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What is the difference between cruise missile and ballistic missile?


In 1942, Germany developed the first ballistic missile V-2 missile, although the missile only 100 kilometres per hour, the range of only 300 kilometres, but this missile for mankind is undoubted of great significance, V-2 missile brought mankind into the ballistic missile era, the beginning of human long-range attack. After the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union captured German scientists to create more advanced ballistic missiles, after decades of development of today’s missile development into the far and near three types of missiles, and from the V-2 missile derived from other types of missiles, such as cruise missiles, so do you know what is the difference between cruise missiles and ballistic missiles?

 V-2 missile
The U.S. military seized the German V-2 ballistic missile.

The most intuitive difference between cruise missiles and ballistic missiles is in their shape, the general ballistic missile is very large, the body is almost as thick as a normal tree, and the cruise missile is more like a reduced version of the ballistic missile, in general, a ballistic missile is several times or even a dozen times the size of a cruise missile, in addition to the two missiles also have a clear difference is that the ballistic missile is not a flying wing, and the cruise missile is almost designed to have a flying wing, what causes such a difference? Mainly because of the engines of both missiles, the ballistic missile’s engine is a rocket engine that can be relied on to adjust the flight posture, while cruise missiles rely on the wing to adjust.

Agni 5 missile
Indian armed force Agni-5 ICBM

In addition to the difference in appearance, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles flight posture is also very different, ballistic missiles are equipped with a rocket engine with strong thrust, so the flight altitude is very high, almost reach the Earth’s atmosphere, when the rocket engine to the top of the ballistic missile, the engine will stop working, the missile in the use of the parabola principle according to the intended orbital target, the missile according to the above trajectory of the parabola, need to concentrate on the above target, all calculated parameters in advance, When the missile’s warhead enters the end of the attack, it is impossible to change the trajectory of its flight by human intervention, but the ballistic missile in the end-of-attack state flies very fast, reaching Mach 10-27, so it is very difficult to intercept, and then in order to increase the difficulty of intercepting, and then designed a serpentine ballistic for the ballistic missile, the anti-missile system has no way to do so.

missile
The trajectory of a ballistic missile is like a parabola, which is called a “ballistic”
Brahmos cruise missile
Brahmos Missile : The fastest cruise missile in the world

Ballistic missiles are by the fixed parabolic ballistic missile flight attack, and cruise missiles are not like this, cruise missile flight principle and fighter aircraft, are relying on air and start layout to obtain thrust and lift to achieve uniform flight of the “missile version” fighter, in fact, can also be understood as a missile-carrying aircraft, which determines that cruise missiles can be based on the actual situation through the guidance system, satellite real-time orbiting, such as can adjust the cruise missile cruise altitude. The flight elevation of cruise missiles can be adjusted, etc. This is the difference between the flight attitude of a ballistic missile and a cruise missile, a ballistic missile is a parabola, and a cruise missile is an irregular parallel line.

ballistic missile
Russian ballistic missile

In terms of payload, ballistic missiles have a much larger payload than cruise missiles, and with the development of technology, ballistic missile multi-warhead technology can attack different targets, such as a ballistic missile with 10 guided warheads can attack 10 different targets at the same time, if it is a nuclear warhead, then 10 warheads can destroy 10 cities. Today’s cruise missiles still have only one warhead, but they are unlikely to develop into multiple warheads due to volume constraints. In terms of range, ballistic missiles can have a maximum range of 15,000 kilometres, while cruise missiles have a maximum range of 2,000 kilometres.

3M-54E1
3M-54 Kalibr: Russian subsonic long-range cruise missile

From the mission, ballistic missiles are basically strategic tasks, against the enemy’s strategic objectives or large targets, while cruise missiles are tactical weapons, generally carry out tactical tasks, attack small and medium-sized targets. In terms of launch mode, ballistic missile launches are conducted by road-based launch wells, strategic nuclear submarines, strategic bombers, and cruise missiles can be launched by vehicle, conventional submarines and fighter jets. From the jurisdictional point of view, ballistic missiles as a strategic weapon, technology, economic strength are very careful, only the great powers play, and cruise missiles in general countries can basically afford.


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