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Strategic missiles of the Cold War


By Sakhal

This history begins with the German missile A4, better known as V-2, which was widely used during the last months of the Second World War. Despite being a primitive design, it is not unworthy of the subsequent missiles. In spite of the perfection of its design, it is ironic that its effect in military history were not to win a war, but to allow the enemies of the country that designed it to build similar weapons after their victory in 1945. One of the first of these weapons of the postwar was the Redstone. Like the A4, it was a single-phase missile, with a fixed propulsion chamber and graphite control fins in the exhaust nozzle. It was not only larger than the primitive German model, but also had better prestations. Its designers were practically the same ones of the A4, led by Werner von Braun, whose work for the United States Army produced later a very significant model: the Jupiter, which not only was the first mid-range ballistic missile (with a range of almost 3000 kilometers), but also designed for its mobile deployment. After the Jupiter passed from the Army to the Air Force, these shown no interest for the former equipment of the Army and instead they developed their own intercontinental and mid-range ballistic missiles, to be installed in fixed emplacements.

Strategic missiles of the Cold War


Data: Warhead Weight (kilograms) :: Explosive Charge (megatons) :: Range (kilometers) :: Circular Error Probable (meters) :: Single-Shot Kill Probability (percentage) :: Production (number and dates)

Circular Error Probable refers to the radius of the circle in which falls, statistically, half of the missiles.

Single-Shot Kill Probability refers to the possibility of destroying with a single impact an armored target capable of withstanding an overpressure of 70 kilograms per square centimeter.

Provided data is only approximate.

A4: 975 kg :: 0,000001 mt :: 300 km :: 8000 m :: 0 % :: 6000, 1944-45

Redstone: 1500 kg :: 0,04 mt :: 400 km :: 1000 m :: 0 % :: 1000, 1958-63

SS-4: 1270 kg :: 1 mt :: 1800 km :: 1000 m :: 0 % :: 500, 1959

SS-5: 3000 kg :: 1 mt :: 3700 km :: 2000 m :: 0 % :: 100, 1962



While the Americans, between 1947 and 1954, ignored the ICBM (Inter Continental Ballistic Missile) to build instead winged missiles fitted with cruise engine, the Russians put themselves ahead. They tried to build an ICBM and found themselves capable of doing it. But despite the important help of a few Germans that had been working in the A4 and the experience acquired with the mid-range missiles SS-4 and SS-5, the result was a monstrosity that resulted much more useful as a space launcher than as a weapon. And in fact it was this missile - the SS-6 - which started the Space Age the 4th October 1957, when launching to the space the first artificial satellite, the Sputnik. It also contributed to reaffirm the Soviet belief about that a temporary military advantage is the merit of unlimited expenses. The SS-6 was propelled by 32 rocket engines, all of which were simultaneously ignited on the launching. All the models that will be further presented had only a few propelling rockets (known as boosters). The Thor, developed by aircraft manufacturer Douglas faster than any other weapons system, had only an engine and would have been an excellent system if it had not been tied to fixed land emplacements, which occupied many of the old airfields of the Royal Air Force where they were installed.

Strategic missiles of the Cold War


Data: Warhead Weight (kilograms) :: Explosive Charge (megatons) :: Range (kilometers) :: Circular Error Probable (meters) :: Single-Shot Kill Probability (percentage) :: Production (number and dates)

Circular Error Probable refers to the radius of the circle in which falls, statistically, half of the missiles.

Single-Shot Kill Probability refers to the possibility of destroying with a single impact an armored target capable of withstanding an overpressure of 70 kilograms per square centimeter.

Provided data is only approximate.

SS-6: 6800 kg :: 5 mt :: 8000 km :: 2000 m :: 8 % :: A few, 1957

Thor: 1800 kg :: 3 mt :: 3180 km :: 2000 m :: 4 % :: 60, 1959-65

Atlas D: 1800 kg :: 3 mt :: 10100 km :: 2000 m :: 4 % :: 30 D and 32 E, 1960-65

Atlas F: 1800 kg :: 4 mt :: 14500 km :: 2000 m :: 6 % :: 80, 1962-65



The Atlas, the first non-Russian ICBM, was built as a thin stainless steel globe, inflated by gas pressure and which was initially installed in surface facilities that were very vulnerable. Its warhead was a thermonuclear bomb of considerable size, protected in the top of the missile by a heavy copper cover with the shape of a Chinese hat. This missile operated during several years. The last Atlas were placed underground, at an immense cost, and they carried much more compact explosive charges inside a thin and sharp atmosphere-reentry vehicle, which increased their precision, payload, range and impact speed after their long travel. In this moment appeared the concept of "global dissuasion", the nuclear weapons that required only to press a button to unleash havoc in another continent. But in their deployment in fixed emplacements lied their strategic vulnerability. Not much was known about the facilities of the Soviet weapons contemporary of the Atlas, such as the SS-7, but their size was an unequivocal indication of the Russian phylosophy, which did not want to leave to the United States the exclusive of the strategic global dissuassion. Immediately later appeared the ballistic missiles launched from nuclear submarines, such as the Sark and the Polaris, a concept that matured fastly in both superpowers and which determined that even from the depths of the oceans the cities could be threatened. Contrarily as what many believed, these missiles were harder to destroy than the ICBM installed in terrestrial underground armored silos. United Kingdom successfully finished the development of the Blue Streak, but it was cancelled without entering full production. France, meanwhile, kept a modest family of mid-range ballistic missiles and ballistic missiles launched from nuclear submarines. Meanwhile, the scene continued dominated by the power of the Soviet Union, which did not stop building increasingly large, powerful and precise ICBMs.

Strategic missiles of the Cold War


Data: Warhead Weight (kilograms) :: Explosive Charge (megatons) :: Range (kilometers) :: Circular Error Probable (meters) :: Single-Shot Kill Probability (percentage) :: Production (number and dates)

Circular Error Probable refers to the radius of the circle in which falls, statistically, half of the missiles.

Single-Shot Kill Probability refers to the possibility of destroying with a single impact an armored target capable of withstanding an overpressure of 70 kilograms per square centimeter.

Provided data is only approximate.

SS-7: 3630 kg :: 8 mt :: 11000 km :: 2500 m :: 9 % :: A few, 1957

SS-N-4: 680 kg :: 1 mt :: 600 km :: 5000 m :: 0 % :: 114, 1959-69

SS-8: 1360 kg :: 5 mt :: 10000 km :: 2500 m :: 5 % :: A few, 1963

Polaris A-1: 635 kg :: 0.5 mt :: 2221 km :: 2000 m :: 0 % :: 80, 1960-62

Blue Streak: 1800 kg :: 2 mt :: 4635 km :: 2000 m :: 0.2 % :: Cancelled

SS-16: 900 kg :: 1 mt :: 9650 km :: 500 m :: 30 % :: Many, 1976-

SS-17, mod 1: 1000 kg :: 4 x 02 mt :: 10500 km :: 550 m :: 22 % :: Up to 70, 1975-



The Minuteman, only western missile - apart from 54 outdated Titan II - that could reach the Soviet Union from United States, could have been deployed in trains accross the country, but instead it was turned into the most immobile object on Earth, installed in silos increasingly vulnerable to the new generations of land-based Soviet missiles, specially the SS-18. This monstrous ICBM was not so dangerous because the power of its warhead were the strongest, but because it was a missile of extreme precision. Many of their long-range launchings were controlled by the Americans, who confirmed that estimation. The fact that in the time of the missiles with multiple nuclear warheads, the SS-18 continued carrying a sole and very powerful one, confirmed that its target were the armored silos of the Minuteman. As an answer, the American Air Force tried to deploy a new ICBM, the MX, whose budget was approved in November 1982 by President Reagan. The deployment of the new missile - which would be called Peacekeeper - would not start until the second half of the decade. In the 1980s, strategic disuassion was already a terribly vulnerable concept, due to the extremely high - and apparently unexpected - destructive capacity of the last Soviet missiles.

Strategic missiles of the Cold War


Data: Warhead Weight (kilograms) :: Explosive Charge (megatons) :: Range (kilometers) :: Circular Error Probable (meters) :: Single-Shot Kill Probability (percentage) :: Production (number and dates)

Circular Error Probable refers to the radius of the circle in which falls, statistically, half of the missiles.

Single-Shot Kill Probability refers to the possibility of destroying with a single impact an armored target capable of withstanding an overpressure of 70 kilograms per square centimeter.

Provided data is only approximate.

Titan I: 1800 kg :: 4 mt :: 12000 km :: 2000 m :: 6 % :: 62, 1962-65

Titan II: 3400 kg :: 10 mt :: 15000 km :: 1500 m :: 25 % :: 54, 1963

SS-9, mod 1 and 2: 5450 kg :: 25 mt :: 12000 km :: 1300 m :: 40 % :: 238 of every model, 1965-

SS-9, mod 4: 5450 kg :: 3 x 5 mt :: 12000 km :: 650 m :: 58 % :: 238 of every model, 1965-

Trident D-4: 1135 kg :: 8 x 0.1 mt :: 7000 km :: 800 m :: 0.1 % :: 10, 1981

SS-N-8: 1800 kg :: N/A :: 9200 km :: 400 m :: High :: Up to 200

SS-18, mod 1: 6800 kg :: 25 mt :: 12000 km :: 550 m :: 98 % :: Up to 150 of every model, 1974-

SS-18, mod 2: 6800 kg :: 10 x 2 mt :: 9250 km :: 300 m :: 65 % :: Up to 150 of every model, 1974-

SS-19: 3175 kg :: 6 x 0.34 mt :: 13000 km :: 350 m :: 25 % :: Up to 240, 1974-



These formidable weapons introduced many new perfectionings, at the lead of which was the denominated "cold launching", which means that the ignition of the first phase of the rocket of the missile happens above the surface. This allows that a same silo can be used several times. The contrast between the Unites States - where the new ICBMs existed only on the papers since 1963 - and the rising leadership of the Soviet Union, who did not stop their program of installation of new missiles, turned the situation in the 1980s in something far from balance and equanimity. This is an issue that is measured not only in terms of quantity, but above all in parameters of quality. The important is not that a country has a higher or lesser number of nuclear warheads, but the capacity of those warheads to reach with precision the enemy ICBMs and destroy them. The terms in which were posed the policies of development and manufacturing of nuclear weapons were because of it often terrifying. They were not known the discussions existing in the Soviet command, due to the restrictions to freedom of information in the communist dictatorships, but these were not very different to the ones existing in United States and other western countries.

Strategic missiles of the Cold War


Data: Warhead Weight (kilograms) :: Explosive Charge (megatons) :: Range (kilometers) :: Circular Error Probable (meters) :: Single-Shot Kill Probability (percentage) :: Production (number and dates)

Circular Error Probable refers to the radius of the circle in which falls, statistically, half of the missiles.

Single-Shot Kill Probability refers to the possibility of destroying with a single impact an armored target capable of withstanding an overpressure of 70 kilograms per square centimeter.

Provided data is only approximate.

Minuteman I: 635 kg :: 1 mt :: 12000 km :: 1000 m :: 15 % :: 800, 1962-69

SS-11, mod 1 and 2: 680 kg :: 2 mt :: 10500 km :: 900 m :: 24 % :: 1018, 1968-

SS-13: 545 kg :: 1 mt :: 8000 km :: N/A :: N/A :: A few, 1968-

Minuteman III: 680 kg :: 3 x 0.17 mt :: 13000 km :: 370 m :: 24 % :: 550, 1970-

Poseidon: 680 kg :: 10 x 0.05 mt :: 4600 km :: 800 m :: Low :: 496, 1971-

SS-N-6: 900 kg :: 2 mt :: 3000 km :: 800 m :: 30 % :: 544, 1967-

SSBS S2: 680 kg :: 0,15 mt :: 2750 km :: 1000 m :: 0.1 % :: 18, 1971-

MSBS M20: 680 kg :: 1 mt :: 3000 km :: 1000 m :: 12 % :: 16, 1976 (and 48 of the first model, 1971-)



In United States it had been discussed since time ago not so much the number of missiles as the convenience of an effective deployment to guarantee that they would not be destroyed by a surprise attack from the Soviet Union. The problem is that those deployments are expensive. During the presidential term of Carter (1977-81) it was thought to install the new missiles MX in vehicles that would circulate on rails on underground areas with multitude of emplacements, which would prevent the Russians to know their exact location. The high cost of that option made Reagan to decide to install the missiles in armored silos, in the hope that in the event of a Soviet attack at least half of the hundred that it was expected to deploy were in conditions of survive and, in consequence, retaliate against the Soviet Union. Those same reasons led both Russians and Americans, in the early 1970s, to prohibit the deployment of anti-ballistic missiles (the only feasible mean to stop an ICBM is to launch against it another similar artifact in the hopes of intercepting it, causing it to explode before reaching the ground). Only were kept the ones that were deployed around Moscow. This way, it was avoided a missile/anti-missile armamentistic race similar to the cannon/armor one, whose costs would have been extremely high.

Categories: Missiles - Cold War - 20th Century - [General] - [General]

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-01-04


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