The U.S. Navy Wants Nuclear Missiles That Self-Destruct Themselves

Michael Peck
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Michael Peck

Technology, Americas

And to be specific, ICBMs that self-destruct. Can that happen?

The U.S. Navy Wants Nuclear Missiles That Self-Destruct Themselves

It’s a familiar scene on old TV shows: a military or NASA rocket goes off course just after lift-off. Then the flight director in the control room issues a command: “Push the red button.” The rocket then self-destructs.

But the U.S. Navy has another idea: let the rocket decide when to blow itself up.

More specifically, the Navy is concerned about what happens during test firings of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, such as the Trident, from ballistic missile submarines. If the missile goes off course, flight termination systems, or FTS, are supposed to allow the rocket to be destroyed. “The FTS provides a means to prevent the missile from traveling outside the approved range boundaries, should the missile suffer an anomaly during the test event,” says the Navy research announcement. “Historically, FTS have included a remote command (human-in-the-loop) destruct capability that required significant range assets to monitor the missile’s flight path. The command destruct portion of FTS relied on a human-in-the-loop to send a radio signal to destroy the missile, should it become unstable or deviate excessively from its expected flight path.”

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