Components of an infrared-homing (“heat-seeking”) air-to-air missile.—© Merriam-Webster Inc.

Rocket-propelled weapon designed to deliver an explosive warhead with great accuracy at high speed. Missiles vary from small tactical weapons effective out to only a few hundred feet to much larger strategic weapons with ranges of several thousand miles. They were not developed in any significant way until after World War II. Almost all contain some form of guidance and control mechanism and are therefore often called guided missiles. An unguided military missile, as well as any launch vehicle used to penetrate the upper atmosphere or place a satellite in space, is usually called a rocket. A propeller-driven underwater missile is called a torpedo, and a guided missile powered along a low, level flight path by an air-breathing jet engine is called a cruise missile. With the development of ICBMs, missiles became central to Cold War strategy. See also antiballistic missile, Minuteman missile, V-1 missile, V-2 missile.

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