Special Report

Nuclear Weapons: Terms You Should Know

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6. Ballistic missiles

A ballistic missile is a missile that has a ballistic trajectory over most of its flight path after being launched high into the Earth’s atmosphere. The warhead from a ballistic missile detaches as the vehicle falls to Earth. The missile – it can be short-range, air-launched, or intermediate range – depends on gravity to reach its target. These missiles can be launched from ships or land-based facilities.

Source: national_museum_of_the_us_navy / Flickr

7. ICBMs

ICBM stands for Intercontinental ballistic missile. ICBMs can be mobile or based in silos. Land-based, nuclear-armed ballistic missiles have a range of more than 3,500 miles. They were first deployed by the Soviet Union in 1958 and contributed to the belief in a so-called “missile gap” between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. as promulgated by hawks in the U.S. The main U.S. ICBM is the silo-launched Minuteman missile.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

8. Submarine-launched missiles

Submarine-launched ballistic missiles that have ranges comparable to those of ICBMs include the Trident, deployed by the United States and Britain. Similar systems have been developed by Russia, China, and France. The U.S. Columbia class subs are an example of those capable of launching a ballistic missile.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

9. Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle

Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs, were originally developed in the early 1960s to permit a missile to deliver multiple nuclear warheads to different targets. Warheads on MIRVed missiles can be released from the missile at different speeds and in different directions. Some of these missiles can hit targets as far as 900 miles apart.

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10. Air-to-surface missiles

An air-to-surface missile or air-to-ground missile is designed to be launched from military aircraft such as bombers, attack aircraft, or fighter aircraft, among others, and strike targets on land, at sea, or both.

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