories. An SRBM or MRBM refers to a “theatre” ballistic missile, while an ICBM or long-range missile is called a “strategic” ballistic missile.

There are two types of missile fuel: liquid or solid. It takes less time to prepare and maintain solid-fuel missiles since solid propellants combine fuel and oxidizer, while liquid propellants must separate these until right before deployment.

There are thirty-one countries that possess ballistic missiles. Currently, the nuclear arsenals are France, India, Israel, China, North Korea, Russia, Pakistan, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Furthermore, Iran is developing missiles with ranges over 1,000 kilometers. Russia and China are the only two nations capable of launching ballistic missiles from their territory that can strike anywhere in the continental United States.

In addition to ballistic missiles, there are cruise missiles and hypersonic missiles. As opposed to a ballistic missile, a cruise missile remains in the atmosphere throughout its flight. It is launched from shore, air, or land and propelled by jet engines. Despite being slower than ballistic missiles, they feature more maneuverability due to their constant propellant.

Soon, there will be two types of hypersonic missiles. In Hypersonic Boost-Glide (HGV), a rocket launches the vehicle into space, then flies along the upper atmosphere to its target. An ejection vehicle is much lower than a ballistic missile, and its target and trajectory can be changed repeatedly while in flight. Another type, hypersonic cruise missiles, are powered by high-speed rockets or jet engines. These cruise missiles are faster versions of existing ones.

Missile defense system

The main components of a missile defense system are Satellite Sensors and Ground- or Sea-based Radars, and interceptors. Together, satellites and radars can detect, discriminate, and track offensive missiles at a distance so that an interceptor can locate them and eliminate the threat.

A missile interceptor fires when it detects a threat. It carries “kill vehicles,” which separate from the missile to take out the threat. Currently, most kill vehicles aim to eliminate the target by running into it. The Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) interceptor, for example, is a single-piece interceptor (does not separate from its kill vehicles).

There is also a need for interceptor launchers. It is possible to launch interceptors from trucks, ships, or underground silos in some cases. While space interceptors are in the works, they are not currently in use. It is possible to carry launchers and interceptors together in a “battery,” which can be interceptors with kill vehicles, radars, and fire control. The second network of command and control centers links all the data processed by sensors and radars to interceptors and exterminates attacks. In these centers, several branches and commands of the military work together. The command and control centers often function for fire control.

The Rafael Advanced Defense Systems developed the effective, truck-towed Iron Dome program. The system can counter very short-range rockets and 155mm artillery shells with a range of 70 kilometers. The system can operate in all weather conditions, including fog, dust storms, low clouds, and rain. It protects the population, critical assets and responds strategically to limit collateral damage. 

The system detects, analyzes, and intercepts incoming threats from guided missiles, UAVs, cruise missiles, and air-breathing threats. Currently, the system has blocked more than 2,500 incoming targets with a success rate of over 90%. The Defense Ministry of Israel selected Iron Dome to protect the civilian population along Israel’s northern and southern borders from short-range missiles and rockets.

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) deployed the system in March 2011. In response to the rocket attacks on Tel Aviv, Israel installed the fifth Iron Dome battery at Gush Dan in November 2012. As the latest round of escalation between Israel and Palestine in May 2021 engulfed the region, Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system intercepted and downed hundreds of rockets from Gaza. In terms of deployment, I-DOME is a mobile system that operates on a single truck, while C-DOME is the naval version.