Cruise missile

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Cruise Missiles are guided missiles which use a lifting wing and a jet propulsion system to allow sustained flight. Cruise missiles are, in essence, unmanned aircraft. They are generally designed to carry a large conventional or nuclear warhead many hundreds of miles with excellent accuracy. In 2001, modern cruise missiles normally travel at sub-sonic speeds, are self-navigating, and fly low in order to avoid RADAR detection.

Cruise missiles were first developed by Nazi Germany during World War II. The V-1 (introduced in 1944) was the first weapon to use the classic cruise missile layout of a bomb-like fuselage with short wings and a dorsally mounted engine, along with a simple inertial guidance system. The V-1 was propelled by a crude ramjet engine, the sound of which gave the V-1 its nickname of "buzzbomb".

During the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union experimented further with the concept, deploying early cruise missiles from submarines and aircraft. The Soviet Union was especially fond of large cruise missiles. While ballistic missiles were the weapons of choice for land targets, heavy, nuclear and conventional tipped cruise missiles were seen by the USSR as a primary weapon to destroy US carrier battle groups. Large submarines (e.g. Echo and Oscar class) were developed to carry these weapons and shadow US battle groups at sea, and large bombers (e.g. Backfire, Bear, and Blackjack models) were equipped with the weapons.

(As of 2001) the Tomahawk missile (BGM-109) model has become a significant part of the US naval arsenal. It gives ships and submarines an extremely accurate, long-range, conventional land attack weapon. Each costs about $1,000,000.

The US Air Force deploys an air launched cruise missile, the AGM-86. It can be launched from bombers like the B-52.

Both the Tomahawk and the AGM-86 were used extensively during Operation Desert Storm.


See also missile, ballistic missile, ramjet

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