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Targeting and Strategy - ICBM

Targeting and Strategy - ICBM

The accuracy at which ICBMs warheads can be delivered to their targets has improved considerably over time. The delivery accuracy is measured by the Circular Error Probable (CEP), which is the radius of the circle around a target of such size that a weapon aimed at the target has a 50 per cent probability of falling within that circle. The CEP of the Soviet SS-11, for example, was about 1,300 m (1,422 yd), whereas the CEP of the SS-25 is about 200 m (183 yd). So far as American ICBMs are concerned, the CEP of the Titan was about 900 m (984 yd) whereas the CEP of the MX is less than 120 m (131 yd).

A nation possessing nuclear weapons power which deploys very accurate nuclear warheads cannot continue to operate a policy of nuclear deterrence by mutual assured destruction. The targets of nuclear deterrence are the enemy's cities, civilian population, and industry. If one power knows that it faces unacceptable death and destruction as a result of a second power's retaliation after the first power has attacked, the first power is less likely to attack in the first place.

Some strategic analysts believe that nuclear deterrence works only with inaccurate nuclear warheads. From the early 1980s, nuclear warheads with the accuracy of those carried on modern ICBMs have been developed, which are capable of destroying even very hardened military targets, such as enemy ICBM silos. This increased accuracy makes an enemy power believe that the missiles are targeted on its strategic military targets rather than on cities. With accurate weapons an enemy power, therefore, no longer believes that its cities are targeted. Nuclear-war fighting, based on the destruction of hostile military forces in a pre-emptive nuclear first strike, therefore becomes the nuclear policy-a radical change of policy which encourages the other side to deploy anti-ballistic missiles.

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