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Here’s All About India’s Cruise Missiles, Ballistic Missiles and Their Differences

Written by The Trooper on May 30, 2017

Want to know difference between a cruise missile and ballistic missile? Also check out various cruise missiles and ballistic missiles owned by India to fight with enemies.

India’s Cruise Missiles, Ballistic Missiles and Their Differences

India recently test-fired Agni-II missile. Agni-II is a nuclear-capable, surface-to-surface ballistic missile. India has a lot of Ballistic as well as Cruise missiles in its armoury. But what does the terms ‘Ballistic’ and ‘Cruise’ means in the context of missiles?

Cruise Missile

A cruise missile is rocket or jet powered and flies to its target within the atmosphere, using lift to stay up. Most have wings, although a few may use lifting body designs. They manoeuvre using control surfaces on the wings and tail like an airplane. Mission profiles can include big course changes, to evade air defences, or to hug terrain to stay hidden. They can be launched from fixed ground positions but most are launched from mobile platforms. They tend to have shorter ranges than ballistic missiles.

A cruise missile does exactly what its name says. It cruises, over land or over water. Its working is similar to a jet engine powered airplane. They were developed in the 1930’s and 40’s and first saw action during World War II where the Nazis used the V1 cruise missile. Cruise missiles are either subsonic or supersonic depending on their propulsion and design.

Hence, a Cruise Missile uses:

  • Thrust for the whole trajectory
  • Aerodynamic forces by moving control surfaces to move. May use thrust vectoring

Ballistic Missile

A ballistic missile is a rocket that powers its way out of the atmosphere and coasts in an arc, re-entering the atmosphere before hitting its target. They have little manoeuvring capability, once the boost phase is done it's all down to physics. Some warheads are able to manoeuvre a bit in re-entry in order to hit a pinpoint target, others are just rocks at that point. The largest ones are launched from fixed positions like missile silos but smaller ones are mobile.

A ballistic missile is launched directly into the high layers of the earth's atmosphere. It travels well outside the atmosphere and then the warhead detaches and falls back to earth. It follows the path of a ball thrown upwards which falls down. Since it depends on gravity to reach its target, it's called a ballistic missile.

Hence, a Ballistic Missile uses:

  • Thrust to reach very high altitude. After that, no thrust, only potential energy is used and converted to speed.
  • Aerodynamic forces (for a limited extent) to move by deflecting control surfaces.

Simply put, a ballistic missile is targeted as a projectile from a single launch force with not much added guidance. A cruise missile locates its target, or has a preset target, and navigates there.

Ballistic Missiles and Cruise Missiles that India have

This is important as a part of GK for the defence written exams as well as SSB interviews.

India currently has the following Ballistic missiles:

  • Astra
  • K-100
  • Sagarika (K-15)
  • K-4
  • K-5
  • Barak-8
  • Trishul
  • Agni-I
  • Agni-II
  • Agni-III
  • Agni-IV
  • Agni-V
  • Prithvi-I
  • Prithvi-II
  • Dhanush
  • Prahaar(Pragati)
  • Shaurya

Ballistic Missile Defences:

  • Prithvi Air Defence (PAD)
  • Advance Air Defence (AAD)
  • Prithvi Defence Vehicle (PDV)

India currently has the following Cruise missiles:

  • MICA
  • Aakash
  • Nirbhay
  • BrahMos
  • BrahMos-II
  • Nag
  • Helina
  • Amogha-1


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