Types of Missile Defense Systems
Selecting the right type of missile defense system – and the customized components within it – can be a game-changing decision in modern military strategy.
In terms of national defense, the right missile can be a game changer. Most nations rely on a mix of missile technology programs for defense, threat response or as a deterrent. Today, a relatively new category of missile is gaining prominence. Hypersonic missiles are making headlines, spurring innovation in the design and development of new weapons. Regardless of what type of missile is used, all missiles must be designed and built to perform under the most extreme conditions. Conventional missile defense systems fall under three categories:
- Traditional missiles
- Strategic weapons
This first category of missile is purely defensive. Interceptor missiles are used to defend against enemy attacks by destroying incoming missiles before they reach their intended targets. In the U.S., the two main interceptor missile programs are Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept of Target (PATRIOT) Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3), and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD): Integrated Air and Missile Defense. The intent of both programs is to protect U.S. and allied assets in the event of an attack.
Conventional missiles are defined by where they’re launched and their primary targets:
- Air-to-Air Missiles: An air-to-air missile is a warhead fired from an aircraft for the sole purpose of destroying another aircraft. The AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM) is the most common air-to-air missile used by the U.S. Navy and Air Force. AIM-120s are compatible with F-35, F-16 and other American fighter jets. The AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile (JATM) is the next generation of air-to-air missiles.
- Air-to-Ground Missiles: This group consists of missiles that are launched from an aircraft and directed at a target on the ground. Air-to-ground missiles are the backbone of recent U.S. military operations and will continue to play an important role in future conflicts.
- Anti-Ship Missiles: Launched from air or ground, anti-ship missiles are used to target ships and large military boats at sea. Anti-ship missiles are relatively inexpensive compared to the targets they are intended to destroy, providing an advantage for smaller nations.
Strategic weapons are intended to act as deterrents, only to be deployed as a last resort. The Minuteman land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is the foundation of the primary strategic missile program in the U.S. A Minuteman missile is approximately the size of a space rocket launcher. Missiles of this scale come at a higher cost and added maintenance requirements.
A relatively new class of missile has been making headlines during recent conflicts — hypersonic missiles. The term hypersonic relates to objects moving faster than Mach 5, which is five times the speed of sound. Though some countries have made unconfirmed claims that their hypersonic missiles can travel faster than Mach 10.
Hypersonic missiles combine incredible speed with active guidance systems for extreme maneuverability. These advanced missiles fly much lower than conventional missiles, and they don't follow a predictable ballistic trajectory. As a result, it is significantly more difficult to predict a hypersonic missile’s flight path and intercept it before it reaches its target.
Hypersonic missiles can be launched from fighter jets. They have also been test-fired from submarines which presents a bigger challenge because submarines are more difficult to detect. Today, the U.S. and its allies are making significant investments to develop and advance their own hypersonic missile programs.
The Changing Economics of Military Strategy
Smaller, smarter and more efficient weapons are changing the measures of success for military missions.
In 2022, a guided anti-ship missile that cost $1 to $2 million successfully sank a ship that was built at an estimated cost of $500 million to $1 billion. The ability to use a much lower-cost weapon to inflict such significant damage to the enemy provides huge leverage. A nation cannot afford to have its most costly military assets be vulnerable to much less expensive weapons.
Designing Missiles for Harsh Environments
The challenge for weapon designers is that a missile is a complex object packed with sophisticated electronics that are very sensitive to high temperatures and harsh environments.
Regardless of how a missile can be categorized, all missiles must be designed and constructed to perform under extreme conditions on the ground, in the air and often, at sea. For example, when a hypersonic missile flying at Mach 10 gets close to the atmosphere, the friction on the missile’s skin creates a very large elevation in the missile’s external temperature. The surface of the missile may reach thousands of degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods of time — possibly reaching the melting point of some of the metals used in its construction.
Advanced Connectors and Components for All Missile Types
TE Connectivity (TE) offers an extensive portfolio of connectors, relays, terminations, wire and cable and other integrated missile components that are designed to meet or exceed current military standards for rugged computing. TE customizes components to fit the unique length and shape of a missile. Whether producing individual components or complete assemblies, TE ensures a homogeneous design.
Connect with TE
For more information about TE’s missile defense system solutions, download our 2022 Part List for Missile Manufacturers infographic,or contact TE to talk with an engineer.
- The right missile can be a game changer in modern military strategy.
- Interceptor missiles are used to defend against enemy attacks by destroying incoming missiles before they reach their intended targets.
- Air-to-air, air-to-ground and anti-ship are the key types of missiles used in attacks against an enemy.
- Strategic weapons are intended to act as deterrents and will only be deployed as a last resort.
- Hypersonic missiles combine incredible speed with extreme maneuverability, which makes them more difficult to intercept.
- The U.S. and its allies are racing to develop missile systems that rival other countries’ hypersonic missile programs.
- A nation cannot afford to have its high-cost assets be vulnerable to much less expensive weapons.
- The very complex, sophisticated electronics packed into missiles must be able to withstand high temperatures and harsh environments.