Year 2009, Overberg, South Africa. On a clear day dotted with a few clouds, a modern F-18 fighter from the American firm McDonnell Douglas belonging to the Air Force (EdA) flies over the southern tip of Africa with a mission: Shoot the new weapon that will give Spain a power unimaginable
The pilot is nervous, he knows that in his hands is the responsibility of the work of several years and that the “toy” anchored under his wing has cost millions of euros to the Spaniards. It is vital that everything goes well. At last he receives the order from his commander: ” The target is already within range, he has permission to execute the launch .”
The nervous but firm pilot presses the button: The missile rushes from the wing as if it were a dead weight, as if it did not work, until a few seconds later the powerful Williams engine starts without making almost no noise. With elegance and stealth the missile begins to cross the sky at full speed, within a few seconds the Taurus ; As he was baptized by his Swedish-German designers, he will be traveling the skies at more than 1,000 km / h until reaching his goal more than 500 km away.
The scope of the Taurus is so enormous that to prove it there was no large enough shooting range in Spain, it would have been necessary to launch the missile from one autonomous community to another on the other side of the Peninsula, but which politician Like to think that you are testing missiles on your head? It was necessary to go to South Africa looking for a country in which the missile could be tested safely and far from prying eyes.
The concept behind this missile is similar in its mission to the American Tomahawk missiles that swept Iraq in 1991 and 2003, but despite being different missiles, they share one thing: both are cruise missiles.
When we talk about large missiles there are two types: cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.
- The ballistic missiles are like those we usually see in the nuclear tests of North Korea, they are very large, they are launched in a completely vertical position and reach speeds of more than 5,000 Km / h, in fact some of them, usually nuclear, come out at space before falling on its target.
- The cruise missiles on the other hand have less powerful engines, not usually exceed the speed of sound, 1,116 km / h (310 m / s) and fly low, very low, only 10 to 30 meters above the ground.
Why Spain has bet on the Taurus
And why does Spain need the 46 Taurus that the EdA acquired at almost one million euros per unit? For two reasons: Strategic capacity in the framework of international missions and strategic deterrence , the latter partially oriented, although it is bad to say, to Morocco.
Let us think that Spain is part of NATO and the UN and sometimes participates in international coalitions, such as the one that faced Gaddafi in Libya in 2011. In order to carry out an operation like that of Libya it is necessary to destroy radars, missiles antiaircraft, aircraft, command centers, weapons depots and so on.
Few countries can do this work, and within the panoply of weapons necessary to carry out the cruise missiles play a key role, so having these missiles allows a more important role to be taken in large-scale operations, in turn to make a “favor” to other powers, and it is already known that among the states favors are never free, so the own influence is increased.
Imagine a hypothetical and highly unlikely situation that serves as an example. In Morocco, a harassed monarchy, or a radical Islamic party or a military man seeks an external enemy to divert attention from internal problems and obtain a military victory that will trigger prestige, exactly what the Military Junta of Argentina did when in 1982 it ordered the invasion of the Malvinas .
What has to do with the Taurus? Deterrence. If your neighbor believes that he can achieve success at an acceptable risk, or if he believes he can defeat you in a war, you are more likely to attack him, as the Falklands War, the Green March and countless conflicts demonstrate.
So to avoid this you need to make your neighbor believe that he will not be able to defeat you militarily and ultimately, and this is where the Taurus comes in, it is the war material that you have that will create the perception of weakness or strength that you have in case of war, in this sense possessing a missile capable of attacking any place in Morocco would play an important role in effectively deterring anyone who considers the idea of initiating an armed conflict.
Let’s think that an F-18 of the EdA accompanied by a refueling plane in flight has a radius of action of more than 2,000 km , to which we must add the 500 km of the missile, this means that Spain has the ability to launch a Taurus to any place in Morocco with an airplane that has taken off from Madrid. No one would be safe, not even the Moroccan rulers.
What is a Taurus missile for?
The Taurus is not a missile to destroy a tank or cannons, it is a missile to destroy the key infrastructure of a country or to attack its political and military domes: ports, refineries, weapons factories, research centers, headquarters … For example, throughout the 1991 Gulf War several Tomahawk missiles were launched in order to kill Saddam Hussein, the missiles never achieved their objective, but had they done so they would have beheaded Iraq paralyzing the country’s ability to wage war.
The Taurus has another advantage and is its guidance system , which not only has a meter accuracy, but is also autonomous. Imagine a missile that is aimed at a target marked by a laser, or imagine a missile that is controlled by a radio, what would happen if we smoke in front of the laser that marks the target or use systems to interfere with radio waves? The missile would never reach its objective. Al Taurus this can not happen because it depends very little on the information that comes from outside to reach the target, this is because it combines several own guidance systems.
Among its guidance systems, the most important of these is TERCOM , which works as follows: Al Taurus is loaded with a virtual map of the route that it must follow to its objective, and in turn the missile itself through a device installed in your nose (that kind of lens that you see in the photograph below) reads the terrain that flies over, in this way compares your virtual map with the ground below and if both do not match the missile corrects its own trajectory until reaching the target.
In addition to all the above the explosive head weighs nothing more and nothing less than 480 Kg, that is to say half that of a Renault Megane, but in reality the important thing is the intelligent programmable fuse.
The fuze is what causes an ammunition to explode, and in this case it can be programmed by “impacts” and what does that mean? Imagine an underground bunker on whose third floor there is a target of great value. The missile is about to hit the target, suddenly picks up speed, rises over the target and then plummets over it. The Taurus takes advantage of the speed to cross the roof. First impact. Then go through a plant. Second impact. Finally it crosses another plant. Third impact As the fuze can be programmed for impacts , if we know that the objective is on the second floor we will program the fuze to activate the explosive head after the number of impacts that interest us.
It should be said that there are more and more anti-missile systems , these systems are not yet perfected against ballistic missiles due to the speed of them, however cruise missiles with only 1,000 km / h are slower than a military fighter, so they can to be demolished with relative ease, nevertheless for this it requires a know-how and an investment that are not available to any country. Due to the relative vulnerability of cruise missiles in case of war what is done is to launch massive waves from different directions to saturate anti-missile systems .
Other weapons that a fighter can carry
To finish we would like to leave to the reader a small list of the weapons that a fighter can carry:
- Freefall pumps : Also called “dumb bombs” are released at the precise moment in which the computer has calculated that fall on the target, however its accuracy is low today compared to other weapons. They are the most rudimentary and ancient weapons.
- Guided bombs : they are like the previous ones, only that they have movable fins controlled by a computer and a guide head that complement each other to direct the bomb during the fall. When we see in the news images of very precise attacks against terrorist groups like the Islamic State, these are usually the weapons used.
- Rockets and missiles: Although rockets are sometimes considered to be the same thing, they are considered unguided missiles or with very basic guidance systems, while missiles have guide heads and are therefore more expensive but more precise. In turn, the difference between bombs and missiles / rockets is that only the latter have propulsion.
- Dispensers : are containers that shed dozens of small charges.
It is advisable not to confuse the containers or vehicles with the explosive head or the lethal element they have, because there are compounds (napalm, white phosphorus), explosives, bombs (the famous cluster) and even other types of charges such as sensors, mines or pamphlets.