The question is: Can Nuclear Weapons be shot down? It’s not as simple as it may seem. Detecting enemy warheads is extremely difficult, both in terms of science and practicality. Nuclear warheads are only a few meters in length, moving at 15,000 mph. In addition, the path of a nuclear warhead includes space. Therefore, it’s very difficult to intercept one, even if a decoy flies into its path.
But the idea of shooting down missiles carries an additional risk: if an unfriendly state manages to blind US forces, they may achieve an objective they don’t want to accomplish. It’s possible that they might do this without international monitoring, opposition, or interference. Then they would present it to the West as a fait accompli. However, this situation would be rare. The answer to the question “Can Nuclear Weapons be shot down?” Lies in the development of anti-ballistic missiles (ABMs). These weapons are capable of destroying conventional missiles, but they also pose a risk of annihilating non-nuclear targets.
A study by the American Physical Society has found that US nuclear missile defense capabilities are very limited, and will likely remain low for at least 15 years. It also noted that US cybersecurity must improve in order to protect against a North Korean attack, which is believed to have 20 nuclear warheads and relatively undeveloped missiles. While the study is dismal, the Pentagon disputes this study and says recent tests show that the US missile defense system can handle such an attack.
Thankfully, the costs of developing nuclear weapons have decreased. While it costs billions to build, maintain, and launch them, nuclear weapons have become much more affordable to develop. In the case of war, the smallest bomb in Hiroshima would kill about half a million people. However, in the case of nuclear war, it’s much more likely that the enemy will use the smaller bomb to attack, which would exacerbate the situation.
How long do missiles need to travel before they can be intercepted? The answer to this question lies in the trajectory of the missiles. The trajectory of a missile can be broken down into three phases: boost phase, midcourse phase, and terminal phase. In the latter phase, an ICBM reaches its target after about 20 minutes. The midcourse phase offers a limited window of opportunity to intercept a ballistic missile threat.
It’s not easy to shoot down a nuclear bomb, but if a missile does reach the target, it will not explode. But the probability of it igniting the atmosphere is extremely slim and one in three million. Despite the risks, the testing of hydrogen bombs raises ethical concerns, and provides a template for nuclear use in future wars. In addition, a nuclear war would end all life on Earth.
If we don’t destroy an ASAT, what happens if we let other nations use it? If a country uses multistage boosters, it’s possible that other countries have the ability to place ASATs into low earth orbit. They could then transfer the warhead to a higher orbit and shoot them down. This scenario would certainly be catastrophic for the U.S. Government. This is just one scenario, but it’s one of many that could occur.
There are dozens of cases in which a nuclear weapon was accidentally launched or detonated. One of them happened in March 1961. A B-52 jettisoned a Mark 4 bomb near the St. Lawrence River near Riviere-du-Loup. The bomb ignited on impact, but didn’t contain the plutonium core required for detonation. The re-entry vehicle was recovered intact, and no radioactive material was released.
Intercepting an incoming nuclear missile is extremely difficult. The explosion of nuclear weapons requires a complex chain of events. A successful shoot-down of an ICBM could reduce the threat of city-flattening bombs. ICBMs, on the other hand, can detonate even before they reach their target. This scenario is extremely unlikely, but there are countermeasures that could eliminate an ICBM’s payload before it can detonate.
Tactical nuclear weapons, meanwhile, have much smaller explosive yields than strategic weapons. Despite being smaller than Hiroshima bombs, most modern tactical nuclear warheads have more explosive power than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima. These weapons can blow wide holes in enemy lines and destroy important targets. Furthermore, their preparations would be difficult to detect if a nuclear warhead were fired in this way.