World War II
Primary views of an R-7 Semyorka
, the world's first ICBM and satellite launch vehicle
The development of the world's first practical design for an ICBM, A9/10, intended for use in bombing New York and other American cities, was undertaken in Nazi Germany by the team of Wernher von Braun under Projekt Amerika. The ICBM A9/A10 rocket initially was intended to be guided by radio, but was changed to be a piloted craft after the failure of Operation Elster. The second stage of the A9/A10 rocket was tested a few times in January and February 1945. The progenitor of the A9/A10 was the German V-2 rocket, also designed by von Braun and widely used at the end of World War II to bomb British and Belgian cities. All of these rockets used liquid propellants. Following the war, von Braun and other leading German scientists were relocated to the United States to work directly for the US Army through Operation Paperclip, developing the IRBMs, ICBMs, and launchers.
This technology was also predicted by US Army General Hap Arnold, who wrote in 1943:
Someday, not too distant, there can come streaking out of somewhere – we won't be able to hear it, it will come so fast – some kind of gadget with an explosive so powerful that one projectile will be able to wipe out completely this city of Washington.
In the immediate post-war era, the US and USSR both started rocket research programs based on the German wartime designs, especially the V-2. In the US, each branch of the military started its own programs, leading to considerable duplication of effort. In the USSR, rocket research was centrally organized, although several teams worked on different designs. Early designs from both countries were short-range missiles, like the V-2, but improvements quickly followed.
In the USSR, early development was focused on missiles able to attack European targets. This changed in 1953 when Sergei Korolyov was directed to start development of a true ICBM able to deliver newly developed hydrogen bombs. Given steady funding throughout, the R-7 developed with some speed. The first launch took place on 15 May 1957 and led to an unintended crash 400 km (250 mi) from the site. The first successful test followed on 21 August 1957; the R-7 flew over 6,000 km (3,700 mi) and became the world's first ICBM. The first strategic-missile unit became operational on 9 February 1959 at Plesetsk in north-west Russia.
It was the same R-7 launch vehicle that placed the first artificial satellite in space, Sputnik, on 4 October 1957. The first human spaceflight in history was accomplished on a derivative of R-7, Vostok, on 12 April 1961, by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. A heavily modernized version of the R-7 is still used as the launch vehicle for the Soviet/Russian Soyuz spacecraft, marking more than 60 years of operational history of Sergei Korolyov's original rocket design.
An SM-65 Atlas
, the first US ICBM, first launched in 1957
The U.S. initiated ICBM research in 1946 with the RTV-A-2 Hiroc project. This was a three-stage effort with the ICBM development not starting until the third stage. However, funding was cut after only three partially successful launches in 1948 of the second stage design, used to test variations on the V-2 design. With overwhelming air superiority and truly intercontinental bombers, the newly forming US Air Force did not take the problem of ICBM development seriously. Things changed in 1953 with the Soviet testing of their first thermonuclear weapon, but it was not until 1954 that the Atlas missile program was given the highest national priority. The Atlas A first flew on 11 June 1957; the flight lasted only about 24 seconds before the rocket blew up. The first successful flight of an Atlas missile to full range occurred 28 November 1958. The first armed version of the Atlas, the Atlas D, was declared operational in January 1959 at Vandenberg, although it had not yet flown. The first test flight was carried out on 9 July 1959, and the missile was accepted for service on 1 September.
The R-7 and Atlas each required a large launch facility, making them vulnerable to attack, and could not be kept in a ready state. Failure rates were very high throughout the early years of ICBM technology. Human spaceflight programs (Vostok, Mercury, Voskhod, Gemini, etc.) served as a highly visible means of demonstrating confidence in reliability, with successes translating directly to national defense implications. The US was well behind the Soviet Union in the Space Race, so U.S. President John F. Kennedy increased the stakes with the Apollo program, which used Saturn rocket technology that had been funded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
1965 graph of USAF Atlas
and Titan ICBM launches, cumulative by month with failures highlighted (pink), showing how NASA's use of ICBM boosters for Projects Mercury and Gemini (blue) served as a visible demonstration of reliability at a time when failure rates had been substantial.
These early ICBMs also formed the basis of many space launch systems. Examples include R-7, Atlas, Redstone, Titan, and Proton, which was derived from the earlier ICBMs but never deployed as an ICBM. The Eisenhower administration supported the development of solid-fueled missiles such as the LGM-30 Minuteman, Polaris and Skybolt. Modern ICBMs tend to be smaller than their ancestors, due to increased accuracy and smaller and lighter warheads, and use solid fuels, making them less useful as orbital launch vehicles.
The Western view of the deployment of these systems was governed by the strategic theory of Mutual Assured Destruction. In the 1950s and 1960s, development began on Anti-Ballistic Missile systems by both the U.S. and USSR; these systems were restricted by the 1972 ABM treaty. The first successful ABM test were conducted by the USSR in 1961, that later deployed a fully operating system defending Moscow in the 1970s (see Moscow ABM system).
The 1972 SALT treaty froze the number of ICBM launchers of both the U.S. and the USSR at existing levels, and allowed new submarine-based SLBM launchers only if an equal number of land-based ICBM launchers were dismantled. Subsequent talks, called SALT II, were held from 1972 to 1979 and actually reduced the number of nuclear warheads held by the U.S. and USSR. SALT II was never ratified by the United States Senate, but its terms were nevertheless honored by both sides until 1986, when the Reagan administration "withdrew" after accusing the USSR of violating the pact.
In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan launched the Strategic Defense Initiative as well as the MX and Midgetman ICBM programs.
China developed a minimal independent nuclear deterrent entering its own cold war after an ideological split with the Soviet Union beginning in the early 1960s. After first testing a domestic built nuclear weapon in 1964, it went on to develop various warheads and missiles. Beginning in the early 1970s, the liquid fuelled DF-5 ICBM was developed and used as a satellite launch vehicle in 1975. The DF-5, with range of 10,000 to 12,000 km (6,200 to 7,500 mi) long enough to strike the western US and the USSR, was silo deployed with the first pair in service by 1981 with possibly twenty missiles in service by the late 1990s. China also deployed the JL-1 Medium-range ballistic missile with a reach of 1,700 kilometres (1,100 mi) aboard the ultimately unsuccessful type 92 submarine.
Deployment history of land-based ICBM, 1959-2014
In 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed in the START I treaty to reduce their deployed ICBMs and attributed warheads.
As of 2016United Nations Security Council have operational long-range ballistic missile systems; Russia, the United States, and China also have land-based ICBMs (the US missiles are silo-based, while China and Russia have both silo and road-mobile (DF-31, RT-2PM2 Topol-M missiles).
, all five of the nations with permanent seats on the
Israel is believed to have deployed a road mobile nuclear ICBM, the Jericho III, which entered service in 2008; an upgraded version is in development.
India successfully test fired Agni V, with a strike range of more than 5,000 km (3,100 mi) on 19 April 2012, claiming entry into the ICBM club. The missile's actual range is speculated by foreign researchers to be up to 8,000 km (5,000 mi) with India having downplayed its capabilities to avoid causing concern to other countries.
By 2012 there was speculation by some intelligence agencies that North Korea is developing an ICBM. North Korea successfully put a satellite into space on 12 December 2012 using the 32-metre-tall (105 ft) Unha-3 rocket. The United States claimed that the launch was in fact a way to test an ICBM. (See Timeline of first orbital launches by country.) In early July 2017, North Korea claimed for the first time to have tested successfully an ICBM capable of carrying a large thermonuclear warhead.
In July 2014, China announced the development of its newest generation of ICBM, the Dongfeng-41 (DF-41), which has a range of 12,000 kilometres (7,500 miles), capable of reaching the United States, and which analysts believe is capable of being outfitted with MIRV technology.
Most countries in the early stages of developing ICBMs have used liquid propellants, with the known exceptions being the Indian Agni-V, the planned but cancelled South African RSA-4 ICBM, and the now in service Israeli Jericho III.
The RS-28 Sarmat (Russian: РС-28 Сармат; NATO reporting name: SATAN 2), is a Russian liquid-fueled, MIRV-equipped, super-heavy thermonuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile in development by the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau from 2009, intended to replace the previous R-36 missile. Its large payload would allow for up to 10 heavy warheads or 15 lighter ones or up to 24 hypersonic glide vehicles Yu-74, or a combination of warheads and massive amounts of countermeasures designed to defeat anti-missile systems; it was heralded by the Russian military as a response to the U.S. Prompt Global Strike.