Key Differences Between Ballistic Missiles & Cruise Missiles

Hello Defence Lovers, Indian defence follows a ‘credible minimum deterrence’ policy which comprises of two important principles: no first use of nuclear weapons and second strike capability. Second strike capability means that in the event of a nuclear strike by a enemy country, we should possess adequate response capability. Based on this principle, India possesses a number of cruise and ballistic missiles developed indigenously and with  foreign collaboration as well. In this article we will provide the difference between ballistic missile and cruise missile of Indian Defence.

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Ballistic Missiles :
  • Ballistic missiles follow an arc-like trajectory and are launched from the land or sea.
  • They usually carry a nuclear warhead and are very heavy.
  • They rely on Earth’s gravity to fly down once launched.
  • They have much larger range.
  • A ballistic missile is only guided during relatively brief periods of flight (there are unguided ballistic missiles as well, such as 9K52 Luna-M, although these may well be considered rockets), and most of its trajectory is unpowered and governed by gravity and air resistance if in the atmosphere.
    Types Of Ballistic Missile :

Ballistic missiles can vary widely in range and use, and are often divided into categories based on range. Various schemes are used by different countries to categorize the ranges of ballistic missiles:

  • Tactical ballistic missile: Range between about 150 km and 300 km
  • Theatre ballistic missile (TBM): Range between 300 km and 3,500 km
  • Short-range ballistic missile (SRBM): Range between 300 km and 1,000 km
  • Medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM): Range between 1,000 km and 3,500 km
  • Intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) or long-range ballistic missile (LRBM): Range between 3,500 km and 5,500 km
  • Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM): Range greater than 5,500 km
  • Submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM): Launched from ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs); Most current designs have intercontinental range with a notable exception of Indian operational SLBM Sagarika and K-4 as well as North Korea’s currently operationally deployed KN-11 which might not have Intercontinental range. A comparable missile would be the decommissioned China’s JL-1 SLBM with a range of less than 2,500km.
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(1.) Agni Missiles
  • These are long-range ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. They are classified into three types: Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBM), Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM) and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM).
Range (Km)
Agni I MRBM One 700-1200
Agni II IRBM Two 2000-2500
Agni III IRBM Two 300
Agni IV IRBM Two0-5000  2500-3700
Agni V ICBM Three 5000-8000
Agni VI ICBM Three 10000-12000
  • The stages refer to the missile engine. Missiles stages can be solid or liquid fuelled.
  • Agni V and VI are capable of striking targets in other continents and cover all parts of China as well. Agni V is a road-mobile missile and is in testing phase while Agni VI is still in development stage.
(2.) Prithvi Missiles
  • Prithvi Missiles are tactical surface-to-surface short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM).
Range (Km)
Prithvi I SRBM One 150
Prithvi II SRBM Two 150-350
Prithvi III SRBM Two 350-650

(3.) Dhanush
  • Dhanush is reportedly a naval version of Prithvi which can be launched from ships. Dhanush can fire modified versions of Prithvi-II or Prithvi-III.
(4.) Aakash Missile
  • Aakash is a medium-range mobile surface-to-air missile defence system developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Ordnance Factories Board and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL).
  • The missile system can target aircraft up to 30 km away, at altitudes up to 18,000 m.
(5.) Trishul Missile
  • Trishul is a short range surface-to-air missile.
  • The range of the missile is 12 km and is fitted with a 15 kg warhead.
  • The weight of the missile is 130 kg.
(6.) Nag Missile
  • Nag is India’s third generation “Fire-and-forget” anti-tank missile.
  • It is an all weather, top attack missile with a range of 3 to 7 km. Nag uses Imaging Infra-Red (IIR) guidance with day and night capability.
  • It can be mounted on an infantry vehicle; a helicopter launched version will also be available with integration work being carried out with the HAL Dhruv.
  • A variant of NAG Missile to be launched from Helicopter is being developed under the Project named HELINA (HELIcopter launched NAg). It will be structurally different from the Nag missile.
(7.) K Missile Series
  • The K family of missiles is a series of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) developed by India to boost its second-strike capabilities and thus the nuclear deterrence.
  • Information about this family of missiles has mostly been kept classified.
  • The three missiles current under development/testing under this series are K-15, K-4, and K-5. These missiles are intended to be armed with Arihant-class submarines.
(8.) Shaurya Missile
  • The Shaurya missile is a short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile developed for use by the Indian Army.
  • Capable of hyper sonic speeds, it has a range of 600 km and is capable of carrying a payload of one-tonne conventional or nuclear warhead.
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Cruise Missiles :
  • Cruise missiles can also be launched from air and fly within Earth’s atmosphere.
  • They have their own engines and wings to strike the target.
  • They can be supersonic or subsonic and are highly accurate.
  • They usually carry conventional warheads although some cruise missiles can also be equipped with nuclear warheads.
  • A cruise missile is a guided missile used against terrestrial targets that remains in the atmosphere and flies the major portion of its flight path at approximately constant speed.
  • Cruise missiles are designed to deliver a large warhead over long distances with high precision; that is, small circular error probability.
  • Modern cruise missiles are capable of travelling at supersonic or high subsonic speeds, are self-navigating, and are able to fly on a non-ballistic, extremely low-altitude trajectory.
  • Larger cruise missiles can carry either a conventional or a nuclear warhead, while smaller ones carry only conventional warheads.
Types Of Cruise Missiles :

Cruise missiles can be categorized by size, speed (subsonic or supersonic), and range, and whether launched from land, air, surface ship, or submarine. Often versions of the same missile are produced for different launch platforms; sometimes air- and submarine-launched versions are a little lighter and smaller than land- and ship-launched versions. Guidance systems can vary across missiles. Some missiles can be fitted with any of a variety of navigation systems (Inertial navigation, TERCOM, or satellite navigation).

  • Hypersonic : A Hypersonic speed cruise missile would travel at least five times the speed of sound (Mach 5).
  • Supersonic : These missiles travel faster than the speed of sound, usually using ramjet engines. The range is typically 100–500 km, but can be greater.
  • Intercontinental-range 
  • Long-range subsonic : These missiles have a range of over 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) and fly at about 800 kilometres per hour (500 mph). They typically have a launch weight of about 1,500 kilograms (3,300 lb) and can carry either a conventional or a nuclear warhead.
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(1.) BrahMos Missile
  • The BrahMos is a short range ramjet supersonic cruise missile that can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft or land.
  • It is a joint venture between the Russia and India who have together formed BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited.
  • It is the world’s fastest cruise missile in operation. The missile travels at speeds of Mach 2.8 to 3.0 and has a maximum range of 290 km.
  • BrahMos missiles come in three variants: surface-launched, air-launched and submarine as well as ship launched. BrahMos II, currently under development, will be a Hypersonic cruise missile capable of flying at a speed greater than 5 Mach.
(2.) Nirbhay Missile
  • Nirbhay is an all-weather low-cost long-range nuclear warhead capable cruise missile with stealth and high accuracy. The missile has a range of more than 1000 km.
  • It weighs about one tonne and has a length of 6 metres. It carries a ring laser gyroscope for high-accuracy navigation and a radio altimeter for the height determination.
  • It is capable of being launched from multiple platforms on land, sea and air and will be inducted into Indian Navy, Army, and Air Force.
  • In particular, Nirbhay is being adapted for the Indo/Russian Su-30MKI.
(3.) Astra Missile
  • Astra is an active radar homing beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM).
  • Astra is designed to be capable of engaging targets at varying range and altitudes allowing for engagement of both short-range targets (up to 20 km) and long-range targets (up to 80 km) using alternative propulsion modes.
  • It is 3.8 metres long and is narrower in front of the wings. The propellant used is HTPB (solid-fuel).
  • The warhead is a 15 kg HE (high-explosive) which is activated by a proximity fuse. The missile’s maximum speed is Mach 4 and can attain maximum altitude of 20 km.
  • The maximum range of Astra is 110 km in head-on chase and 20 km in tail chase. The missile could be launched from different altitudes – it can cover 110 km when launched from an altitude of 15 km, 44 km when fired from an altitude of eight km and 21 km when the altitude is sea-level .
  • The missile can reportedly undertake 40 g turns close to sea level, when attacking a maneuvering target. It will have an active homing range of 25 km.
Jai Hind