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Nuclear missiles are self-propelled rockets used to deliver nuclear warheads. Although the term can be applied to any missile equipped to carry nuclear warheads, nuclear missiles are most commonly associated with ballistic missiles. Ballistic missiles are missiles that are launched into suborbital space and then free fall on their preprogrammed targets with inertial or stellar guidance systems. The most common nuclear missiles are (a) intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), (b) intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), (c) medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs), and (d) submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). ICBMs and SLBMs make up two thirds of the nuclear triad—the collection of land-, ground-, and sea-based nuclear weapons used to conduct nuclear war. This entry examines the design and delivery systems of U.S. and Soviet Cold War–era nuclear missiles and ...

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