In 2018, Russia and China both tested an uncommon type of missile that flew a ballistic trajectory but could be launched from an aircraft. Air-launched ballistic missiles (ALBM) are just one curiosity at a time when many countries are rapidly expanding and upgrading their missile inventories, but the tests raised some understandable questions: Is this a new capability? If a country has ground- and sea-launched ballistic missiles, or air-launched cruise missiles, why does it need an ALBM? What is it for?
Examining the phenomenon of air-launched ballistic missiles provides insight into not only the planning of the countries developing these systems, but also the diversity and complexity of missile systems.