cruise missile, low-flying, continuously powered offensive missile designed to evade defense systems. Although the German V-1 (1944) was a simple cruise missile, the cruise missile did not realize its potential until the 1970s, when the United States sought to develop a relatively inexpensive method for delivering weapons over long distances with pinpoint accuracy. The missile, which flies at altitudes of about 50 ft (15 m), has a range of up to 2,000 mi (3,200 km). It uses internally stored computerized maps of its route to follow the contour of the terrain and also makes use of information from navigation satellites to adjust its course. A cruise missile can deliver conventional or nuclear weapons. In its various modifications, it can be launched from aircraft, ships, or ground installations against land or naval targets. The U.S. Navy used conventional Tomahawk cruise missiles (TLAM-C) during the Persian Gulf War. Several other nations have developed cruise missiles.
See K. Werrell, The Evolution of the Cruise Missile (1985).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.