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I often see and hear people talking about whether or not a certain interceptor can intercept a specific ballistic missile type, e.g. can an SM-3 intercept an ICBM.

And very often people make claims that the interceptor's burn out velocity is critical to that.

It's actually not.
There's no question that an interceptor's burn out velocity is important and determines many things, including primarily the interceptor's range and speed, i.e. how fast it can get to the maximum range.

But it's not critical to achieve a succesful kill against an RV.
To achieve a successful kill, the relative velocity between the RV and the KW must be over a minimum level - otherwise the required kinetic energy is not achieved.

In this thread, I describe that in detail - and touch upon the required system elements.

So, here's what's really important with regards to achieving that minimum velocity:

The RV speed will always be larger than the required velocity.

This means that the speed of the KW is irrelevant in achieving the required minimum velocity.
In other words: If it was possible to position the KW in the path of the RV with a 0 m/s velocity, the speed of the RV crashing into it, would be enough to achieve the successful kill - the mass of the KW and the speed of the RV ensures that.
Now, as I said initially, the burn out velocity is still important, but not as a discriminator for the interceptor's ability to intercept a specific class of threats.

It does however impose a lot of complications on the system level of the BMD system, if it's "low".
First, range:

With lower burn out velocity comes shorter range.

This causes a planning challenge, implying that the system must be closer to the defended asset i.e. point defense vs. area defense, thereby increasing the need for more systems.
Second, speed:

As the speed of the interceptor is low, it puts stress on the sensor architecture.

The slower the speed, the earlier the interceptor must be launched to be able to reach the kill point in time for the intercept.

This requires earlier detection by sensors.
This can either be done by organic sensors, or by using Launch or Engage on Remote (LoR/EoR).

In this thread, I explain how earlier detection (using LoR/EoR) allows an interceptor to launch earlier, thereby reaching further.

In other words, the BMD system can overcome some of the challenges imposed by lower burn out velocities of interceptors, while still being able to achieve successful kills.
This is why I consider burn out velocity irrelevant when it comes to an interceptor's ability to achieve a successful kill against a specific class of ballistic missiles.

Doesn't mean it's not important in many other aspects - but not that 🙂
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