Difference between ballistic and cruise missile

Ballistic and Cruise Missile

A missile: A rocket-powered weapon intended to deliver an explosive payload quickly and accurately. There are many different types of missiles, ranging from small tactical weapons with a range of only a few hundred feet to considerably bigger strategic weapons with ranges of several thousand miles. The term “guided missile” frequently describes all missiles since they almost all have some sort of guidance and control system.

Any launch vehicle that sounds in the upper atmosphere or sends a satellite into orbit, commonly referred to as a rocket, is an unguided military missile. Torpedoes are underwater missiles. This guides propellers, and cruise missiles generally, along a low, flat flight path by air-breathing jet engines.

The most common classifications of ballistic missiles are short-, medium-, long-, and intercontinental ballistic missiles (SRBMs, MRBMs, IRBMs, and ICBMs). The range of SRBMs is up to 300 miles (480 km), that of MRBMs is up to 600 miles (965 km), that of IRBMs is up to 3,300 miles (5,310 km), and that of ICBMs is greater than 3,300 miles (5,310 km).


In general, tactical guided missiles have groups based on where the launch platform and target are located. Air-to-air, air-to-surface, surface-to-air, antihippy, and antitank are the five different kinds, sometimes known as assault.

Ballistic missile

Generally, Ballistic missiles are rocket-powered, self-guided strategic weapons systems that travel along a ballistic path from their launch site to their intended target. In addition to traditional high explosives, ballistic missiles can carry armaments that are chemical, biological, or nuclear. They can fire through mobile platforms, land-based silos, and even ships and submarines.

Ballistic missiles travel on an unpowered trajectory that curves upward before falling to hit their target. Powered by a rocket or a succession of rockets in stages. The warheads on ballistic missiles might be nuclear or conventional.

Groups of Ballistic Missile

  1. Short-range: less than 1,000 kilometers (approximately 620 miles), also known as “tactical” ballistic missiles.
  2. Medium-range: between 1,000 and 3,000 kilometers (approximately 620-1,860 miles), also known as “Theater” ballistic missiles.
  3. Intermediate-range: between 3,000 and 5,500 kilometres (approximately 1,860-3,410 miles)
  4. Long-range: more than 5,500 kilometers (approximately 3,410 miles), also known as intercontinental or strategic ballistic missiles. Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) can fly much further than the minimum range. For example, Russia could hit Chicago with an ICBM launched from the Krasnoyarsk ICBM base, which is located 9,156 kilometers (5,689miles) away.

Flight phases for ballistic missiles

The Boost Phase starts after the launch of the missile and lasts until the rocket engine(s) shut down and the missile starts to fly on its own. The duration of the boost phase varies depending on the type of missile. the atmosphere carries this phase.

The Midcourse Phase starts after the rocket(s) have finished launching. The rocket keeps climbing up to the greatest point in its trajectory before starting to drop into Earth. This is the phase of a missile’s flight that lasts the longest for ICBMs, it can last up to 20 minutes. ICBMs may reach a midcourse speed of about 24,000 kilometers per hour (15,000 miles per hour).

The Terminal Phase starts when the separated warhead(s) re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and concludes when it collides with something or explodes. Strategic warheads may be moving at speeds greater than 3,200 kilometers per hour during this phase, which may last for less than a minute (1,988 miles per hour).

Cruise missile

The United States and the Soviet Union invented cruise missiles in the 1960s and 1970s. However, it was based on the German V-1 missile, employed in World War II. The cruise missile can carry either a nuclear or conventional warhead. It mainly developed to hug the ground while moving relatively slowly to its target. They have a very low radar cross-section and carry either a nuclear or conventional payload.

In the middle of the 1980s, the US was producing three different types of cruise missiles. Each missile weighed between 1,200 and 1,800 kg (2,700 to 3,900 pounds). That was a single-stage, turbofan jet-propelled missile with a cruise speed of 885 km per hour (550 miles per hour). The internal navigation system guides the missiles. Equipped with an inertial navigation system. That system used contour maps stored in the system’s electronic memory to update its terrain database. While the missiles were in flight.

This is the Tercom (terrain contour matching) process. The 6.3 m (20.7 ft.) long air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) had a maximum range of 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles).

The B-52 bomber help to make it in mind. The 6.4 m (21 feet) long, 53 cm (21 inches) in diameter, and 2,500 km range of the Tomahawk ground-. Sea-launched cruise missiles, respectively, were shared by both (1,550 miles).

The Kettering Bug, American Army created an autonomous aerial bomb during World War I. That was to attack locations beyond the artillery’s range but too risky for piloted aircraft. And that served as the precursor to the cruise missile. The Kettering Bug, however, had never been in battle before. The V-1 Flying Bomb, which Germany utilized in the closing stages of World War II. This is the same place where the modern cruise missile gets its inspiration.

Cruise missile launch platforms

There is a variety of ground, air, sea, and undersea platforms from which cruise missiles can fire. Long-range bombers and fighter aircraft have the ability to carry and deploy cruise missiles. This share is due to the advantages of mobility. Road-mobile systems are for firing cruise missiles the most frequently on the ground. But they launched on permanent platforms.

Cruise missiles can fire through a variety of surface ships and submarines at sea. Submarines mostly use torpedo fixings or vertical launch tubes for launch. Whether on the surface or underwater. A Russian company, Kontsern-Morinformsistema-Agat, started promoting a Kalibr cruise missile variant in April 2010. That can house within and launch from a regular shipping container. This would enable any vehicle with the ability to transport a typical shipping container to double. Just as a covert launcher for cruise missiles.

Propulsion and Flight

Jet engines are the principal means of propulsion for cruise missiles. Turbofan and Turbojet engines are used in the majority of subsonic cruise missiles. Supersonic and hypersonic cruise missiles use Scramjet and Ramjet engines, however, they are less frequent. Some additionally use rocket motor propulsion as an initial booster or as a terminal acceleration to reach supersonic speeds.

As long as they stay inside the atmosphere, cruise missiles can travel to their targets at a variety of altitudes. The majority of its trajectory stays rather near to the planet’s surface, occasionally skimming only a few meters above it. Not in the case when the radar or sensor system is airborne and pointed at the ground. Their low flight path makes it far more difficult for the majority of radar and sensor systems to detect the missile. Some cruise missiles only fly at great heights before making a rapid descent to their target. Since flying at higher altitudes uses less fuel than flying at lower altitudes, it can increase the missile’s range.

However, because most modern radars and sensors are positioned to identify and track high-altitude threats, this also renders the missile more vulnerable to missile defense systems. In order to take advantage of both, cruise missiles can mix their flight trajectory between high and low altitudes. As they approach their target or missile defenses, cruise missiles will often fly at a lower sea-skimming or terrain-hugging altitude to assist them to elude detection and defenses. This helps them have a longer range.

Types of cruise missile

The specifications of cruise missiles include size, range, speed (subsonic or supersonic), and whether they are launched from land, air, surface ships, or submarines. Frequently, multiple launch platforms are used to generate variants of the same missile; occasionally, air- and submarine-launched variants are a little lighter and smaller than land- and ship-launched variants.

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1. Subsonic cruise missile

The Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), which is part of the Defense Research and Development Organization, created and produced the long-range, all-weather, subsonic cruise missile known as Nirbhay in India (DRDO). The missile can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads and may be launched from a variety of platforms. It is now being used sparingly in the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the midst of the standoff with China.

The Advanced Systems Laboratory produced a solid rocket booster that powers Nirbhay’s takeoff (ASL). The missile’s turbofan engine takes over for additional propulsion after it reaches the necessary speed and height. The Research Centre Imarat (RCI)-created an inertial navigation system and a radio altimeter used to determine the height to guide the missile. Guidance, control, and navigation system based on ring laser gyroscopes are used by the missile. In addition to the GPS/NavIC system, it contains an INS that is based on a microelectromechanical system (MEMS). The missile is roughly 1500 kg in weight and is 6 meters in length, 0.52 meters in width, and 2.7 meters in wing spread. It can deliver 24 various types of warheads, weighing between 200 and 300 kg, depending on the needs of the operation, and has a range of roughly 1500 kilometers.

Development and trial of subsonic cruise missile

The technology needed for the missile was created after the design was decided upon. Research and Development Establishment (Engineers), a specialist division of DRDO, integrated it. The carrier/launcher for the Nirbhay system was created by Tata Motors and is based on the “high mobility, all-terrain, and all-wheel drive Tata LPTA 5252-12 X 12 vehicle,” which was created in collaboration with DRDO.

The missile’s first test flight was scheduled for October 2012, but due to modifications being made to the launcher, the launch was moved up to December. Later, the DRDO’s Director General and Scientific Advisor, V. K. Saraswat, announced that the missile would undergo testing in February 2013. He said that the development of some processes was the cause of the delay. After the test in February, DRDO anticipated that the missile would be ready for induction in 12 to 18 months. Multiple test failures led to unsubstantiated media rumours that the missile would be abandoned; nevertheless, it was later revealed that the project had been awarded an extension of 18 months, until June 2018, to address all lingering difficulties. Nirbhay cruise missile has a single shot kill ratio of above 90 percent.

About Nirbhay Cruise missile

On March 12, 2013, at the Integrated Test Range (ITR) near Chandipur in the Balasore region of Odisha, the surface-launched Nirbhay missile had its first test firing. A static target 1500 kilometers away in the Bay of Bengal was where the missile was intended to land on its first flight. After safely leaving the launch pad, the missile traveled for 15 minutes across its intended course at a speed of 0.7 match before reaching the second stage of propulsion.

Later, it deviated from its course, causing the command center to disconnect the missile’s engine in the middle of the flight. This was done to lower the possibility that the missile might strike coastal areas. Mid-flight destruction of the missile was done on purpose.

The test was only partially successful because the missile launched, advanced to the second stage of propulsion, traveled 30% of its range, and most accomplished its mission goals before veering off course. In the following testing, DRDO fixed the issue, which was a malfunctioning inertial navigation system.

Some other updating in nirbhay missile

On October 12, 2020, DRDO intends to test Nirbhay using a Small Turbo Fan Engine (STFE) from GTRE dubbed Manik and an updated RF seeker from RCI. The new Indigenous Technology Cruise Missile (ITCM) was tested underwater. A test-launch window of two days is ready for the seventh try. On October 12, 2020, at 10:30 AM, Wheeler Island, performed, but after 8 minutes, there were some issues. An investigation is underway, and the missile was ditched in open waters. In order to become self-sufficient in cruise missile technology, GTRE developed STFE as an essential step. After reviewing the data, DRDO is anticipated to fly the Nirbhay once more.

Nirbhay was successfully test-fired from launch pad number three of the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur on June 24, 2021. The GTRE Manik engine was the successful test, opening the door for a full range test.

2. Supersonic cruise missile

The first known operational supersonic cruise missile is the famous BRAHMOS. Beginning in 2005, the Indian Navy began utilizing the BRAHMOS Weapon Complex in its first configuration.

A solid propellant booster engine serves as the first stage of the two-stage missile BRAHMOS, which accelerates it to supersonic speed before separating. In the cruise phase, the liquid ramjet or second stage accelerates the missile closer to 3 Mach. The missile has unique features thanks to stealth technology and a guiding system with cutting-edge integrated software.

The missile has a range of up to 290 km and travels at supersonic speed the whole time, resulting in a shorter flight time, which ensures lesser target dispersion, a quicker time to engage, and non-interception by any known weapon system in the globe.

It uses a variety of flights to reach its destination and operates on the “Fire and Forget Principle.” Large amounts of kinetic energy release energy from collisions, increasing their destructive force. Its terminal altitude is as low as 10 meters, while its cruise height may go up to 15 kilometers. That is equipped with a typical warhead weighing 200–300 kg.

Origin of Supersonic cruise missile

The Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) of India and the Federal State Unitary Enterprise NPO Mashinostroyenia (NPOM) of Russia have collaborated to develop the BrahMos as BrahMos Aerospace through an intergovernmental agreement. The firm started on February 12th, 1998 with a $250 million authorized share capital. With an initial financial investment of US$126.25 million, India owns a 50.5 percent stake in the joint venture, while Russia holds a 49.5 percent stake and contributed US$123.75 million.

First, there are several tests on numerous occasions from a variety of platforms. That includes a land-based test from the Pokhran range in the desert, where the evasive “S” maneuver at Mach 2.8 indicates for the Indian Army. A launch demonstrated the capability of land attack from the sea.

BrahMos Corporation purchased the Indian state-owned company Keltic in 2008. Keltic is currently famous as BrahMos Aerospace Trivandrum Ltd. or BATL. [38] The plant that will produce BrahMos components and integrate missile systems would get an investment of about 1,500 crores (equivalent to 36 billion or US$466.2 million in 2020). It is required because of the increased number of orders for the missile system. Generally, this is in both the Indian Army and Navy. Initially, 65 percent of the BrahMos’ parts, notably its ramjet engine and radar seeker, were provided by Russia. By substituting components with an Indian-made seeker and booster, the missile’s current manufacturing share of 65 percent may rise to 85 percent.

3. Hypersonic missile

At speeds of Mach 5 and higher or five times the speed of sound, hypersonic missiles are capable of launching themselves into space. Some are capable of Mach 10 speeds, such as the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal (12,347kmph).

The preferred long-range missile weapon of the US and British navy, the US Tomahawk cruise missile, is subsonic and travels at a speed of around 885 kph.

Two variants of hypersonic cruise missile

 Cruise missiles and glide vehicles

The first type travels at extremely high speeds, exceeding Mach 5, to reach its target. A high-speed jet engine makes it possible. In contrast to conventional intercontinental ballistic missiles, which use gravity forces to reach their target.

The second makes use of vehicles for re-entry. First this launch to space, then enters the market. They descend toward the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds. The warheads are for glide vehicles, which re-enter the atmosphere and, thanks to their aerodynamic shape, can ride the shockwaves produced by their own lift as they exceed the speed of sound, giving it enough speed to defeat existing missile defiance systems, as opposed to traditional ICBMs that leave the payload at the mercy of gravitational forces.

Can hypersonic missiles stop after launching?

Hypersonic missiles can’t be interpreted as a reliable or practical method. Future technologies like particle beams and other non-kinetic weapons will probably be good candidates for a successful defense against them.

Deepak Kumar

Deepak Kumar

Deepak Kumar is a professional Digital Marketer and business consultant to many startups. He loves to dig deep about business strategies, technology, fitness, automobiles, food, and travel. He is district level athlete as well. Connect with him on Linkedin for more.


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