A cruise missile is a long-range, jet-propelled guided missile. It is unmanned and it carries an explosive payload by sustaining flight through the use of aerodynamic lift over the majority of its flight path. A cruise missile may be launched from a variety of different vehicles or places. It may be launched from aircraft, ships, submarines or a number of different land sites. A cruise missile typically flies close to the earthâ€™s surface on the way to its target and it is capable of reaching speeds up to 550 miles an hour.
There are currently around 130 different types of cruise missiles around the world today. Roughly 75 different countries have cruise missile inventory. Two of the most notable types of cruise missiles are the Tomahawk and the Air Force AGM-86B/C. The Tomahawk, which was first used in 1986, is the most notable type of cruise missile weighing in 2,900 pounds. It is a long-range subsonic cruise missile used for striking high-value or heavily defended land targets. This 18 foot, 3 inch missile is used mostly by the Navy. A newer Tomahawk was launched in 2004. The â€œTactical Tomahawk,â€? launches from forward-deployed ships and submarines. The AGM was first deployed as an 86B in December 1982. It is an air-to-ground strategic cruise missile with a range of more than 1,500 miles (2,400 km). The Tomahawk has a range of 870 nautical miles (1,000 statute miles, or 1,609 km), and the both cruise missiles are capable of hitting a target the size of a truck.
All cruise missiles consist of four major subsystems. The four major subsystems of a cruise missile consist of the airframe, propulsion, guidance, control, and navigation, and weapons integration. The technology to build cruise missiles is very simple and readily available to any country that builds the most basic types of aircraft. And because cruise missiles are unmanned, and because they require no flight crew training, no expensive upkeep programs, no special hangars for housing, or large air bases for basing, this makes it extremely difficult to collect any significant intelligence on the development of cruise missiles or to determine the level of any developing threat.
While cruise missiles are relatively inexpensive to build, they pose the greatest delivery system proliferation threat. Because they can be produced (and delivered) in the greatest numbers, they can easily overwhelm current defenses. Three major concerns of the cruise missile threat include: range extension to ranges greater than 500 km; the ability to penetrate defenses, and any technologies that reduce the cost of manufacture and therefore increase the size of a cruise missile inventory.
Countries can easily build a massive cruise missile inventory by purchasing existing cruise missiles from supplier states and refurbishing them to meet a particular need. Countries can also make an entire cruise missile system from readily available parts. â€œEuropean aerospace firms, the FSU, and the Chinese have all sold many cruise missiles of one description or another to customers in proliferant and industrialized countries.â€?
At least a dozen exporting countries have developed cruise missiles with moderate to good capability (into the hands of proliferants) to threaten the United States. These exporting countries include: Great Britain, China, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and Taiwan.