The Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, or ICBMs, are designed for delivering nuclear weapons. These deadly missiles have a minimum range of 5500 km. Modern ICBMs typically carry more than one nuclear warhead. Most modern designs support Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs). So a single missile can carry several warheads, each of which will strike a different target. Furthermore, ICBMs carry an array of decoys, that allow overcoming hostile air defenses.
The ICBMs can be silo-based, road-mobile, rail-based, and submarine-based. Mobile ICBMs are typically more difficult to detect and destroy prior to their launch. The key factors taken into account for this ranking are- range and payload of the missile, number, and yield of MIRVs, accuracy, type of base, and various technologies that allow to overcome enemy air defense systems and are based on the currently available public data. So here are the 5 most potent ICBMs across the world-
1. The Trident D5, or Trident II, is a submarine-launched ballistic missile. It is an improved version of the previous Trident C4 with greater payload, range, and accuracy. It was first deployed in 1990. These missiles are deployed by the United States and the United Kingdom. The US Trident II missiles are carried by 14 Ohio Class submarines, while the British missiles are carried in Vanguard Class Submarines.
The Trident II missile has a range of 7800 km with a full load and 12000 km with reduced load. So even though the Trident II does not have the longest range comparing with other ICBMs, ballistic submarines armed with these missiles can always approach their targets, to reduce their flight range so to speak.
Each US Trident II missile can carry up to 14 warheads with a 475 kT yield each. Though START I agreement reduced this number to 8. Re-entry vehicles maneuver in order to avoid enemy air defenses. Each re-entry vehicle is targeted independently. The British missiles use different locally built re-entry vehicles. British missiles reportedly can carry up to 12 warheads per missile.
The Trident II is a very accurate missile. It has a CEP of around 90 m. It is guided on the target by the astro-inertial navigation system, but can also receive GPS updates.
2. The Soviet R-36 (Western designation SS-9 Scarp) was first tested in 1971. Eventually it evolved into an R-36M family, known in the West as SS-18 Satan. The first batch of 56 missiles was deployed in 1977. These were later replaced by more modern variants. The latest one is the R-36M2 Voyevoda (SS-18 Mod 6). It was first deployed in 1988.
The SS-18 Satan is a very capable missile, mainly because of its high speed and extremely high throw weight. Russia was and is still ahead of the West in the development of missile engines. The R-36M2 missile has a range of 11 000 km and carries up to 10 MIRVs with a blast yield of 0.75-1 MT and up to 40 penetration aids. So its nuclear warheads are hard to intercept by air defense systems. CEP is 220 m. So even though it is not the most accurate missile it coupes in full with its payload. Some sources report that a single SS-18 Satan missile with MIRVs can completely destroy 3 US states, such as Maryland, Vermont and Rhode Island.
The Russian RS-24 Yars is a new intercontinental ballistic missile. It is known in the West as SS-29. It is an improved version of the previous RS-12 M Topol M. It was developed both as a road-mobile and silo-based system, that would use the same missile. It was adopted by the Russian Strategic Missile Forces in 2010 and deployed during the same year. As of 2016 Russian Strategic Missile Forces deployed 63 mobile and 10 silo-based Yars ICBMs. It is planned that the Yars will become the mainstay of the ground-based component of the Russian nuclear triad.
This solid-fuel missile is similar to that of the Topol-M. The Yars have a range of 12000 km. The main difference from the previous missile is that Yars is MIRV-equipped and can carry at least 6 independently targetable warheads with 100-300 kT yield. Other sources report that this missile can carry up to 10 re-entry vehicles. It is very likely, considering that the previous Topol-M could carry 10 warheads. CEP of the Yars is 150-200 m.
In 2019 an Avangard hypersonic gliding re-entry vehicle was declared operational. It is mounted on top of the missile, but unlike a regular re-entry vehicle, it can make sharp maneuvers. Some sources report that the Avangard can reach speeds of 33 300 km/h (Mach 27). Conventional interceptor missiles have difficulty intercepting targets traveling at 6 173 km/h (Mach 5). Furthermore, gliding extends its range and allows it to approach a target on an unpredictable ballistic trajectory. It was planned that in 2019 a total of 31 Yars missiles will be equipped with Avangard gliding re-entry vehicles and will be deployed operationally. The Yars was designed to overcome missile defense systems. This missile maneuvers during the flight and carries both active and passive decoys.
3. The Minuteman III is the most numerous US ICBM. It entered service in 1970. During its introduction, it was the first MIRV capable missile. Despite their age, these missiles were constantly. Various improvement programs are being implemented to maintain combat effectiveness. The Minuteman III is expected to stay in service until 2030.
The Minuteman III is a silo-based missile. With the removal of the LGM-118 Peacekeeper in 2005, the Minuteman III has become the only US land-based ICBM in service and is a very important member of the US nuclear trinity.
There are 450 of these missiles in the US service. Another 50 to 75 missiles are in reserve. That’s the biggest number of ballistic missiles in the world. These are managed by the United States Air Force Global Strike Command. There are silos to fire the Minuteman III missile all around the United States, like in Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, and other US Air Force bases. However, all of these missiles are stationary and their positions are known.
The Minuteman III missile has a maximum range of 13000 km. The original inertial navigation system provided it with an accuracy of about 200 m CEP, but an updated inertial guidance system gives it 120 m CEP.
4. The R-29RMU2.1 Layner is a recent Russian submarine-launched ballistic missile. It is an improved version of the previous R-29RMU2 Sineva. The R-29RMU2.1 Layner was adopted in 2014. Previous R-29RMU2 Sineva missiles have reportedly been modified to the new standard.
This Russian submarine-launched missile has a maximum range of 8 300 km with full load and 12000 km with reduced load. Each missile can carry 12 low-yield warheads. Most likely that these have 100-300 kT capacity. An unusual feature of this missile is that warheads can be of a mixed set with various yields. This missile is equipped with improved systems to overcome anti-ballistic missile shields. It carries decoys. Furthermore, it can be configured to can carry fewer nuclear warheads, but more decoys.
As of 2016 a total of 6 Delta IV class submarines, equipped with ballistic missiles, are in service with the Russian Navy. Submarine basing of the ICBMs allows surviving the first strike. However, the Russian Delta IV submarines are not as stealthy as the US or British ballistic missiles.
5. The M51 is a French submarine-launched ballistic missile. Design work on this missile started in 1992 and it was first deployed in 2010. These missiles are carried by French Le Triophant class submarines. France operates 4 of these submarines.
The M51 has a range of 10000 km with reduced payload and 8000 km with full payload. Such range is sufficient to strike most areas in China, Russia or the United States, firing straight from the pier.
Each missile carries 6-10 independently targetable warheads. Each has a blast yield of 107 kT. Furthermore, missile carries penetration aids in order to overcome hostile air defenses. A newer version of this missile, that appeared in 2015, the M51.2, carries much more powerful 150 kT warheads.
These French ICBMs have Astro-inertial guidance. Galileo satellite navigation system is planned, but not yet fitted. So these missiles may not be as accurate as contemporary missiles with satellite navigation systems. The CEP of this missile is around 150-200 meters.
France operates a total of 4 Le Triomphant class submarines. Each of them carries 16 ballistic missiles. So a total of 64 missiles are ready to use.
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