Missiles, Military

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MISSILES, MILITARY, include the spectrum of rockets and jet vehicles, ballistic or winged in flight, capable of carrying destructive payloads ranging from tactical weapons to "nation buster" thermonuclear warheads at intercontinental ranges (intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs). World War II saw the development of missilery by the major participants: the U.S. hand-held bazooka antitank weapon; the artillery-like Soviet Katyusha and U.S. naval barrage rocket; a variety of antiaircraft missiles for air and ground forces; the innovative German V-1 pulse-jet buzz bomb; and the German supersonic, liquid-fuel V-2 ballistic missile with a range of 200 miles, launched by the hundreds against London and Antwerp. Military missilery after 1945, its evolution, and its influence on American security policies and international crises—for example, the Cuban missile crisis in 1962—were compounded by dynamic technological advances and interactions of the Cold War.

American military needs for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Korean War in the 1950s, and for the Vietnam War in the 1960s, forced accelerated development of improved tactical rockets. Missiles designed to destroy aircraft included the Falcon (radarguided), the Sidewinder (heat-seeker homing, effective against jet aircraft), and the Genie (nuclear warhead). Missiles fired from aircraft to attack surface targets included the Bullpup, Hound Dog, Maverick, Walleye (television-guided glide bomb), and later the "smart bomb" (laser-guided). Operational decoys, such as the Quail subsonic missile, were also developed. Antiaircraft and antimissile missiles included the U.S. Army Nike-Hercules and the U.S. Air Force Bomarc, as well as the shorter-range Redeye, Sea Sparrow, Hawk, and Terrier. Missiles for continental defense against ICBMs were under development in the early 1970s; one such missile was the Safeguard. An antisubmarine missile, the Asroc, and the Subroc, a missile to be fired from submarines, were also developed. Missiles developed for battlefield support of ground forces included the Lance, Dragon, Honest John, Sergeant, SS-11B1, and TOW (antitank or antihelicopter). Missiles saw service during the Vietnam War when applicable; prominent among them were the Soviet SAM antiaircraft missiles massively deployed in North Vietnam and the numerous small rockets of guerrilla forces fired into South Vietnamese cities.

The German V-2 and the American atomic bomb proved the major innovations of World War II, leading directly to the development of strategic missile weapons systems by the 1960s. Lacking a long-range bomber and the atomic bomb in 1947, the Soviet Union immediately gave highest priority to the development of an intercontinental-range missile, nuclear weapons, and long-range jet aircraft. Premier Josef Stalin is reported to have said that such a policy "could be an effective strait jacket for that noisy shopkeeper, Harry Truman." By 1954, the United States was faced with a much altered situation, both because of Soviet missile progress and because of the invention of the thermonuclear warheads, far more powerful although of reduced size. Thereupon President Dwight D. Eisenhower initiated priority development of 5,000-mile ICBMs and 1,500-mile intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs). When the USSR launched Sputnik 1 on 4 October 1957, it was clear that it had already developed an ICBM rocket as announced in August, quite apart from launching the first man-made space satellite to orbit the earth. Thus, the first generation of ICBMs (Atlas and Titan 1) and IRBMs (Jupiter, Thor, and nuclear-powered submarine-carried Polaris A1) were quickly followed by subsequent generations. In 1959 Thors were deployed to England and Jupiters to Turkey for NATO. Second-generation ICBMs by the mid-1960s included a solid-propellant and silo-sited Minuteman 1 and 2. In the third generation, the Minuteman 3, with MIRV (multiple, independently targeted reentry vehicle) warheads and the submarine-based Polaris A3 (2,500- mile range) were developed. They were to be followed by the Poseidon (2,500-mile-range MIRV warhead, for an advanced Trident submarine) in the late 1970s.

Strategic missile weapons systems—deployed in hardened sites or on ocean-legged nuclear-powered submarines, each carrying sixteen missiles and held in readiness to retaliate instantly against nuclear attack—came to serve during the 1960s as the fulcrum of the strategic balance of military power between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the 1970s lateral negotiations between Washington and Moscow were undertaken to consider the control and limit the development and deployment of strategic weapons. These were known as the SALT (Strategic

Arms Limitation Treaty) talks. A limited agreement on "basic principles" was reached in May 1972 between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The United States had installed MIRVs in most of its then-current sixteen missiles on each of forty-one Polaris submarines and 550 of its 1,000 Minuteman land-based ICBMs, while the Soviet Union was constructing additional missile-firing submarines. In June 1975, the Soviets demonstrated new large strategic missiles, each with five or six MIRV accurate warheads, according to the U.S. secretary of defense. The Space Treaty of 1968 had previously outlawed nuclear weapons in space. SALT talks continued after 1972, while the Soviet Union greatly increased, as expected, the number of its warheads.

The development of nuclear warhead missiles by the People's Republic of China increasingly erected a tripolar strategic world for the 1970s, but the existence of nuclear weapons continued to enforce an uneasy peace among the major nations. The United States endeavored to avoid possible strategic surprise, partly by means of passive military satellites and by the establishment of direct communications ("hot lines") with Moscow and Peking. Since 1945, no nuclear weapons involving missile technology have been exploded in anger.

In the 1980s and 1990s nuclear proliferation emerged as a major threat to global security. South Asia, in particular, became a site of international concern as both India and Pakistan developed nuclear missile technology. Even more troubling, international renegade states such as North Korea, Iraq, and Iran began ballistic missile programs of their own. In the early 1980s the Reagan administration proposed a strategic defense system to defend the United States from a ballistic missile attack, but exorbitant costs and technological obstacles have thus far prevented such a system from being implemented.


Fitzgerald, Frances. Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of the Cold War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.

Hughes, Robert C. SDI: A View from Europe. Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1990.

Parson, Nels A. Missiles and the Revolution in Warfare. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962.

Worden, Simon. SDI and the Alternatives. Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1991.

Eugene M.Emme/a. g.

See alsoAir Force, United States ; Air Power, Strategic ; Bombing ; Chemical and Biological Warfare ; Munitions ; Ordnance ; Russia, Relations with ; Strategic Arms Limitation Talks .

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