AS-15 Cruise Missiles on a Rotary
Launcher in a Tu-160 Bomber

Photo credit: Aerospace News

Unlike ballistic missiles, cruise missiles are usually categorized by intended mission and launch mode (instead of maximum range). The two broadest categories are land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) and antishipping cruise missiles (ASCMs). Each type can be launched from an aircraft, ship, submarine, or ground-based launcher. LACMs are addressed in this document.

A LACM is an unmanned, armed aerial vehicle designed to attack a fixed or mobile ground-based target. It spends the majority of its mission in level flight, as it flies a preprogrammed path to a predetermined target. Propulsion is usually provided by a small jet engine.

Because of highly accurate guidance systems that can place the missile within a few feet of the intended target, the most advanced LACMs can be used effectively against very small targets, even when armed with conventional warheads. LACM guidance usually occurs in three phases: launch, midcourse, and terminal. During the launch phase, a missile is guided using only the inertial navigation system (INS). In the midcourse phase, a missile is guided by the INS updated by one or more of the following systems: a radar-based terrain contour matching (TERCOM) system, a radar or optical scene matching system, and/or a satellite navigation system, such as the US Global Positioning System (GPS) or the Russian Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS). The terminal guidance phase begins when a missile enters the target area and uses either more accurate scene matching or a terminal seeker—usually an optical or radar-based sensor.

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