a ballistic missile threat was [inbound]

Irelia20150604

Senior Member
Chinese
source: False Missile Threat Alert Sends Hawaii Into A Panic

We're going to hear now about the false alarm that set off a panic in Hawaii this morning. Tourists and locals were just waking up as their phones buzzed with a short emergency alert. The notification said a ballistic missile threat was inbound. Those who turned on their TVs were met with the same message.
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Hi everyone! How should I understand "inbound" here? Thanks in advance.
 
  • Irelia20150604

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    :D I expected " a ballistic missile was inbound", that is, a ballistic missile would hit Hawaii. I think I was a bit confused with "threat". Does it mean "the Federal government gave Hawaii a warning?"
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    The actual emergency alert was as follows
    BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
    I might have put some kind of punctuation between threat and inbound. BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT - INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. No-one was confused as to whether the threat or the missile was meant as the "inbound" item:eek:
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    I might have put some kind of punctuation between threat and inbound.
    I think that's not necessary.
    I'd assume that any incoming long-range missile may initially be classified as "just" a threat because the US army has advanced defense systems that can intercept and destroy that missile with a high probability.

    If I think about it, "ballistic missile inbound to Hawaii" would sound scarier to me than "ballistic missile threat inbound ...", don't you think?
    And it covers the possibility of a false positive of their missile detection system, i.e. a false alarm as a result of detection uncertainty or technical malfunction.
     

    andrewg927

    Senior Member
    English - American
    I think that's not necessary.
    I'd assume that any incoming long-range missile may initially be classified as "just" a threat because the US army has advanced defense systems that can intercept and destroy that missile with a high probability.

    If I think about it, "ballistic missile inbound to Hawaii" would sound scarier to me than "ballistic missile threat inbound ...", don't you think?
    And it covers the possibility of a false positive of their missile detection system, i.e. a false alarm as a result of detection uncertainty or technical malfunction.
    No. Threat or No threat the alarm is the same.
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    No. Threat or No threat the alarm is the same.
    Yes, of course! (assuming you mean 'confirmed threat' versus 'potential threat')

    And based on the idea of "the boy who cried wolf", it is understandable and wise for officials to call a missile that is moving in the direction of the island a threat only, particularly when you don't know whether this missile is actually targeting the island.
    After all, it could be programmed to only follow a trajectory passing Hawaii, be it for technical reasons or in order to distract from the real final target somewhere in the continental US! (modern missiles are certainly capable of changing their trajectory in mid flight.)
     

    andrewg927

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Yes, of course! (assuming you mean 'confirmed threat' versus 'potential threat')

    And based on the idea of "the boy who cried wolf", it is understandable and wise for officials to call a missile that is moving in the direction of the island a threat only, particularly when you don't know whether this missile is actually targeting the island.
    After all, it could be programmed to only follow a trajectory passing Hawaii, be it for technical reasons or in order to distract from the real final target somewhere in the continental US! (modern missiles are certainly capable of changing their trajectory in mid flight.)
    It was a false alarm. A mistake.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII.
    Irelia, you are perfectly correct. That is a ridiculous form of words. The threat made no movement whatsoever. That the message was sent in error is neither here nor there. The message is supposed to tell people that a missile is likely to land near them and they should take shelter. But even though the phrase as written is nonsense, it does get the message across.
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    In that case, they're guided missiles, not ballistic missiles.
    Not exclusively. Also ballistic missiles are guided (at least in their initial flight stages), or else they wouldn't be able to hit a pre-selected target.
    Only ballistic missiles from the 50's and 60's were almost truly ballistic in the sense that the warheads followed a ballistic path after final separation from the drive stages, leaving them without any further maneuvering capabilities.
    In the seventies, maneuverable re-entry vehicles (a final stage attached to the warhead) were designed, but they were and are still classified as ballistic missiles -- I suppose that's because the launch vehicles follow the basic concept of simple ballistic missiles.

    I was truly wondering why they would actually use such a specific term "ballistic missile" instead of just "missile". Could it be that this is a sort of euphemism for "long-range missile that potentially carries a nuclear warhead"??? Because that would be pertinent information when it comes to seeking shelter, I would think.
    As a native speaker, do you see any more ambiguity in the phrase "missile inbound to Hawaii" than in "ballistic missile inbound to Hawaii"?

    PS: I know terms like 'ballistic missiles' and ICBM from the end of the cold war and I have the impression that they were almost exclusively used as synonyms for missiles with nuclear warheads - less scary as a term and yet the same. That's why I'm wondering whether US media conveyed the same idea.
     
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