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[Home]Anti-ballistic missile

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An anti-ballistic missile (ABM) is a missile designed to shoot down ballistic missiles: a missile designed to counter strategic ballistic missiles or their elements in flight trajectory.

ABMs have had a rather chequered history. Soviet experiments in the 1960s with an ABM system based near Moscow failed, as did American ones, leading to the ABM treaty of 1972, which banned the development of missiles designed to shoot down each other's ICBMs. (In December 2001, the US announced its intention to withdraw from the treaty.)

The Reagan-era Strategic Defense Initiative, along with research into various energy-beam weaponry, brought new interest in the area of ABM technologies, but nothing was deployed operationally until Patriot missiles were used in the 1991 Gulf War to shoot down Iraqi Scud missiles. Many observers claim the Patriot was largely ineffective, but then the weapon was originally designed as an anti-aircraft and cruise missile weapon, not designed to shoot down much faster-moving ballistic weapons.

The election of George W. Bush in 2000 has led to the renewed interest and several ABM tests, as the U.S. military and their new political masters seek to demonstrate the feasibility of shooting down ballistic missiles. In contrast to the Reagan era Strategic Defense Initiative which was intended to shield the United States from a massive attack by the Soviet Union, the purpose of the Bush era ABM's are the much more limited goal of shielding the United States from a limited attack by a rogue state. It remains to be seen whether a system reliable enough to be useful operationally can be developed. Bush has used the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack to justify the need for such a shield. This is despite the fact that a missile shield would not have protected the nation from that attack, which was not launched via missiles (and would not protect the nation from any future attacks which might choose to simply bypass the missile shield).

See: ABM treaty

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Last edited December 14, 2001 7:01 am by Ed Poor (diff)