It Really is Rocket Science!

Stopping a bullet with a bullet: three rocket science principles at work


Imagine a world where nations are safe from incoming threats because of a defense system that stops the threat before it’s even close. To prevent the unthinkable.

Now imagine this defense system has technology so advanced it is like stopping a bullet with a bullet mid-flight.

This is not fiction – our hit-to-kill technology makes it a reality.


“Hit-to-Kill” (HTK) refers to destroying a threat with body-to-body impact by the interceptor missile.  The impact takes place with a large amount of kinetic energy that completely destroys threats containing weapons of mass destruction, keeping them away from protected areas when it matters most.

Let’s take a closer look at what makes HTK technology so effective.

HTK technology is made up of three fundamental principles:

1.    Sensing the threat
Before an interceptor can eliminate a threat, it must first detect the exact location of that threat.  This is done through a series of events. First, the ground-based defense system detects the threat, estimates an intercept point, and launches the interceptor missile. Once the interceptor is near the threat, the interceptor’s onboard radar seeker searches for and acquires the threat.  The radar seeker provides a highly accurate location for the intercept target through searching, scanning and processing the location data en route to the threat. To achieve body-to-body impact, the onboard radar seeker measures critical target information that is then used by the interceptor’s guidance system to pinpoint where to aim on the target’s body.

2.    Getting to the threat
In order to effectively intercept the threat, the interceptor must be very agile and maneuverable. To achieve this agility, the interceptor requires rapid steering control.  For example, the PAC-3 Missile achieves control throughout flight by utilizing its solid propellant rocket motor, aerodynamic surfaces, attitude control motors (ACMs) and inertial guidance to achieve the agility required for HTK.  The key component to PAC-3’s agility is its 180 ACMs, which are small, short-duration rocket motors near the nose of the missile.  They provide the agility to refine the missile’s course at the critical homing and endgame segments of flight to ensure body-to-body impact.

3.    Stopping the threat
As the missile intercepts the threat, it destroys the target through body-to-body impact, akin to a bullet hitting a bullet in mid-air.  The body-to-body impact has extremely high kinetic energy, protecting the defended area from debris.

HTK technology is a defining advantage of Lockheed Martin missile defense systems.  Previous air and missile defense interceptors did not have the sensing or agility components required for HTK, and instead relied on fragmentation warhead technology.  This method attempts to disable or deflect the threat off course - this is not as accurate and can result in dangerous debris falling close to the protected area.  Several Lockheed Martin interceptors can also achieve HTK at higher altitudes and ranges, which is important when defending against weapons of mass destruction.

Below is a visual example of the sequence that takes place when an interceptor is deployed to eliminate a threat: 


The Lockheed Martin missile defense system provides a layered approach to missile defense, to ensure the protected area is safe from incoming threats.  The following Lockheed Martin products provide the ability to intercept threats at multiple altitudes, ranges and speeds:


The need for a strong air and missile defense system has proven itself over and over again – in the current global environment, it is a necessity for the safety of nations around the world.  HTK technology makes sure that these threats stay safely far away from home.

At Lockheed Martin, we’re not afraid of imagining a brighter future.  It is brave thinking and determination that makes stopping a bullet with a bullet a possibility – and now a reality.