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Ballistic Missiles


The world's first ballistic missile was the V-2, developed by Nazi Germany during World War II. The V-2, which was first test-launched on October 3, 1942, could deliver a 1,650-lb (750-kg) warhead to a target 225 miles away. Germany launched approximately 3,000 V-2s during the war, but with little military effect; the V-2, lacking the sophisticated guidance computers of later ballistic missiles, were inaccurate. Only 50% of V-2s aimed at a given point would, on average, land within 11 mi (17 km) of that point. The V-2 was therefore not aimed at military installations but, like its predecessor the V-1 (the first cruise missile, also developed by Nazi Germany), at the city of London. Some 518 V-2s struck London during the final years of World War II, killing over 20,000 people and making the V-2 the deadliest ballistic missile in history—so far. (The "V" in V-1 and V-2 stands for Vergeltungswaffe, German for "retaliation weapon," reflecting the fact that the V-2's primary purpose was not victory but vengeance.)

The United States and Soviet Union were far behind Germany in the design of large rockets during World War II, but both captured V-2 technicians and information at the end of the war and used them to accelerate their own missile programs. The U.S. began by experimenting with captured V-2s, and during the late 1940s built several new rockets of its own based on the V-2. During the 1950s both the Soviet Union and the United States turned their attention to the development of ballistic-missile boosters that could reach the other country's heartland from anywhere in the world. The Soviet Union flight-tested the world's first ICBM, the R-7, in August, 1957. Two months later the R-7 was soon used to launch the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik I, and four years later launched the world's first orbital manned space flight. The U.S. was not far behind, and by 1959 had deployed its own ICBMs, the liquid-fueled Atlas and Titan missiles. The Americans also used their ICBMs for early space-flight efforts; the first manned U.S. space flights (Mercury and Gemini programs) used the Redstone, Atlas, and Titan II missile boosters.

See also Nuclear weapons.



Cimbala, Stephen J. Nuclear Strategy in the Twenty-First Century. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000.

Cochran, Thomas B., William M. Arkin, and Milton M. Hoenig. Nuclear Weapons Databook: Vol. I, U.S. Nuclear Forces and Capabilities. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Company, 1984.


"Ballistic Missile Threats." Centre for Defense and International Security Studies, Lancaster University, UK. Aug. 10, 2001 [cited March 3, 2003]. <http://www.cdiss.org/bm threat.htm>.

Daniel Smith. "A Brief History of 'Missiles' and Ballistic Missile Defense." Center for Defense Information. 2000 [cited March 3, 2003]. <http://www.cdi.org/hotspots/issuebrief/ch2/>.

Larry Gilman

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: A-series and B-series to Ballistic Missiles - Categories Of Ballistic MissileBallistic Missiles - Categories Of Ballistic Missile, Ballistic Missile Function, History