The U.S. Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) and Tomahawk epitomize nextgeneration trends. They are carried by many more varied types of platforms, from tactical attack aircraft to small patrol boats, destroyers, cruisers, and submarines (meaning that virtually any submarine can now launch cruise missiles), as well as in
much greater numbers per platform by heavy bombers such as the B-1 and B-2.
Cutaway View of Tomahawk Ship-Launched Cruise Missile Source: Staff, Tomahawk Block IV Missile, PMA-280, (United States Navy, March 2006), the size decreases, they are capable of launch from smaller and thus more numerous land-launch platforms such as trucks and towed launchers. Importantly, these weapons take advantage of new generations of guidance technology, in which geographical details of the path to the target are downloaded into the memory of the missile, enabling them to fly terrain-contour-following flight paths, to hide their approach from adversaries’ air-defense radars. These tactics had previously only been possible with manned strike aircraft. The Russian SS-N-21 Sampson14 and the U.S. Tomahawk15 fit into this category.
The latest generation of cruise missiles from such countries as the U.S., France and Great Britain offer advanced capabilities from supersonic speeds, extended ranges, and in some cases, e.g., the latest-generation American Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM)16 and the European Apache,17 outright stealth.
Navigation and sensor systems are often combined to achieve the most effective weapon possible for the mission, target type, and the allotted unit cost.
The last and perhaps most important characteristic of note is that cruise missiles can carry a wide variety of warheads, from a few hundred pounds of high-explosive to all types of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons and thermonuclear warheads of up to 250 kilotons yield Even with these significant capabilities, the cruise missile is an affordable weapon. The widespread availability of finished systems and components, coupled with the dual-use nature of many of the technologies involved, make for a robust market for prospective buyers. A U.S. Army estimate from the mid-1990s suggests that for an investment of $50 million, a country could purchase at least 100 cruise missiles.
Now more than 10 years old, this estimate has undoubtedly changed, but with the entrance of new players into the cruise missile marketplace, there is without question a robust and cost competitive marketplace for buyers, with reduced barriers to entry as the technology has proliferated.