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Surface-to-Air Missile

One type of surface-to-air guided missile attempts to accomplish a dynamic defeat of its target by use of kinetic energy. In other words, this type of missile collides with its target in an attempt to detonate the target weapon prior to the target weapon reaching its intended destination. In another type of surface-to-air guided missile, the missile is guided toward its target weapon and, as it approaches the weapon, detonates a warhead and causing an explosion. The explosion of the missile is intended to either cause detonation of the target weapon or to at least change the course of the target weapon to prevent it from reaching its intended destination. The countermeasure missile may include the use of a fragmenting warhead such that fragments from the explosion impact the target weapon and provide the desired kinetic energy in an effort to defeat the target weapon.

Sometimes, even a kinetic energy hit of the target weapon by the countermeasure weapon fails to result in the complete destruction of the target weapon. Similarly, an explosion of a countermeasure weapon, whether using a fragmenting warhead or not, may not completely destroy the target weapon. Failure to completely destroy the target weapon may result in substantial injury or damage, either at the intended destination of the target weapon or at some other location, inflicted by the surviving portions or fragments of the target weapon.

With the attempts by terrorists to down a commercial airliner using a shoulder fired surface-to-air missile (SF-SAM), one of the worst fears regarding future terrorism tactics has been confirmed. Estimates of the number of such missile systems (including the Russian built SA-7, SA-18 and the more sophisticated United States built Stinger) available on the black market number in the thousands. The small size of these systems makes them easy to smuggle and to conceal up to the point of actual launch of the missile.

The prospect of such an attack on a large commercial airliner (or worse yet, of multiple simultaneously coordinated attacks) is sobering to say the least. In addition to the large-scale loss of life resulting from successful attacks, the economic consequences would be Draconian in the extreme. A nation's entire air transportation system likely would be grounded, not so much due to government dictate as by the refusal of insurance carriers to provide liability policies to the airlines and by the widespread fear of flying that would be precipitated among the public. This could destroy an already battered airline industry, disrupt many business sectors dependent upon air transportation, and could plunge the country (and likely the world) into a deep recession. The economic costs could easily reach the hundreds of billions, perhaps even trillions, of dollars, and the loss of tax revenues to the government would be in the tens of billions at a minimum.

Artillery rockets impose a difficult challenge for any air defense system, being relatively low signature, fast moving targets. Typically, this weapon is launched in salvos, requiring the defending side to engage multiple targets simultaneously. At present there is no operational system dedicated for this kind of threat. There are several systems developed particularly to defend against medium and long range ballistic missiles, such as the Arrow, Thaad, and PAC-3 programs. These programs use large phased array radars that are capable of detecting multiple targets at long ranges, and sophisticated missiles equipped with on-board seekers that are used during the end-game phase of the interception.

Many air defense systems claim capability against tactical missiles or air-to-surface precision weapons. Many of them are used in the naval arena to protect navy ships against missile attacks. The RAM missile is one example for such a weapon. The BARAK ship point defense missile is another. The RAM missile is equipped with a seeker that is used to guide the missile to a short distance from its target. The BARAK missile has no seeker, and is guided to its target by special fire control radar mounted on the ship. A use of remote sensing for target interception limits the weapon effective range, and makes it useful particularly for point defense purposes.

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