cruise missile

cruise missile, low-flying, continuously powered offensive missile designed to evade defense systems. A cruise missile typically uses an aircraft engine rather than a rocket engine to fly at subsonic or supersonic speeds, with a range of 2,000 mi (3,200 km) or more, but often less, depending on the missile. Internally stored computerized maps of its route allow it to follow the contour of the terrain; it also makes use of information from navigation satellites to adjust its course. A cruise missile can deliver conventional or nuclear weapons, and depending on its design can be launched from aircraft, ships, or ground installations against land or naval targets.

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. Despite those aims, cruise missiles have become relatively expensive weapons. The U.S. Navy used conventional Tomahawk cruise missiles (TLAM-C) during the Persian Gulf War. A number of other nations also have developed cruise missiles. In 2017 the United States accused Russia of deploying intermediate-range nuclear cruise missiles in violation of the 1987 INF treaty. After the United States withdrew from the treaty in 2019 it began testing an intermediate-range cruise missile, and later announced plans to deploy ground-based intermediate-range cruise missiles with conventional warheads against Chinese forces in the W Pacific.

See K. Werrell, The Evolution of the Cruise Missile (1985).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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