How do missiles work ? | Targeting, Guidance & Propulsion

How do missiles work ? | Targeting, Guidance & Propulsion

Missiles – pretty cool uhh.. but what makes them so cool ? Well, the best thing is you could launch a weapon thousands of miles away. This leaves no reason why the military of every nation won’t keenly research on it.

Missiles :-

The word missile comes from the Latin verb mittere, which means – “to send” ! Basically, a missile is a self-propelled guided munition system. The first missiles were developed by Nazi Germany in WWII. These were simply radio controlled by the operator & were only built in small numbers.

So here we will be looking into the main systems of a missile i.e guidance system, flight controlling, propulsion & about warheads. Lets get to the first one –

How are missiles guided to their target ?

Missiles can be guided & targeted in a number of ways. The most common method is using some form of radiation such as infrared, laser beams, radio waves. The radiation may be emerging out of an engine or radio waves from a radar station. In case of fighter jets, the missile follows the heat signatures of the engine or the heat released through the nozzle & in case of radar, the missiles follow the radar waves itself(an echo; return signal). These methods are called fire-&-forget as they don’t need any further assistance or guidance to follow their target. A human operator can also steer the missile by using his computer. Another method is to guide the missiles using visible light. One can imagine this as a person flying a RC helicopter of drone.

missile parts
missile parts

How do missiles change their directions OR how does the flight system of missiles work ?

To steer or maneuver the missile, the flight system uses the information from the guidance system & accordingly adjusts its thrust & other components. One way of maneuvering is thrust vectoring.
Trust Vector Control(TVC) is the ability of an aircraft to manipulate the direction of it’s thrust through nozzle. Therefore TVC are also used to change the direction of missiles.
Other way of guiding missiles is through aerodynamics i.e by adjusting wings & fins(tail). Some missiles are also equipped with gyroscopes which are powered by batteries & sometimes help the missile to tilt rapidly.

Missile Classification :

missile classification
missile classification

How are missiles propelled ?

Here comes the engine section 😉 . Missiles generally use rocket & jet engines for their propulsion. As missiles often have multiple engine stages, they use rocket engines for OR a rocket booster for launching(as more energy is required to overcome gravity & its own weight in the beginning) & later jet engine is used for further flight. Either solid type of fuel or liquid propellant (for larger missiles) is used to run the rocket engine & generally turbojet engines are used for the 2nd stage for flight.

Warheads :-

Missiles generally have one or more explosive warheads.
The warheads of a missile provide its primary destructive power (many missiles have extensive secondary destructive power due To the high kinetic energy of the weapon and unburnt fuel that may be on board).
Other types of warheads include nuclear weapons, chemical or radiological weapons.
Warheadless missiles are often used for testing and training purposes.[Source]


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Sachin Thorat

Sachin is a B-TECH graduate in Mechanical Engineering from a reputed Engineering college. Currently, he is working in the sheet metal industry as a designer. Additionally, he has interested in Product Design, Animation, and Project design. He also likes to write articles related to the mechanical engineering field and tries to motivate other mechanical engineering students by his innovative project ideas, design, models and videos.

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