The origins of the ICBM and modern-day cruise missiles lie in World War II.
On June 13, 1944, the residents of London were perplexed by a strange buzzing noise. When the looked up, they saw a small airplane traveling across the sky at high velocity. Suddenly, the plane’s engine stopped and it plummeted to the ground, causing a horrific explosion. There was no time to think about the first plane as one plane after another crashed into the city and exploded.
The V-1 attack had begun.
In the end, 25,000 houses were destroyed and 6,184 people had been killed. The V-1, however, had its shortcomines. It had to be launched by catapult in order for its pulse-jet engine to work. It cruised at 3000 ft, easily within range of antiaircraft guns as well as fighter planes. But for its time, it was extremely fast-559 mph, though fighter planes about 100 mph slower could still shoot it down. By August 1944, Allied fighters and antiaircraft guns were shooting down 80% of the V-1's.
For the first time, the technology existed to bombard a target from far away. The Germans were using unpiloted planes powered by pulse-jet engines. The Germans called the weapons Vergelstungwaffe eins. The British labeled them “buzz bombs.” Though the term would not come into use until decades later, it was the world’s first cruise missile.
The next month, the residents of London received yet another surprise, nastier than the first. The V-2’s arrived. Unlike the V-1’s no noise preluded their crash and there was nothing in the sky to see.
Technologically speaking, it was a great leap over the V1. The V-2 was a liquid-fueled rocket with a programmable guidance system. Years of research of space travel and weaponry went into its construction. The V-2 was launched straight up into outer space and it travelled in a high arc. Then, its rocket engine would stop and it would fall for its target, powered only by Earth's gravity, enough to give it more than supersonic speed. Because it arrived so fast it was practically invisible, there was no warning sound associated with its arrival.
Werner von Braun was the genius behind the V-2. As a teenager, he had been fascinated by the idea of space travel and built rockets in his free time. He was enthralled by rockets, it seemed, and he did not care what political use they were put towards.
Germany was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles to possess any heavy artillery, but the treaty said nothing about rockets. Thus, Germany had a profusion of traditional solid-fuel rockets. But von Braun was not interested in short-range solid-fuel rockets. He had been working on liquid-fuel rockets using an inflammable liquid combined with liquid oxygen--a method pioneered by American rocket scientist Robert Goddard.
Working with a politically motivated Walter Dornberger, the prototype V-2 was successfully test tired in October 1942. But soon the British spy programs learned of the V-2's existence and bombed the research site, Peenemunde, so heavily that it was not ready until 1944.
The V-2's continued to bombard London between September 8, 1944 and March 29, 1945, when Allied troops captured their base.
Even with the V-2 in use, von Braun and the Germans were working on new, deadlier weapons. Von Braun and Dornberger (see inset) had planned the A-10, a new missile that would have multiple stages much like the Apollo space rockets. The A-10 would have a range of 2800 miles, long enough to cross the Atlantic.
At the same time, German scientists were also working fervently on the deadliest weapon of all-a nuclear bomb.
Unfortunately for these scientists but fortunately for mankind, Germany was defeated before either project could be put into use.
Three months after Germany's May 7, 1945 surrender, the United States deployed the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. As soon as it could, the US and the Soviet Union brought Werner von Braun and his fellow German rocket scientsists to their own laboratories. Soon, the US and the Soviet Union were constructing super-long-range missiles and testing nuclear weapons. The super-rockets were labelled Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM's) because when their engines stopped, they were guided by nothing more than the laws of ballistics.
Similar to ICBMs are the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM's)
Missile guidance systems and other components of rockets have greatly improved since World War II. The lastest ICBM's have multiple warheads. The first of these multiple-warhead carrying missiles were the Multiple Reentry Vehicles (MRV's), which scatter warheads around a single large target to multiply the magnitude of destruction. Later, the Multiple Independently-Targeted Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs). As a MIRV descends to the Earth, warheads and decoy objects are ejected at varying points to hit a multitude of targets. The most advanced and horrific of these is the MARV system (Maneuverable Alternative-Target Reentry Vehicle). With MARV, each warhead has its own rocket, and the warheads can change course to a different target if anti-ballistic missile defenses appear.
Currently, all ICBMs are designed to carry nuclear warheads. They cost far too much to be used on mere conventional warheads. No ICBM has ever been deployed. All military engagements and foreign policy, however, are conducted with the potential use of nuclear ICBMs in mind.
The nations of the world currently utilize long-range missiles, a descendent of the old V-1. They are powered by jet engines and most reach a maximum speed of approximately 590 mph. They carry high-power conventional explosives and are much cheaper than ICBMs. The range and accurcacy has greatly improved, however.
Cruise missiles were a major US weapon both in the Gulf War of 1991 and the Iraq War of 2002. There are two types: the Tomahawk and the CALCM (Conventional Air-Launched Cruise Missile). In both wars, the Tomahawk missiles were launched from both surface ships and submarines. Some submarines can launch the missiles through the top of the deck, others shoot the missile out of the torpedo tubes, after which it rises to the surface and flies away. The CALCMs are launched from B-52 bombers. They have less range than Tomahawks, but their launching airplanes can get closer to most targets. They also carry a larger warhead.
Primary Function: Air-to-ground strategic cruise missile
Contractor: Boeing Defense and Space Group
Length: 20 ft, 9 inches (6.3 m)
Weight: 3150 lbs (1429 kg)
Wingspan: 12 ft
Unit Cost: AGM-86B - $1 million, AGM-86C - additional $160,000 conversion cost, AGM-86D - additional $896,000 (USD)
ALCM Cruise Missile, National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC, USA
The AGM-86B/C is a sub-sonic air-launched cruise missile employed by the United States Air Force. The missiles were developed to increase the effectiveness of Boeing B-52H bombers. Used together, they dilute an enemy's forces and create complications for the defense of enemy territory. The AGM-86B/C/D is powered by a turbofan jet engine and travels at sustained subsonic speeds. After launch, the missile's folded wings, tail surfaces, and engine inlet deploy.
The AGM-86B utilizes a terrain contour-matching guidance system. It is able to read surface features below and match them to topograph information stored in an onboard computer.
The AGM-86C/D employs an onboard Global Positioning System (GPS) along with its inertial navigation system to fly. The missile can guide itself to the target with great accuracy.
A single B-52H bomber can carry 12 of these missiles externally and 8 interally, giving it a total maximum capacity of 20 missiles per bomber.
The AGM-86C is the true CALCM and differs from the "B" model in that it carries a conventional explosives payload instead of a nuclear warhead.
The Tomahawk cruise missile can travel a distance of 1550 miles and can hit within meteres of its target even at maximum range. Tomahawk missiles in the Gulf War were guided by a radar system which took into account terrain features of the land it was flying over and compared it with an electronic topographic map. The radar system has been replaced by a Global Positioning System (GPS) that has been even more accurate.
Tactical Tomahawk Cruise Missile in a test flight over a Naval base in southern California, USA
Tomahawk missiles have been used during the administration of US President Bill Clitnon when they flattened a Sudanese chemical plant that was believed to be producing nerve gas for Al Qaeda. They have also been delpyed against several public buildings in Baghdad in the war in Iraq.