Guided Missile
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Basic Information

The guided missile is a self propelled ranged weapon with some measure of guidance, either from its own internal sensors or from a third party source. Some forms of rocket drift into this category if they are capable of following guidance and some authorities will also grant unpowered guided munitions (such as some mortar bombs, artillery shells and aerospace bombs) a form of honourary membership of the category as well.

Guided munitions - like so many other weapon systems - owe their existence to the scramble for technological advantage in the later years of WW2. The beleagured German arms industry several kinds of weapon, mostly rocket powered and guided to target by radio control. Their most notable sucesses were in air-to-surface missiles and glide bombs, with which the Luftwaffe was able to sink a number of Allied warships. Experiments in surface-to-air and air-to-air weapons bore less fruit but would prove most instructive to the victors who captured them.

In the immediate postwar years, substantial work was done on developing radar guided weapons - at first those that could be manually steered with a radar beam, then those that would seek the target on their own as long as it was illuminated by radar. Other developements included weapons steered to target by a command wire or remote flown using a camera built into the nose of the weapon.

The next step was to build the guidance system into the weapon itself and produced weapons that would look for the heat of their targets engines or which carried their own radar and could use it to search out and destroy their target. With the advent of satellite navigation, missiles were also built to navigate to their destination in that way as well.

Propulsion also advanced from simple rocket engines to high powered jet engines, and to extend range and payload most long range missiles were made "air breathing" - able to draw in air from their slipstream to combust their fuel rather than carrying their own oxidiser. The acme of guided missile propulsion to date, however, is probably the horrifying concept of Project Pluto - a cruise missile to be driven at Mach 3 by a ramjet engine powered by an unshielded nuclear reactor1. Fortunately the project was stillborn - a device that flew at Mach 3 at treetop height would have done enough damage just moving about, without considering its radioactive exhaust or multiple nuclear warheads.

The warhead on a guided missile can be, quite literally, anything - see ammunition for ideas - although kinetic armour piercing is usually a waste of time and effort to attempt. More esoteric payloads include electronic warfare systems, engineer rounds designed to destroy runways and sensor packages that effectively turn the weapon into a single use reconaissance drone.

The modern guided missile is - typically - both highly accurate and highly expensive but with continual technological improvements leading to smaller, cheaper and better devices there appears to be no end in sight for their role in warfare. Sci-fi writers have occasionally postulated such things as man portable missiles with anti-gravity propulsion and a built in artificial intelligence to direct them to target - probably no greater a waste of resources for a society that could produce them than the modern guided missile is to us.

That is not to say that the missile is infallible - they can be mislead with false targets, blinded by attacking their sensors or simply shot down (since most are relatively slow, poorly protected targets). Older versions which require the operator's attention to arrive on target can also be dealt with by giving the operator something else to do (like avoiding incoming fire).

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