Special Report

This Is How a Ballistic Missile Works

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6. Warheads split off

During the terminal phase, the ICBM is still preparing itself for detonation on the target. As the payload plunges to Earth, the warhead breaks off from the final rocket booster. Some ICBMs have multiple warheads that can split off independently of one another. In some cases, each warhead is able to set different trajectories.

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7. Thrusters aim weapons

Some ICBMs utilize rocket thrusters during the terminal phase. These are used to guide the warheads more precisely towards the target.

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8. Weapons are armed

Warheads are sometimes armed on the way down to their targets. In some cases, the missiles have on-board computers that will not activate the arming sequence unless the missile is on the correct course.

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9. Detonation

ICBMs can detonate their payload either in the air just above the target or upon hitting the ground. These missiles can carry warheads with payloads up to 25 megatons of TNT equivalent. Depending on the warhead yield, it could destroy an area of well over 100 square miles.

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