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The 20 Most Powerful Missiles in the World

According to the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, Public Affairs, the Air Force has awarded two contracts to modernize the ground-based missiles which this branch of the armed services has been using since the 1970s.

The Air Force has a comprehensive intercontinental ballistic missile weapons system program in place, and its aims to develop more mature technology and reduce risks by creating the new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) missile.

The contracts were awarded to Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation in Redondo Beach, California and Boeing Company in Huntsville, Alabama, with the announcement taking place in August 2017.

The new GBSD will replace the powerhouse LGM-30 Minuteman III ICBM. This missile has subsystems and specific components which have been consistently upgraded throughout its 50 years-plus operation, but its fundamental infrastructure, which has been continuously operational throughout that time is original equipment which was first implemented in the early years of the 1970s.

The Nuclear Defense Triad

The United States Air Force maintains a nuclear defense triad comprised of nuclear weapons which can be strategically delivered in three ways:

  1. Traditional strategic bombers
  2. Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)
  3. Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs)

There are known triad powers, including the United States, Russia, China, and India; former triad powers such as France, and suspected triad powers such as Israel. With the emergence of North Korea and the threat of terrorism complicating the potentials for nuclear strategy, it is not surprising that the international community is heavily concerned with existing and emerging weaponry.

Enhancing Existing Missile Models

Taking a close look at the various armed forces in the United States and internationally, it is obvious that there is a current trend for improving and enhancing existing missile models, and developing completely new missile systems which incorporate the latest technologies.

While the past decades were devoted to the domination of nuclear capabilities by the primary known triad powers, current news is filled with reports of contractual agreements for modern missiles and weapons technology in countries previously thought to be unarmed at these levels. In addition, military news is filled with news of a wide array of lesser armaments being acquired internationally at a brisk pace.

Currently, the world is populated with a wide range of long-established missile variants in service. While these enormously powerful weapons are poised for their next assignments, ever more powerful designs are either in the planning stages or are being realized with the implementation of recent high budget programs.

Fascinating, too, are the unexpected alignments between government agencies whose technological giants are immersed in collaborative programs. One example would be the recent work on BrahMos shared by India and Russia.

The recent parades of military strength coupled with displays of new weaponry conducted in Russia, North Korea, India, China and Iran have military watchers noting that it’s impossible to know exactly what will emerge next.

Here’s a list of some of the world’s most powerful missiles simultaneously admired and feared right now.


1. SS-N-30

Russian warships let fly 26 of these cruise missiles on October 7, 2017. They were sent to Syrian rebel targets located 1,000 miles from the warships located in the Caspian Sea.

The Pentagon provided the name for these almost unknown missiles, as they were a surprise even to those who keep a regular, well-trained eye on Russian and its military.

The attack is being viewed as a kind of calling card to the rest of the world that Russia’s new missiles have taken their place amongst the most advanced in existence. The missiles completed the objectives of striking 11 targets including a terrorist training camp, command centers, armament, oil, and munitions storage, and ammunition and explosive producing plants.

Though exact statistics are obviously unavailable, the missiles demonstrated that they are similar to the Tomahawks used in combat successfully by Great Britain and the United States.


2. LGM-30 Minuteman III ICBM

This intercontinental ballistic missile is one part of the United States’ strategic deterrent forces. Its name describes its function:

  • The letter “L” is the way the Defense Department designates missiles which are launched from a hardened silo.
  • The letter “G” stands for a surface attack.
  • The letter “M” means it is a guided missile.

Minuteman missiles have existed since the late 1950s. These weapons provide quick reactions, inertial guidance, high reliability, high accuracy, and significant, long distance target capabilities.

As of 2015, more than 450 Minuteman III missiles are in force in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota. Since the first Minuteman I missile was deployed in the 1960s, the series has been continuously upgraded and enhanced. Created by Boeing Company, these missiles feature a minimum of:

  • Three solid-propellant rocket motors with three stages of ATKs
  • Three stages of chemical systems thrust, including 203,158 pounds in the first stage, 60,793 pounds in the second stage, and 35,086 pounds in the third stage
  • A range of more than 6,000 miles
  • Speeds of approximately 15,000 mph


3. RS-28 Sarmat “Satan 2”

This warhead has the capability to destroy targets flying across the North and the South Poles. It was first unveiled on the website of Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau in 2016.

Its range is expected to exceed 6,800 miles, with the capability of destroying areas of the earth comparable in size to France or Texas. Yuri Bosiov, Russian Deputy Defense Minister announced this news to TASS, the Russian state news agency.

The warhead is one successor the R-36M Voyevoda, and news of its existence was released just after Moscow made the announcement that it has suspended the arms reduction agreement it has held with the United States.

The new Satan 2 replaces the SS-19 Satan missiles, and solidifies fears that a world without nuclear weapons is a dream which has come to an end.


4. DF-41

This is China’s most deadly intercontinental ballistic missile. In fact, it is one of the world’s deadliest. Though exact specifications are not yet known, it is believed that it was entered into use in 2016 or 2017.

Its range is estimated to be 12,000 kilometers, which gives it the capability to target all areas of Europe, Russia, and the United States, reaching any of these countries within a mere 20 to 25 minutes.

It carries solid fuel and up to 10 MIRVs- the Multiple Independently-targetable Reentry Vehicles which add to its overall power. Making it even more accurate is the internal BeiDou Chinese satellite navigation system.

The missile is carried into launch position by the Tian HTF5980 cross country vehicle with a 16 X 16 configured, special wheeled chassis.


5. Tomahawk Cruise Missile

The Tomahawk was first deployed in 1984. It was named for the axe used by Native Americans. This is a subsonic cruise missile designed for long-range flight to strike land targets which are either heavily defended or of high value.

The Tomahawk travels at approximately 550mph and has a range of about 1,500 miles. The missile can be piloted to take evasive routes using guidance systems tailored to specific missions. The official title is Tomahawk Land Attack Missile or TLAM.

The Tomahawk has been successfully launched from both US and UK submarines and US Navy surface ships. There are several variants of the Tomahawk, with various enhancements.

The most recent are capable of being re-programmed during flight using satellite communications to program alternate targets or to re-direct using GPS coordinates. It carries a nuclear warhead, and depending on the model, additional bomblets.


6. UGM-133 Trident II

Lockheed Martin built this submarine-launched ballistic missile. It is deployed by both the United States and United Kingdom navies. It has been in service since 1990, though variants have added greater payloads, longer range and increased accuracy since the missile was first developed.

These improvements have given it the ability to function as one of the most efficient first strike weapons. It launches within seconds after the command is given to breach the water surface and begin flight toward its target.

The Trident II is comprised of three solid-fuel rocket motors which ignite in sequence to propel the rocket forward. It has a range of 4,230 nautical miles and can receive GPS updates via its MK 6 Astro-inertial guidance system. It has carried a range of warheads with varying payloads, and will receive a new warhead design for future engagements.

7. Jericho III

This intercontinental ballistic missile is the first for Israel. It was preceded by the short-range Jericho I and the medium-range Jericho II. There is some indication that it shares technology with the space launch vehicle known as Shavit.

The Jericho missiles have evolved over time, and the current version has a warhead that is guided by radar and having a substantial range. In fact, it encompasses the entirety of Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

It also can reach most of North Oceania, and North and South America. For this reason, it allows a nuclear warhead launch into most any location on Earth, giving the Israel Defense Forces considerable clout.

It has a significant velocity of reentry, and this makes it immune to the missile defense systems currently in place on Earth. The silos which house the Jericho III are thought to be impervious to almost any nuclear attack.


8. Agni Missiles I-VI

This family of long range, nuclear, surface to surface ballistic weapons are named after the Hindu god of fire. The Agni I, II, and III are already in service.

The Agni IV as completed its trials as of January 2017, and the Agni V should enter service within the Indian Army sometime from 2017 to 2018. The missiles represent variants in range, payload, and number of rocket stages.

The Agni III is remarkably accurate and considered worldwide to be one of the most accurate in the intermediate range class. The series use some of the most advanced navigation and control technology; developed indigenously.

9. M51

This French SLBM submarine missile is the only ICBM which France has, and as such, it is significant to their military strike force. It is a variant of less powerful predecessors, upgraded to a range of 8,000 kilometers.

The three-stage solid-propellant weapon can attack targets all around the globe with deadly results. When launched, the missile powers upwards for several hundred kilometers to launch from six to ten MIRVs.

Each of these has a thermonuclear warhead of 107 kilotons, which ultimately speed down to their targets at Mach 25, finally deploying penetration aids which ensure success. It takes just 20 minutes to travel 4,500 km, allowing no response time for intended targets.


10. BGM-71 TOW 2B

This newest version flies to a position over a tank and fires projectiles into the tank, piercing its top armor. Previous versions are wired, but this newest one is wireless.

The TOW can deploy from any vehicle on the ground. Raytheon took in orders totaling more than a half-billion dollars in September 2017 to build these wireless, radio-controlled weapons, which are the precision anti-armor weapons used by more than 40 armed forces internationally today.

This is the designation for the classic missile system in use since 1970 by American forces. TOW means:

  • Tube launched
  • Optically tracked
  • Wire guided


11. DF-31AG mobile intercontinental ballistic missile

This is China’s newest upgrade of its DF-31A from 2009. The missile’s primary improvement is that this version can deploy multiple warheads, and this improves China’s ability to penetrate the missile defense of the United States. It was displayed as part of the People’s Liberation Army 90th Anniversary Parade in July 2017.


12. DeepStrike

This is a new long range tactical missile. It is being developed by Raytheon for the United States Army and will be capable of striking targets with precision at distances of up to 309 miles away, including those on land or sea, and stationary or moving. They will replace the Cold War era ATACMS developed to strike high value targets at a range of 190 miles or less.


13. GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator

The MOP is manufactured by Boeing, and it is designed to reach into the deepest bunkers on Earth. It will penetrate the most fortified, and reach nuclear weapons stored underneath the surface of the Earth. Twenty of these 30,000-pound, 20.5 foot-long, 32.5-inch diameter penetrating bombs are expected to be delivered to the United States Air Force.


14. AGM-114B/K/M Hellfire

This is one variant on the family of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. They are air-to-ground subsonic missiles guided by laser. Hellfires can defeat any tank known to the world today.

They have superior precision power when striking bunkers, structures and helicopters. Created by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, the solid propellant rockets fly at subsonic speeds with shaped charge warheads featuring blast fragmentation. The “fire and forget” missiles are used throughout the United States Marine Corps, Navy and Army.


15. R-36M (SS-18 Satan)

This Russian Intercontinental ballistic missile is the heaviest and most powerful in the world. It is part of a family of R-36 models which have been used since the Soviet ICBMs were first cold-launched in 1971.

Since then, the many variants of these silo-launched missiles have been extremely capable. The missiles have high speeds, high throw weights, and can carry as many as 10 MIRVs and 40 penetration aids.

They are also difficult to intercept. They have the capacity to destroy an area as large as three states, including Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maryland. But the aging missile family are gradually being phased away from service so that more powerful and modern systems can be deployed.


16. SM-6

The United States Navy has launched its new Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) from a strategic bomber B-1B Lancer over the Point Mugu Sea Range. The extended range missile is designed to launch from ships and aircraft without being close to enemy counter fire.

The subsonic missile is outfitted with 450 kilograms of blast fragmentation warhead and penetrator. It functions to identify and target a specific ship within a group of vessels.

It employs an onboard multimodal sensor which controls its navigation and transitioning throughout its course until it reaches and impacts its intended target. Lockheed Martin designed the missile to integrate into the Navy’s operational concept of “Distributed Lethality”.

17. Khorramshahr missile

This is the newest ballistic missile Iran unveiled as part of a Tehran military parade. The parade commemorated the 1988 beginning of the Iran-Iraq War and the missile carries the name of the southwest Iran city which was first attacked.

The missiles range is 1,243 miles and it can carry multiple targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV) within a slightly shorter target range.

The missile was completely conceived and developed in the country, and experts consider it medium-range at most, but it marks a new push within the country to strengthen its military capabilities with newer and more powerful weapons.

18. R-29RMU2 Layner

This Russian missile has a range of 11,000 kilometers. It can carry 12 warheads. The Layner is the newest SLBM in service in Russia, as it has only been operational since 2014. It is an extensively updated variation on the R-29RMU Sineva.

The new Layner can carry low-yield warheads with an estimated 100kt for each. It is flexible too, as it will allow for reduction in the warhead load in order to replace them with decoys designed to improve the odds of survivability.


19. Modified RS-24 Ballistic Missile

Russia recently reported that its new version RS-24 Yars successfully tested. The Yars is an ICBM designed with a three-warhead configuration. The experimental design is planned to create a more accurate weapon which is harder to track and intercept.

The test launch took place in northwestern Arkhangelsk Oblast, and the missile flew about 3,400 miles to impact the Kura Missile Test Range located across the country in Kamchatka Krai. It was launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

There is some controversy that this missile’s modification may be an attempt to avoid the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty which places limitations on the number of warheads Russian and U.S. forces can have available. By creating three in one multiple warheads, one missile can effectively do more damage while remaining a count of one.


20. Brahmos

This missile from India and Russia is the fastest cruise missile in the world. It reaches Mach 2.8 to 3.0. A hypersonic version, named BrahMos-II will reach speeds of Mach 7 to 8, to facilitate aerial capability for fast strikes.

It can be easily launched from Aircraft, submarines, and ships. It can land and can fly at a distance of just 10 meters above the ground. The short-range supersonic cruise ramjet missile was a joint venture between India’s Defense research and Development Organization and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroeyenia.

The two governmental agencies formed the BrahMos Aerospace organization to explore and expand upon Russian sea-skimming missile technology. The name is a portmanteau created from two rivers; the Moskva in Russia and the Brahmaputra in India. The goal of the new joint missile project is to have pinpoint accuracy when hitting protected targets.

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Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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