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Cruise missiles becoming long ranged, hypersonic, Nuclear powered , and AI enabled capable of performing evasive maneuvers and hit moving targets

Cruise missile is any weapon which automatically flies an essentially horizontal cruise flight profile for most of the duration of its flight between launch and its terminal trajectory to impact. Their main attraction has been the difficulty in detecting, tracking and killing a small, and often very low flying cruise missile. Therefore cruise missiles  often provided very significant stand-off range, keeping the delivery platform out of the reach of most if not all air defence weapons.


After  the end of the Cold War and the subsequent Global War on Terror all in west had halted anti-ship missile development. However as  tensions with China and Russia are rising, ship-to-ship naval warfare is back. And with it, the need to reach out and sink enemy ships. The rising claims and contests over South China sea driving  Northeast Asia’s naval powers for indigenous development of a multiplicity of new anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) in the region to ensure sea control, or effect sea denial. China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, and Taiwan are all investing to meet national priorities. While work continues to evolve and hone a number of subsonic sea-skimming weapons, what is particularly notable is the development on a new breed of supersonic anti-ship guided weapons designed to penetrate shipborne air defences.


On April 6, 2017, the United States attacked a Syrian government airfield with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Known for its range and accuracy, the Tomahawk has been a part of America’s arsenal since 1983, and has seen extensive use in several military actions.


The drawback in all cruise missiles has always been economic – the fraction of warhead weight to total weapon weight has typically been less than 50%, while the cost of these weapons has been of the order of 50 times or greater than guided bombs. Complex guidance and propulsion systems have been the main cost drivers. Each Tomahawk unit cost about  $1.7 million apiece. Cruise missiles are being improved in many ways: they are made more intelligent or AI based,more long ranged and  they are becoming hypersonic like Russian and Indian Brahmos, in addition they are also becoming nuclear powered.


In August 2019 it was reported that the United States has tested a new ground-based cruise missile that is capable covering 500 kilometers in range, less than three weeks after officially exiting an arms treaty that banned such systems. The test occurred 2:30 PM Pacific time Sunday at San Nicolas Island, California, according to a Pentagon announcement. The missile “exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight,” the release said. “Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities.” Imagery of the test shows the weapon was launched from a Mark 41 Vertical Launch System, the same launcher used in the Aegis Ashore missile defense system.


In March 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed cruise missile that he claimed could fly indefinitely and deliver a warhead to any point on the earth’s surface. Russia calls the 9M730 Burevestnik (Storm Petrel) and which NATO has dubbed the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. A missile powered by a small nuclear reactor could cruise about its target for days, giving it a wide range of potential targets it could strike upon command. Edward Geist, a researcher specializing in Russia at the Rand Corp  suspects that the Russian design would involve what’s known as a “fast reactor,” which is more efficient, but also less safe, than most nuclear reactors. If the missile crashed or the reactor failed, it would trigger a major incident.


According to Putin’s prepared remarks to the Russian Federal Assembly, he said that “in late 2017, Russia successfully launched its latest nuclear-powered missile at the Central training ground. During its flight, the nuclear-powered engine reached its design capacity and provided the necessary propulsion.” However, in August 2019Russia’s experimental nuclear-powered cruise missile had exploded killing seven scientists and causing a major radiological incident less than 300 miles from the Finnish border, he fired off a boastful tweet.


US has also been experimenting with Nuclear powered missiles. Donald Trump  after hearing Russsian incident  tweeted: “We have similar, though more advanced, technology,” he said.  Lawrence Radiation Laboratory (today, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), in Berkeley, California, was developing Nuclear missile in 1960s on a ramjet design. Powered into the sky atop a conventional rocket booster, the ramjet would compress incoming air in a uniquely shaped chamber, superheat it with a small nuclear reactor, and expel it as exhaust, propelling the missile almost three times faster than sound.

Cruise Misssiles

Anti-ship missiles (AShM) are guided missiles that are designed for use against ships and large boats. Most anti-ship missiles are of the sea skimming variety, and many use a combination of inertial guidance and active radar homing. A good number of other anti-ship missiles use infrared homing to follow the heat that is emitted by a ship; it is also possible for anti-ship missiles to be guided by radio command all the way.


They are further divided into tactical / sub-strategic / theatre weapons, and strategic weapons, and then divided by warhead into nuclear and conventional.  A further division, somewhat arbitrary with the arrival of the SLAM/Block II Harpoon and Russian analogues, is the split between Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCM) and Land Attack Cruise Missiles (LACM).


Some common cruise missiles are the US Navy UGM/RGM-109 Tomahawk/TLAM or US Air Force AGM-86 ALCM/CALCM. The most widely deployed are ASCMs, which typically start with ranges of tens of nautical miles, warhead sizes around 100 kg, and subsonic cruise profiles. The Exocet, Harpoon, Kh-35U and YJ-8 families are the most widely used examples. At the opposite end of this spectrum are the Russian heavyweights, like the rocket propelled subsonic 2.5 tonne class Styx family (Chinese C-601/611 Kraken), the Mach 3+ 6 tonne class Kh-22M Burya (AS-4), the ramjet Mach 2+ 4.5 tonne class Kh-41 Sunburn and 3 tonne class Kh-61 Yakhont/Brahmos.


US’s Tomahawk Land Attack Missile

The Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) is an American-developed weapon classified as a cruise missile, which is an unmanned jet-propelled aircraft that uses guidance systems to seek and destroy targets. The missiles are approximately 21 feet long, weigh 1.5 tons and can be launched from both traditional torpedo tubes and vertical launch tubes on modern submarines. Once the Tomahawk is in the air, the turbojet engine kicks in and its wings spread, allowing it to reach speeds of 500 miles per hour.


The sophisticated guidance system uses a combination of GPS, TERCOM (Terrain Contour Matching) and DSMAC (Digital Scene-Matching Area Correlator) to ensure the missile accurately destroys its target. TERCOM uses radar signals, while DSMAC uses optical images stored in the electronic system.


The Tomahawk’s INS relies on waypoints. Waypoints are well discernible terrain features with the characteristic outlines, e.g. mountains, hills, valleys, river bends, etc. When passing waypoints, the missile turns on its electro-optical system. The INS has the master image showing how the terrain the missile is passing through should look like if the missile is on course. Comparing the standard image with the imagery provided by the optics, the INS realizes the degree of its deviation.


The Tomahawk flies 30-50 m above the ground. During its navigation correction, it climbs to 100 m for a few seconds but then descends again. The cruise missile climbs sharply once it reaches the target to ensure the best view for its electro-optical system, because the TLAM finds the target by using both its grids and video imagery. The target’s image is stored in its memory. The guidance system analyzes the video, finds the target’s outline, compares it against the memory-stored image and only then steers the weapon to the target.


On average, the missile’s circular error probable (CEP) is within 10 m. The present-day Tomahawk uses satellite navigation (satnav). However, the GPS system is needed on the last leg of the flight for terminal attack. The weapon’s accuracy has grown from 10 m to 10 cm owing to its satnav capability. This is especially important when the cruise missile is employed against point targets, e.g. ICBM silos.


If the Tomahawk impacts 10 m away from the silo’s cover that weighs many tons, it will not damage it. Owing to its satnav receiver, the missile will hit the middle of the cover and destroy it. However, it does not need this kind of accuracy when engaging area targets, such as airfields, bunched-up combat vehicles or fighting positions. The Tomahawk’s guidance system also relies on the GPS signal for course updates. Once updated, the INS compares its data with that of the GPS. The Tomahawk will approach its target without satnav anyway


“What’s important about the Tomahawks is that they just don’t necessarily go from point A to point B in a straight line. They will take kind of a circumnavigation route so they can’t be shot down,” retired US Army Maj. Gen. James “Spider” Marks said. In layman’s terms, this type of missile is designed to be used at great distances, with pinpoint accuracy, minimizing risk to personnel and civilians.


There also is a specific variant of the Tomahawk that can carry cluster munitions that separate over a target, causing fragmentation and incendiary damage that could destroy vehicles, supply depots and aircraft on a flight line. The missiles would not cause as much damage to a runway as a larger Air Force bomb launched from a bomber or fighter, such as Joint Defense Air Munition (JDAM).


IN 2015, a Raytheon-built Tomahawk Block IV missile was tested against a moving target — a vessel carrying shipping containers — in a test that showed the weapon can strike moving objects at sea. The missile launched from the destroyer USS Kidd near San Nicolas Island and was flying on a pre-planned course when a surveillance plane also participating in the test designated a new target – a mock cargo ship. The plane sent data to a control center, which relayed the command to the missile. The Tomahawk rocketed toward the vessel and punched straight through a shipping container on its deck.


The test was the next step in the evolution of Tomahawk, a  precision weapon that can fly more than 1,000 miles, can circle on command and can even transmit photos of its target to commanders before striking. Raytheon is also developing a seeker that will allow the missile to find moving targets on its own.


“This is a significant accomplishment,” the Navy’s Tomahawk program manager, Capt. Joe Mauser, said in a statement. “It demonstrates the viability of long-range communications for position updates of moving targets. This success further demonstrates the existing capability of Tomahawk as a netted weapon, and in doing so, extends its reach beyond fixed and re-locatable points to moving targets.”



The Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, or LRASM, is a leading candidate to replace it. LRASM is a variant of the U.S. Air Force’s JASSM-ER cruise missile and shares many of its design features. Built by Lockheed Martin, JASSM-ER is jam-resistant and stealthy, with a range of 500 miles. JASSM-ER is designed to autonomously detect and attack targets based on an uploaded profile. It can deliver a 1,000 pound penetrating warhead to within three meters of the target, and is capable of being carried by most U.S. Air Force strike aircraft.


LRASM should be expected to have a range similar to JASSM-ER, the estimated 500 mile range will considerably enlarge the engagement range of the U.S. Navy’s air and ship platforms. Unlike Harpoon, LRASM fits in both the Mk. 41 vertical launch system silos of the Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Burke destroyers and the Mk. 57 silos on the new Zumwalt-class destroyers. This will allow individual ships to carry many more anti-ship missiles than ever before, although this will impact the number of other missiles, such as the SM-6 surface-to-air missile and ASROC anti-submarine rockets, in the ship’s overall inventory.


Russian cruise missiles strike against Islamic State targets

In October 2015, Russian warships belonging to the Russian Navy’s Caspian Sea Strike Group launched 26 cruise missiles against Islamic State targets located in Syria. The missiles flew nearly 1,500 kilometres (930 mi) over Iran and Iraq and struck targets in Raqqa and Aleppo provinces (controlled by the the Islamic State) as well as Idlib province (controlled by the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front).


It was the first time Russia had fired the new Kalibr cruise missile in a combat mission. According to the Russia’s MoD, the cruise missiles “engaged all the assigned targets successfully and with high accuracy.” The missile used to conduct the attack is the 3M14TE Kalibr-NK with a maximum range of 2,600 km, fired by a strike group consisting of the Dagestan missile ship, the small-sized missile ships Grad Sviyazhsk, Uglich, VelikyUstyug.


Defense experts believe that 26 missiles that were launched were land-attack versions of Russia’s SS-N-27 anti-ship missiles similar to a Tomahawk cruise missiles. Anton Lavrov, an independent military expert, said in an interview with “Izvestia” that high-precision cruise missiles are only owned by a few countries in the world, so the emergence of new “Kalibrs” is a landmark in the development of the Indian armed forces.


“The strengths of the “Kalibr” are its high precision and the ability to hit well-protected objects, including control and air defence facilities centres”, Lavrov said. “The most important thing is the surprise effect. When there is an air raid, the enemy has time to react, but cruise missiles strike unexpectedly. In addition, “Kalibr” has an advantage – it can manoeuvre and hit the target from unexpected directions.” He also drew attention to another important aspect of the export of new cruise missiles.


“’Kalibr’ has the feature of using high-precision satellite guidance, and hence, its application requires very close cooperation in the military sphere, as the Indians will have to grant access to the three-dimensional model of the Earth, maps, terrain and the GLONASS military frequencies,” said Lavrov. “Such opportunities are not just given to anybody, only the closest allies.”


Club (3M-54E1 anti-ship variant)

An anti-ship missile used by the Russian Navy, Club is actually a family of weapons sharing the same airframe. It is a versatile weapons system with variants capable of anti-ship (3M-54E1), land attack, and anti-submarine missions. Club has been exported to Algeria, China, and India.


There are four versions. Club-S is designed to be launched from 533mm torpedo tubes, a standard diameter for submarines worldwide. Club-N is designed to be launched from surface ships, Club M is launched from land, and Club K is fired from camouflaged shipping containers.


Club has a solid-fueled first stage, which clears the missile of the launcher and boosts it to cruising altitude. After the first stage burns out, the missile’s turbofan engine kicks in. The latest anti-ship version, 3M-54E1, is directed to the target by an active radar seeker, GLONASS global positioning system targeting, and internal navigation systems. The 3M-54E1’s warhead weighs 881 pounds.


Technically a cruise missile, 3M-54E1 typically cruises at 0.8 Mach at an altitude of 10-15 meters. Some versions accelerate to 2.9 Mach supersonic flight during the terminal stage shorten the reaction time of enemy anti-missile defenses. The maximum range of the 3M-54E1 is 300 kilometers, or 186 miles. It’s surely a coincidence that the missile’s range is the maximum allowable for cruise missiles under the Missile Technology Control Regime. MCTR is a nonproliferation agreement designed to limit the range of nuclear-capable missiles, to which Russia is a signatory.

Russia develops hypersonic cruise missiles

Russia has built a hypersonic missile capable of destroying an aircraft carrier with a single impact, it has been reported.  Kremlin chiefs claim to have constructed a Zircon cruise missile which travels between 3,800mph and 4,600mph – five to six times the speed of sound. Experts warn the ‘unstoppable’ projectiles could spell disaster for the Navy’s new £6.2billion aircraft carriers, the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales


Current Navy anti-missile defenses are only equipped to shoot down projectiles traveling 2,300mph, meaning they would be useless against the Zicron. This would force aircraft carriers to anchor outside of their estimated 500 mile range. That would make it impossible for the carrier’s jets and helicopters to reach their target, carry out their mission, and return without running out of fuel – effectively rendering them useless.


Pete Sandeman, a naval expert, told the Sunday People: ‘Defence against hypersonic missiles presents a huge challenge to surface ships. ‘There is so little time to react that even if detected, existing defences may be entirely inadequate. ‘Even if the missile is broken up or detonated by close-in weapons, the debris has so much kinetic energy that the ship may still be badly damaged.’


China’s hypersonic cruise missile sees technological breakthrough

China’s mastery of ASM technology has particularly accelerated during the past decade. In terms of domestically produced missiles, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has deployed the indigenous ship-launched Ying Ji (YJ)-62 ASM – with the export designation of C-602 – on the Type 052C destroyer. The subsonic missile is believed to have a range of up to 216 n miles and carries a 300 kg semi-armour piercing warhead, although CASIC states a range of 151 n miles for the export variant. The PLAN has also been upgrading its road-mobile coastal defence batteries with a new version called the YJ-62C.


The C-802 is also being offered in the submarine- and air-launched variants, known as YJ-82 and YJ-82K/C-802K respectively. The YJ-82 and YJ-83 are the most widely deployed ASMs in the PLAN, with the PLAN Air Force (PLANAF) employing the 135 n mile range YJ-83K (C-802AK) ASM on its Xian JH-7 fighter-bomber and H-6G bomber platforms. The YJ-82’s successor is the supersonic YJ63 (C-803) with a circa 160 n mile range and is deployed aboard the navy’s Type 052C destroyer.


The latest and most capable missile, however, is the Yong Ji (YJ)-18 missile that equips the Type 052D destroyer. The vertically launched YJ-18 has a range of 290 n miles and a supersonic terminal phase. According to the US Department of Defense (DoD), the missile features a dual-speed propulsion system, with the flight profile initial subsonic at approximately Mach 0.8 for the cruise phase and – following the release of what the DoD describes as ‘the sprint vehicle’ – Mach 3 in the terminal phase, manoeuvring at up to 10 g to defeat the target vessel’s close-in defences.


More recently, in November 2016 CAISC unveiled the export CM-302 ASM, which is claimed to maintain supersonic speeds throughout its mission profile. Based on the in-service YJ-12 supersonic ASCM, the new weapon is stated by the company to be a highly affordable but precise weapon capable of carrying a 250 kg warhead out to a maximum range of about 150 n miles with a high hit probability of 90%.


The CM-302 has a long-ogival nose and constant diameter cylindrical body, with four rectangular cross section fairings mounted at 90° intervals around the fuselage. An air intake closed by a jettisonable cover is located at the front end of each fairing, while one of the missile’s cruciformcropped delta wings and one of its cruciform tailfins are mounted further down the length of the fairing.


CASIC said the missile can be launched from air, land, and naval platforms, and modified for land attack missions. The company also states that it is specifically designed to engage naval vessels, such as aircraft carriers and destroyers, with a single missile having the potential to disable a 5,000-tonne warship. Although official information on the CM-302 remains scant, it is believed that the baseline YJ-12 is powered by a liquid-fuelled ramjet engine and features a combination of an inertial navigation system (INS), radio frequency (RF) altimeter, and an active-radar seeker. The missile is believed to be guided by BeiDou satellite navigation to a target location, which can be constantly updated via datalink, before the radar seeker is activated during the terminal phase of the flight.


Meanwhile, China’s interest in fielding unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has also resulted in a range of new or existing air-launched weapons being developed or adapted for UAV carriage. For example, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) is offering the new YJ-9E ASM, an export variant of its Tian Long 10 (Sky Dragon, or TL-10) missile developed by its Hongdu Aviation Industry Group subsidiary. There are three known YJ-9E models: the YJ-9E with radar seeker, YJ-9EA with TV seeker, and YJ-9EB with a semi-active laser (SAL) seeker. AVIC indicated that the missile is capable of engaging not just ships, but also lightly protected structures and vehicles.


A top Chinese science institute recently made record-breaking progress in a scramjet program which Chinese media speculate could lead to significant advances in the development of China’s hypersonic cruise missile, another type of hypersonic weapon that is more powerful than China’s DF-17 hypersonic glide-boost missile.


Japan’s XASM-3

Japan’s strictly defensive military doctrine has driven a requirement for smaller ASMs to arm ships, aircraft and ground batteries. Japan has designed and produced two generations of anti-ship missiles fitting this profile, but the third generation will likely be a radical departure from past designs.


XASM-3 is an anti-ship missile currently under joint development by the Government of Japan’s Technical Research and Development Institute and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). Although relatively little is known about the missile at this point, if put into production it will represent a considerable leap over the Japan Self Defense Forces’ existing capabilities.


XASM-3 will be a hypersonic missile, a solid-fueled rocket with integrated ramjet operating at speeds of up to Mach 5. The missile is designed to be stealthy. Like Brahmos, XASM-3 will use speed to limit the enemy’s reaction and engagement time. Using the same engagement parameters as Brahmos, XASM-3 will allow defenders only a 15 second reaction time. XASM-3 has both active and passive integrated seekers. The missile weighs 1,900 pounds, with warhead size currently unknown. It is expected to have a range of 120+ miles.


The missile will be carried by Japan’s indigenous F-2 fighter. Other possible carriers are the Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft and Japan’s F-35A fighters. XASM-3 will most likely not fit inside the internal weapons bay of the F-35 and would have to be carried externally, making the F-35 easier to detect. Development of the XASM-3 began in 2002, and is expected to end in 2016 — six years overdue. At that point, MHI will need to decide if it wants to create a production missile. Should XASM-3 go into production, it’s possible it will be cleared for export to friendly countries


Iran navy test-fires new cruise missiles in Gulf of Oman

Iran’s navy chief Admiral Hossein Khanzadi told state TV that the “homing” c-class cruise missiles have new warheads that can hit targets with high accuracy at a close distance. He said the missiles are capable of resisting “any kind of electronic war”. “The important point about these missiles is that they are fully equipped with homing,” Khanzadi said. Homing is a missile guidance system in which the missile has all necessary electronics for tracking and hitting a target.


“It means they are of the fire-and-forget type. We fire the missile and the data is on the missile itself, it has various navigation systems built-in,” Khanzadi said.


India Russia Joint development of the BrahMos missile system

The BrahMos is a ramjet powered supersonic cruise missile developed in a joint venture between India and Russia. It is the world’s fastest operational cruise missile. Cooperation between the Indian Defense Research and Development Organisation and Russia’s Mashinostroyeniye Company began in 1998, with the first successful test of the BrahMos missile conducted in 2001. Since then, the missile has been employed aboard at least eight warships of the Indian Navy, and by three regiments of the Indian Army.


The Navy has also successfully tested in 2013 a submarine-launched version which is expected to enter service in future vessels. Submarine-launched BrahMoses could potentially be launched fairly close to the target without being detected. In April 2017, the Indian Navy successfully carried out the first-ever test of a supersonic land-attack cruise missile (LACM). A “land attack version of BrahMos supersonic cruise missile was fired for the first time from an Indian Navy’s stealth frigate, off the eastern coast, at a land target,” an unnamed Indian Ministry of Defense source noted. To date, the only variants of the BrahMos tested by the Indian Navy were the anti-ship variants. The variant tested on Friday has a range of 290 kilometers, but India is working toward longer-range variants with ranges of up to potentially 800 kilometers.


The missiles are capable of Mach 2.8 flight. It also weighs twice as much as a Tomahawk, at six thousand pounds. The combination of twice the weight and four times greater speed as a Tomahawk result in vastly more kinetic energy when striking the target. Despite having a smaller warhead, the effects on impact are devastating. Even more importantly, the BrahMos’s ability to maintain supersonic speeds while skimming at low altitude makes it very difficult to detect and intercept. To cap it off, the BrahMos performs an evasive “S-maneuver” shortly before impact, making it difficult to shoot down at close range.


The BrahMos capable of being equipped on mobile, ground stations and warships with considerable ease. Its precision, speed and low flying altitude make it the weapon of choice to avoid enemy detection and perform stealth attacks on radar installations, army headquarters and communication / control modules. It is considered the fastest missile of its kind due to its supersonic speeds, and can carry warhead in excess of 200 kg, making it quite a formidable weapon.India is developing a second generation BrahMos-II missile is collaboration with Russia based on the scramjet technology.The BrahMos-II is expected to have a range of 600 km. The missile is expected to be ready for testing by 2020.


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