Strategic missiles are classified into ballistic and cruise missiles and the differences between them are highlighted below:
1. Ballistic Missile
This is a type of missile that follows a ballistic trajectory on its flight path to deliver its warhead to its target. Ballistic missiles are initially powered by a rocket, but when it burns up the fuel of the rocket that propels it, it then keeps moving in an unpowered trajectory that arches upward before it descends to reach its predetermined target.
This type of missile is guided for only a brief period, but when the fuel is finished, the direction of the missile can’t be changed as gravity guides the missile and its payload to the intended target.
There are 4 classifications of ballistic missiles which are based on their range; Short-range, Medium-range, Intermediate-range and Long-range or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
It should be noted that Short-range ballistic missiles always stays within the Earth’s atmosphere while the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) move along a sub-orbital trajectory
2. Cruise Missile
This is a self-guided and self-propelled missile that is powered by a jet engine just like an aeroplane. They remain in the air throughout their flight duration and can fly in lower altitudes such as a few metres off the ground which makes it difficult to detect. Unlike ballistic missiles, they fly in a relatively straight line.
Cruise missiles make use of different technologies such as inertial guidance, GPS, terrain mapping and different sensors to accurately deliver its payload to its target.
When some advanced cruise missiles are approaching their targets the remote operators can make use of the camera which is located at the nose of the missile to see where it’s heading, with this they can guide the missile manually to its target or abort the airstrike if need be.