Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Missiles, Cruise

Unmanned, aircraft-like missile systems designed to carry a warhead to a surface target. Cruise missile designs emerged during World War I, but the first effective operational system was the German V-1 Buzz Bomb used during World War II. After World War II, jet-propelled cruise missiles were developed as delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons, allowing strikes at night and in all weather conditions and removing concerns over aircrew survivability. The U.S. military developed a series of surface-to-surface systems such as the U.S. Air Force's intercontinental-range Snark (briefly operational in 1961) and the shorter-range theater nuclear systems Matador and Mace. These systems and the navy's Regulus missile for ship-or submarine-to-shore strikes were replaced by ballistic missiles and aircraft-delivered weapons that offered advantages in survivability, accuracy, and flexibility over the early land-based cruise missiles. The Soviet Union also developed a number of cruise missile systems for surface-to-surface theater delivery of nuclear weapons but also used cruise missiles in a broad range of ship-, submarine-, and aircraft-launched roles during the 1950s and 1960s.

The U.S. and Soviet militaries both developed cruise missiles for aircraft delivery against strategic targets. Examples of such systems included the Soviet AS-3 Kangaroo and the U.S. Air Force Hound Dog missile in the 1960s. As a strategic weapon, cruise missiles extended the range of manned bombers and could suppress enemy defenses and complicate the defensive plans of the adversary. In the 1980s, the U.S. military fielded a new generation of nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM) that extended the useful life of the B-52 bomber. The U.S. Navy also fielded a nuclear submarine-launched cruise missile called the Tomahawk, which was eventually deployed in a conventional land-attack version that was also installed on surface ships.

Cruise missile systems initially involved primarily nuclear warheads, but conventional warheads were increasingly used as guidance capabilities improved. A key nonstrategic mission was antiship attack, fielded in land-, ship-, submarine-, and air-launched systems. These cruise missiles provided smaller naval forces and coastal defensive positions the ability to challenge larger navies. The Egyptian Navy, using Soviet-made Komar-class boats and Styx ship-to-ship missiles, demonstrated the antiship potential of cruise missiles by sinking the Israeli destroyer Eilat in 1967, history's first loss of a ship to a guided missile.

The final significant nuclear role for cruise missiles in the Cold War was the mid-1980s U.S. deployment of mobile ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCM), based on the Tomahawk submarine-launched missile, to bases in Britain and on the European continent in response to the Soviet deployment of the SS-20. Combined with the deployment of the Pershing II ballistic missile, the GLCM deployment contributed to arms control negotiations that resulted in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the removal of GLCM, Pershing II, and SS-20 systems from Europe. Conventional cruise missiles grew in capability and importance during the 1980s. Their increasingly important role was ably demonstrated during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Jerome V. Martin


Further Reading
Neufeld, Jacob. Ballistic Missiles in the United States Air Force, 1945–1960. Office of Air Force History. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989.; Scott, Harriet Fast, and William F. Scott. The Armed Forces of the U.S.S.R. 4th ed. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2002.; Werrell, Kenneth P. The Evolution of the Cruise Missile. Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 1985.
 

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