13. Land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)
The concept of the ICBM was first demonstrated by the German V-2 program during the Second World War, and many of the scientists which supported that program were appropriated by the United States following the war to work in America’s many missile programs, including for defense and space exploration. The early American ICBMs, as with their V-2 progenitor, were severely limited regarding accuracy, making them suitable for use against large area targets, such as cities or widespread industrial areas. Since it wasn’t long before the Soviets had them too, the means of eliminating the Soviet launch sites fell to what was at the time the most accurate means of delivering weapons to their targets, manned long-range strategic bombers. Later ICBMS offered improved accuracy and weapons load, making them a suitable first-strike weapon, and relegating the bombers to a mop-up role.
It was the Soviets who demonstrated a workable ICBM first, using the same design of missile which had launched Sputnik and the space race. The first flight of an armed American ICBM took place from Vandenburg Air Force Base in July 1959. America’s early ICBM launch vehicles doubled as the boosters for the fledgling space program, and missile development, though plagued with failures, moved ahead in the 1960s. Underground missile solos, mobile launchers, and other means of deception were developed to protect the ICBMs and an anti-missile defense system, the ABMS, developed in the 1960s and early 1970s. The existence of the weapons led to the negotiation of several treaties between the US and the USSR which limited their number, the defense systems which protected them, and the number of warheads they deployed. Eventually, the ICBM system became the leg of the Triad which would have delivered the main thrust of an American first strike.