The Threat

​Ballistic Missile Characteristics

Operational ballistic missiles are deployed in silos, on submarines, and on land-mobile launchers, including trucks and railcars. Mobile missiles are favoured by many nations because they can be hidden, which greatly increases their survivability.

In many short-range ballistic missiles, the entire missile remains intact until the warhead detonates. In longer range ballistic missiles, warheads are contained in separating re-entry vehicles. Some long-range ballistic missiles carry multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), with up to l0 re-entry vehicles (RVs) per missile.

RVs re-enter the Earth's atmosphere at very high velocities, on the order of 4-5 miles per second at Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) ranges. Ballistic missiles can use solid- or liquid- propellant rocket propulsion systems. The trend in modern missile systems has been toward the use of solid propellants because of their reduced logistical requirements and simplicity of operation.

However, some nations have greater access to liquid- propellant technology and therefore continue to develop new liquid-propellant missiles.  

Missile Proliferation

ALTBMD.gifBallistic missiles are attractive to many nations because they can be used effectively against an adversary with a formidable air defence system, where an attack with manned aircraft would be impractical or too costly. Missiles also have the advantage of fewer maintenance, training, and logistic requirements than manned aircraft. Even limited use of these weapons could be devastating, since missiles can be armed with chemical, biological, or nuclear warheads.

Posing a significant and growing threat to NATO, ballistic missiles have been used on several occasions to attack coalition forces. In response, NATO has been working hard to develop protection against this evolving missile threat.

An effective ballistic missile defence (BMD) requires: sophisticated sensors to spot incoming missiles; a computerized network to command and control the defences; and interceptors to shoot down attacking missiles.  

As Nations develop Ballistic Missile Defence weapons and sensors, NATO will work to integrate them into one Alliance system, with a single goal: Defeating the Threat to NATO of Ballistic Missiles.