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Watch: How does an intercontinental ballistic missile work?

An Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile test Oct. 29, 2020, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Patrick Harrower)
April 22, 2021

First developed by the United States in 1959, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) continue to be a critical weapon in the United States’ nuclear arsenal to this day.

The technology was first created by Nazi Germany in World War II, but was further developed by the allies after the war.

US Military Power, a YouTube channel that aims to provide its audience with information about the U.S.Military, including the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, shared a video breaking down how the explosive technology works.

There are several variations of ICBMs. Each country possesses its own design of the system, with the United States primarily using a silo-launched Minuteman missile.

Only seven countries have ICBMs, including the United States, Russia, China, France, India, United Kingdom and North Korea.

The Intercontinental Ballistic Missile system uses guided missiles that can hit targets up to 3,400 miles away. The rocket’s primary purpose is delivering thermonuclear warheads.

One missile can carry several thermonuclear warheads and can strike separate locations. The impressive missiles can carry biological and chemical weapons, as well.

According to US Military Power, the multiple thermonuclear warheads on the missiles are known as MIRVS (multiple reentry vehicles) inside the program.

The earlier, more primitive ICBMS had limited accuracy, but more recent designs have made the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles capable of striking even the smallest of targets with precision.

The American ICMB program divides the missiles into four different classes. Broken down by range and speed, the classes are the Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missiles, Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles, Short-Range Ballistic Missiles and Tactical ballistic Missiles

When firing the missile, the first, or boost, phase is the launching of the missile. This phase usually takes around 2 to 5 minutes and lasts until the missile enters space. The second phase is when the rocket reaches space and continues along its ballistic trajectory at a very high speed.

The third and final phase happens when the rocket separates and reenters Earth’s atmosphere. Meanwhile, the nose cone carrying the warheads separates as the nukes reenter and strike their targets.