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
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.