Warplanes: June 17, 2004


Cruise missiles are very popular weapons, even if they arent used all that much. Currently, some 70 nations have an inventory of some 75,000 cruise missiles. Only about a dozen nations have high tech cruise missiles, like the United States Tomahawk. Most cruise missiles out there are old Soviet models, which are basically elderly jet engines propelling a large explosive charge and directed by a primitive guidance system. But a dozen nations (Great Britain, United States, China, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and Taiwan) make and export cruise missiles. 

The most common cruise missile in service is the original one, and variants of it. The Russians put the SS-N-2 Styx missile into service in the late 1950. The current version weighs three tons, has a range of about 400 kilometers and carries a half ton warhead. Chine is still building this missile as the Silkworm or Seersucker. Iran, Egypt and North Korea still produce it. Cruise missiles can be built with cheap, easily available components. Modern navigation technology, especially GPS, makes such missiles accurate against stationary targets. Cruise missiles fly low and slow, making them hard to spot. As recently as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, cruise missiles were used against coalition forces. The Iraqi missiles did little damage, but they did prove hard to spot. In some future war, a lot more of them will probably be used. Most nations cannot afford the elaborate ground based and airborne radar systems needed to spot all these low, slow, and cheap cruise missiles. Western nations, appalled at the low cost and high reliability of new UAV designs, recognize how easily the UAV designs could be turned into cruise missiles. So, despite their low tech, and low cost nature, cruise missiles will continue to be formidable weapons for some time to come.


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