Atom Wave: The Missile Myth

Atom Wave

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Missile Myth

The myth of the invincible missile has long been a staple of television and movies, such as Top Gun. The pilot squeezes the trigger and the missile blazes off its rail, only to strike its target in a satisfying fireball a few seconds later. This myth isn’t only limited to Hollywood, Pentagon planners have also succumbed to the delusion.
Guided missiles are like their creators, imperfect machines. They can be defeated if the opponent understands its weaknesses, or its user forgets them.
One of the most obvious limitations to any missile is its propulsion, which unlike combat aircraft is severely limited by the amount of rocket fuel on board. Typical missiles (Sidewinder, Sparrow, AMRAAM) use a solid dual-thrust engine. It begins at high-thrust and than falls back to a lower sustained thrust until burnout. Like all rocket engines, they produce smoke that is a liability to concealing the launch. Missiles are also limited in performance by their launching altitude, a real pain at sea level and 20,000 feet.
Another annoying liability of missiles is their warhead. They are available in a wide range of yields and configurations, but are still subject to the same limitations. They are nearly always triggered by a radar or laser proximity fuse, which will detonate the weapon anytime something enters its volume. That includes obstacles on the ground in low-altitude combat.
Of course, all of this is for NOT if the weapon has a feeble guidance system. Typical missiles use either a radar or infrared seeker, each subject to their own limitations. Infrared seekers like the ones used on the Sidewinder can and will be saturated if the target breaks into the sun or dives into hot terrain. Likewise, the clutter of the Earth below can defeat radar seekers.
In the end, success in combat will always be critically dependent upon the skill of the defender and opponent. The continuing struggle in Iraq is testament to the fact that the best technology and firepower cannot defeat a determined opponent or insurgent. It is also a reminder that success in any strife is subject to one’s ability to emphasize with your enemy. You must know what motivates them if you ever hope to defeat them.

This is a video documenting F-15 Eagles in live fire training against F-4 Phantom drones. Be aware that while the explosions are real, a F-4 Phantom drone will never replace a real fighter with a skilled pilot.

Evading The Guided Missile

2 Comments:

Anonymous Jeremy K. said...

Missiles rock! Those movies are excellent!

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Hoover said...

You miss one thing in your argument. In the movie "Top Gun", Maverick fires the missiles at very close range. Making their kill nearly certain. Still, they are unreliable at long-range or if you know that they are coming.

8:25 PM  

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