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Missile Defense

Ballistic Missile Threat



North Korea ballistic missile development  –  Satellite launch in 2012 (18 min video)  –  north korea launch in 2012

Origins of Missile Defense

excerpts from "Intercept 1961. The Birth of Soviet Missile Defense"

Intercept 1961 reviews    intercept 1961 book reviews

Soviet laser space battle station Polyus


In 1944, national-socialist Germany deployed the first mass-produced ballistic missile, the A-4 [1]. The public knew it as the V-2 Vengeance weapon (Vergeltung in German) (Fig. 5.1). The German army, the Wehrmacht, launched 3000 of these rockets against London, Antwerp, and other Allied targets (Fig. 5.2). A supersonic missile, the V-2 provided no audible warning of its approach. Although radar detected the rocket, nothing could stop it. People felt helpless in front of this silent, essentially impersonal and indiscriminate threat.

The advent of long-range ballistic missiles, especially when coupled with atomic warheads, promised to revolutionize warfare.

Chapter 5, p. 91


missile defense coffee mug  –  missile defense coffee mug  –  missile defense coffee mug          other rocket science items

The prospect of a long-range ballistic missile carrying an atomic bomb, the first of which was detonated in July 1945, had alarmed leading U.S. officers and scientists, who began considering approaches to counteract this new dangerous threat.

As early as fall 1945, physicist Edward Teller outlined his thoughts about missile defense in a report for the U.S. Navy. Then, in December 1945, the Air Force's Special Advisory Group, led by Theodore von Karman[1], issued its highly influential report "Toward New Horizons," [2] which also discussed the missile threat. In 1946, the War Department Equipment Board produced the "Stilwell report," named after Chairman of the Board General Joseph W. Stilwell [3]. The document considered defenses against ballistic missiles armed with atomic bombs.

After World War II, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force (which in 1947 had been reorganized into an equal and independent service) competed in development of guided missiles, including for air defense. Performance characteristics of advanced antiaircraft missiles pointed to a logical extension of their capabilities to interception of emerging ballistic missiles. Subsequently, all three services established partially overlapping exploratory programs and tried to add missile defense to their roles and missions.

The U.S. Army prevailed in this bitter rivalry. In 1958, Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy [4] assigned to the Army the primary responsibility for ballistic missile defense, which it maintains to this day [5]. The growth of the Army's air defenses led to the first missile intercepts and then to theater and strategic missile defense systems.

Appendix A, p. 255


Space reconnaissance KH-7 photos of Saryshagan Missile Defense Test Site and HQ Priozersk in 1966

3-by-5 and 4.5-by-7.5 inch stickers

saryshagan missile defense test site sticket    priozersk headquarters saryshagan missile defense test site sticker


In the Soviet Union, as early as in 1945 Georgii M. Mozharovsky [2] initiated the first study of possible defenses against missiles—”A missile against a missile with radar support”—at the N.E. Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy in Moscow [3] ...

Simultaneous with Mozharovsky, Anton Y. Breitbart [4] began work in 1945 on a radar for detecting long-range ballistic missiles in the scientific-research institute NII-20 of the Ministry of Armaments.

Chapter 5, pp. 91, 92


First successful ballistic missile intercepts

"Intercept 1961. The Birth of Soviet Missile Defense",
Appendix A, pp. 255–263

Short-range missiles  –  White Sands Missile Range, United States

nonnuclear intercept

Date Target Interceptor
25 January 1960 Honest John Hawk pdf (p. 259)
3 June 1960 Corporal Nike-Hercules
15 August 1960 Corporal Nike-Hercules
14 September 1960 Nike-Hercules Nike-Hercules


Intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM)  –  Saryshagan, USSR

nonnuclear intercept

4 March 1961 SS-4 (R-12) IRBM V-1000


Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)  –  Kwajalein, United States

simulated nuclear intercept

12 December 1962 Atlas ICBM Nike-Zeus


Chapter 1, Introduction: Protect or Avenge

Russian publications proudly and unanimously have emphasized that the United States took 23 years to duplicate the 1961 nonnuclear intercept of a ballistic missile. [34] One Soviet missile defense veteran gleefully wrote, for example, that they had "won in a most difficult competition against the U.S., and the boastful American military science could do [repeat] it only 23 years later, in 1984." [35]

They referred to the U.S. Homing Overlay Experiment (HOE) program that demonstrated, in 1984, a kill of a target warhead by a direct collision. [36] The HOE interceptor did not use a blast fragmentation warhead but relied on a lethality enhancement device with 36 deployed arms, each carrying three rods. After "the interceptor arrived in the designated area in space and its infrared sensor acquired the target, onboard systems guided the interceptor into the path of the target." It then deployed "a 13-foot [4-m] diameter, aluminum-ribbed net, laced with steel fragments" to enhance the interceptor effective area. [37]

Although the Soviet Union was indeed the first to intercept, without a nuclear charge, a long-range ballistic missile, their proud narrative requires some qualification. The U.S. Army had intercepted and destroyed four shorter range missiles (Honest John, two Corporals, and one Nike-Hercules) at White Sands Missile Range in 1960 prior to those Soviet IRBM warheads shot down at Saryshagan. (See Appendix A.) After two more intercepts in 1961 and 1962, the U.S. Army successfully demonstrated a simulated nuclear intercept of an ICBM warhead in 1962.

A direct collision with an approaching warhead often does not require high explosives for its destruction. Such a head-on, hit-to-kill interception relies on precise guidance to place an interceptor in the path of the approaching target warhead. A body of a certain mass moving with a velocity of approximately 2 miles/s (3 km/s) possesses kinetic energy equivalent to the energy produced by detonating the same mass of high-explosive trinitrotoluene (TNT). Significantly higher relative velocities of warheads of strategic ballistic missiles result in three to five times larger kinetic energies per unit mass of the interceptor released in head-on collisions without any explosives.

In contrast, a nuclear intercept requires less precise guidance and relies on detonating an optimized nuclear charge at the right moment of time at some distance from the target warhead. Even before the successful nonnuclear intercepts at Saryshagan in 1961, the Soviet Union had already been working for three years on an operational missile defense system based on nucleararmed interceptors. All deployed Soviet strategic missile defense systems as well as the U.S. Safeguard, briefly operational in the mid-1970s, would rely on nuclear interceptors. The state of technology prior to the 1980s made this approach simply unavoidable by both the Soviet Union and the United States.

"Intercept 1961. The Birth of Soviet Missile Defense",
Chapter 1, pp. 6, 7

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Some missile defense publications

ABM Research and Development at Bell Laboratories, Whippany, NJ, 1975

D. Baucom, Origins of SDI, 1944-1983, 1992

W. J. Boord, J. B. Hoffman, Air and Missile Defense Systems Engineering, CRC, 2016

J.S. Gansler, Ballistic Missile Defense: Past and Future, 2012

D. Graham, High Frontier. A Strategy for National Survival, 1983

D. Graham,.Confession of a Cold Warrior, Preview Press, 1995

M. Gruntman, Blazing the Trail. The Early History of Spacecraft and Rocketry, AIAA, 2004
(background on development of rocketry and space technology)

M. Gruntman, Satellite Launch by North Korea (DPRK) in 2012 (video)
(pdf)

M. Gruntman, Intercept 1961, The Birth of Soviet Missile Defense, AIAA, 2015

M. Gruntman, Intercept 1961: From Air Defense SA-1 to Missile Defense System A, 2016 (pdf)

A History of engineering and science in the Bell System (1925 - 1975), 1978

History of Strategic Air and Ballistic Missile Defense, vol. 1, 2009

History of Strategic Air and Ballistic Missile Defense, vol. 2, 2009

R.M. Lloyd, Physics of Direct Hit and Near Miss Warhead Technology, AIAA, 2001

B. Naveh and A. Lorber, Theater Ballistic Missile Defense, AIAA, 2001

E. Teller, Better a Shield than a Sword, Perspectives on Defense and Technology, Macmillan, 1987

J. Walker, L. Bernstein, and S. Lang, Seize the High Ground: The U.S. Army in Space and Missile Defense, 2005

J.A. Walker, F. Martin, and S.S. Watkins, Strategic Defense: Four Decades of Progress, 1995



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