How do missiles work ? | Targeting, Guidance & Propulsion

Missiles – pretty cool uhh.. but what makes them so cool ? Well, the best thing is you could launch a weapon thousands of miles away. This leaves no reason why the military of every nation won’t keenly research on it.

Missiles :-

The word missile comes from the Latin verb mittere, which means – “to send” ! Basically, a missile is a self-propelled guided munition system. The first missiles were developed by Nazi Germany in WWII. These were simply radio controlled by the operator & were only built in small numbers.

So here we will be looking into the main systems of a missile i.e guidance system, flight controlling, propulsion & about warheads. Lets get to the first one –

How are missiles guided to their target ?

Missiles can be guided & targeted in a number of ways. The most common method is using some form of radiation such as infrared, laser beams, radio waves. The radiation may be emerging out of an engine or radio waves from a radar station. In case of fighter jets, the missile follows the heat signatures of the engine or the heat released through the nozzle & in case of radar, the missiles follow the radar waves itself(an echo; return signal). These methods are called fire-&-forget as they don’t need any further assistance or guidance to follow their target. A human operator can also steer the missile by using his computer. Another method is to guide the missiles using visible light. One can imagine this as a person flying a RC helicopter of drone.

How do missiles change their directions OR how does the flight system of missiles work ?

To steer or maneuver the missile, the flight system uses the information from the guidance system & accordingly adjusts its thrust & other components. One way of maneuvering is thrust vectoring.
Trust Vector Control(TVC) is the ability of an aircraft to manipulate the direction of it’s thrust through nozzle. Therefore TVC are also used to change the direction of missiles.
Other way of guiding missiles is through aerodynamics i.e by adjusting wings & fins(tail). Some missiles are also equipped with gyroscopes which are powered by batteries & sometimes help the missile to tilt rapidly.

Direction controls of missiles

Animation showing how thrust vector controlling works !

Source:YouTube; Credits: documentariesfootage


How are missiles propelled ?

Here comes the engine section 😉 . Missiles generally use rocket & jet engines for their propulsion. As missiles often have multiple engine stages, they use rocket engines for OR a rocket booster for launching(as more energy is required to overcome gravity & its own weight in the beginning) & later jet engine is used for further flight. Either solid type of fuel or liquid propellant (for larger missiles) is used to run the rocket engine & generally turbojet engines are used for the 2nd stage for flight.

Warheads :-

Missiles generally have one or more explosive warheads.
The warheads of a missile provide its primary destructive power (many missiles have extensive secondary destructive power due tTo the high kinetic energy of the weapon and unburnt fuel that may be on board).
Other types of warheads include nuclear weapons, chemical or radiological weapons.
Warheadless missiles are often used for testing and training purposes.[Source]

Fact for the day :-

The Dongfeng-41 missile

The Dongfeng-41, is a Chinese nuclear solid-fueled road-mobile balistic missile in the flight test stage of development. It is believed to be one of the most powerful missile in the world having an operational range of 12,000-15,000 kms & a speed of Mach 25(30,626 km/h; 19,030 mph; 8.5073 km/s) 😮 .

Damn…these guys build these high-military class-shit & fly as well as control them at such high speed, whereas I’m having difficulty even to imagine that speed 🙁 !!! Hats off to them.

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