How America Protects Its Citizens and Allies from Ballistic Missiles

The U.S. military has four primary means of shooting down incoming missiles. But even together, they can’t promise to stop everything.

Whether it’s U.S. islands like Guam or Hawaii, coastal cities like San Diego or New York City, or allied territories across the ocean, the 21st century has heightened the threat of ballistic missiles to the United States and its allies. 

The U.S. military has four systems to shoot down ballistic missiles. It’s an expensive approach, to be sure; and in 17 years of tests, the four systems have hit their targets about four out of of every five tries. But military planners know that when the missiles actually fly, a single missed intercept could have unspeakably catastrophic consequences.

Dive into our new special report reviewing what America would do should an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile rip across the upper atmosphere at a speed of nearly six to seven kilometers per second — giving people down below about 20 minutes to launch something in the air in the hopes of an intercept.

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