Adolf Hitler called the V-2 his "vengeance weapon. " The liquid-fueled rocket was 47 feet long, a little over 5 feet wide and could reach an altitude of 50 miles. Mounted with a 2,000-pound warhead, the rocket had a range of about 250 miles.
There was no defense against V-2. It was a supersonic weapon, so the first sign it was coming was the explosion. The Nazis fired more than 1,000 rockets at England.
The first V-2s hit a Paris suburb and Epping, England, on Sept. 8, 1944. During the course of the German offensive, 2,754 Britons died and 6,523 were seriously wounded. The allies were able to stop attacks only stopped near the end of the war.
Fast-forward to the Persian Gulf War. On Aug. 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein rolled into Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia. U.S. and coalition forces rushed to the kingdom and took up defensive postures. Coalition partners were aware of Hussein’s ballistic missile capability since he used them during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Hussein had mobile Scud missiles capable of mounting warheads with weapons of mass destruction.
The Scud missiles in Hussein’s arsenal were not much technologically beyond the Nazi V-2s. The Soviet Union first deployed Scuds in the 1960s. The Soviet weapon was meant to launch a 100-kiloton nuclear warhead or a 2,000-pound conventional warhead.
The Iraqis adapted Scuds to carry chemical warheads, and revelations after the Gulf War said they were also looking to build nuclear weapons and biological weapons.
The coalition's only defense was the U.S. Patriot missile system, a system primarily designed to combat aircraft.
Coalition forces built up in Saudi Arabia and on Jan. 17, 1991, the allies launched the air campaign against Iraq. That same day, Iraq launched seven Scud missiles against Israel in an attempt to fracture the coalition arrayed against him. U.S. Patriot crews deployed from Europe to protect Israel.
On Feb. 24, the coalition launched its ground campaign.
On Feb. 25, a low-tech Scud ballistic missile armed with a conventional warhead struck an American barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Twenty-eight soldiers died, 98 were wounded. The attack marked the single greatest U.S. loss of life during the Gulf War.
Officials estimate the Patriots successfully intercepted Scuds about 25 percent of the time.
One of the most important lessons learned from the Gulf War was the need for protection against ballistic missiles. While Saddam used conventionally armed missiles, other enemies might not be intimidated.
While DoD had been involved with missile defense issues since World War II, it wasn’t until the limited success of the Patriot that a concerted defense effort began. DoD upgraded the Patriot system and will start deploying the Patriot Advanced Capability 3 system soon. The Navy began its Area Defense and Theater Wide Defense programs.
The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization in 1993 became the inheritor of the Strategic Defense Initiative efforts that had begun a decade earlier in the Reagan administration. It is the focal point for research, development and testing for a missile defense program.
The effort is important as weapons of mass destruction proliferate and the means to deliver them — missiles — also become more widely available.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is working to defend America, its allies and its deployed forces from this threat. "We have forces in Europe, we have them in the Gulf, we have them in Asia," he said. "We also have friends and allies. It’s important that we be able as a country to persuade the rest of the world that it’s not in their interest to have ballistic missiles and to try to threaten their use against us and to try to intimidate us because they have those weapons."
Having a credible missile defense, he said, would "deter people from thinking that ballistic missiles are the weapon of choice to intimidate the United States and its friends and allies."
There are not many certainties in the world, Rumsfeld said, but "if you establish a policy of permanent vulnerability you can be reasonably certain that someone will take advantage of it."