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Fastest Cruise Missiles in the World

Updated on April 12, 2018
Savio Dawson profile image

Savio is a resident of Mumbai, India. Cars, bikes, and everything fast are his passion, and he writes about them on many sites.

Introduction

Before we get on with the cruise missiles let’s first understand the difference between cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. We will keep it simple. Cruise missiles essentially travel within the atmosphere and are accelerated as they near the target to destroy the target. Ballistic missiles, on the other hand, are propelled outside the atmosphere, much like a rocket, and then allowed to fall back on the intended target due to gravity. Due to this re-entry and gravity acting on the falling missile, it achieves anywhere between Mach 10 to 23. The concept of a ballistic missile is similar to us throwing a stone in the air and seeing it fall back on its own weight.

Trusting that the readers got a hang of the difference, we move forward and will be discussing only cruise missiles in this article. A separate article on ballistic missiles is written for interested readers.

You can read about the Fastest Ballistic Missiles here

As with all "Fastest..." articles of mine, we will start with the fastest one and move on to the relatively slower ones; though even the slower ones will burn our pants-off and that too fast, very fast!

1. Russian Kh-47M2 Kinzhal

You can see the Kinzhal attached to the aircraft belly
You can see the Kinzhal attached to the aircraft belly | Source

This is latest, fastest and baddest cruise missile to enter the list and it is as recent as March 2018 when Russia introduced this missile to the world. It was fired from a MiG -31. The missile is an air-to-surface missile and is said to be highly maneuverable throughout its flight duration. That makes it one of the few cruise missiles out there that can be maneuvered at hypersonic speed. Talking of speed, the missile can do a Mach 10.

  • Missile: Kh-47M2 Kinzhal
  • Type: Cruise Missile
  • Country: Russia
  • Speed: Mach 10 [12,250 kmph or 7,608 mph]
  • Flight Altitude: Not known
  • Operational Range: 2000 km+
  • Status: In production

The Kinzhal would be one of the few cruise missiles to have such a large operational range and that could be attributed to the fact that the MiG can carry it over the desired range and fire closer to the target. In such circumstances, considering the unfueled sortie distance of the aircraft carrying the Kinzhal, the Kinzhal can have near ICBM range.

2. Russian 3M22 Zircon

Artist's Impression
Artist's Impression | Source

Here comes another missile from Russia. The 3M22 Zircon is an anti-ship hypersonic cruise missile capable of doing a Mach 8. It too is one of the most recent additions to the fastest cruise missile bandwagon, being successfully launched in June 2017. There is no other known cruise missile by any country which can do a Mach 8, leave alone Mach 10. So, this is the fastest of the lot and way faster than the any of the Royal Navy interceptor’s capability. At most, the Royal Navy counter can handle missiles at the speed of Mach 3 but Mach 8 is beyond comprehension for most navies.

  • Missile: 3M22 Zircon
  • Type: Cruise Missile
  • Country: Russia
  • Speed: Mach 8 [9,800 kmph or 6,087 mph]
  • Flight Altitude: Not known
  • Operational Range: 250 km to 1000 km in varying load conditions
  • Status: In production

The Zircon is a winged missile, therefore, making it maneuverable even at the hypersonic speed that it is capable of achieving. A side note: The speed of Mach 8 is faster than the fastest jet record ever of Mach 6.83 by the X-43 A. So if the air version of the missile comes out then nothing in the air out there is safe.

You can read about the fastest military jets here

3. Indian Shaurya

Source

This one has everybody in a tizzy. Is this a ballistic missile or is it a cruise missile? The internet is replete with speculation on the Shaurya. Here’s the tiebreaker – it is a cruise missile because DRDO, which developed the Shaurya, said so. If you analyze it you will come to the same conclusion. The missile can be maneuvered near the end of its flight, a possibility, at least for now, only with cruise missiles. In case of a ballistic missile, there is not much of maneuvering possible at the end stage due to the extremely high speeds achieved. So, knowing that the Shaurya can be maneuvered before hitting the target, we know it as a cruise missile. That makes Shaurya one of the fastest Indian cruise missiles around.

  • Missile: Shaurya
  • Type: Cruise Missile
  • Country: India
  • Speed: Mach 7.5 [9,188 kmph or 5,709 mph]
  • Flight Altitude: 40 km (within the atmosphere)
  • Operational Range: With a 1-ton payload – 700 km
  • Status: In production

Shaurya is a surface-to-surface hypersonic missile developed by the DRDO for the Indian Army. There is speculation that it is the land version of the Sagarika K-15 missile, which DRDO refutes. In fact, Sagarika K-15 is classified as a ballistic missile with its range of 3500 km.

4. Indian BrahMos 2

Scale Model
Scale Model | Source

The BrahMos 2 is a joint development by the Indian DRDO and Russian NPO. The design cue comes from the earlier BrahMos missile and is expected to use scramjet engines. The BrahMos 2 will be ready for testing by 2020. The expected speed is Mach 7. A bit of trivia for the readers – the BrahMos derives its name from the river Brahmaputra in India and river Moskva in Russia.

  • Missile: BrahMos 2
  • Type: Cruise Missile
  • Country: Indian and Russian joint development
  • Speed: Mach 7 [8,575.5 kmph or 5,326 mph]
  • Flight Altitude: Not known. Estimated below 50 km
  • Operational Range: 450-600 km with varying load conditions
  • Status: Expected testing by 2020

The BrahMos 1 is a Mach 3 cruise missile too, however, this version 2 is supposed to be more advanced and have a better range, now that India is an MTCR signatory.

5. Boeing X -51 Waverider

X-51 on a B-52 during testing in 2009
X-51 on a B-52 during testing in 2009 | Source

In a list dominated by Russian and Indian missiles, here is the first American one. Now, if Russia builds a lot of hypersonic missiles, you can expect the Americans to follow suit. This is one of their attempts of known high-speed missiles from the Americans’ armory. Before I call it a missile, let me make it clear that the Waverider is an unmanned, experimental research aircraft to test speeds of Mach 5+; not really an aircraft but more of a drone. This is what will be developed into futuristic cruise missiles by mid-2020s under the High Speed Strike Weapons (HSSW). The Waverider did a Mach 5

  • Missile: X – 51 Waverider
  • Type: Cruise Missile [Test type]
  • Country: American
  • Speed: Mach 5.1 [6,247.5 kmph or 3,904 mph]
  • Flight Altitude: Test was conducted at 21 km
  • Operational Range: 550-700 km [Expected]
  • Status: Expected in service by mid-2020s

The X-51 concept was initiated in 2005 and tested in 2010 where the Waverider achieved Mach 5.1 during a flight of six minutes which is a record for longest hypersonic flight. The service ceiling as of now is at 21 km and the missile is envisaged to be launched by a B-52 holding it inside its belly or by an F-35.

Other Missiles on the List

There are many more cruise missiles by many countries and we will call them out by listing them here.

6. Russian Kh-90: Mach 4 – 5

7. Russian Kh-80: Mach 3 – 4

8. American AGM-69 SRAM: Mach 3

9. French Air-Sol Moyenne Portee: Up to Mach 3

10. Indo-Russian BrahMos 1: Mach 2.8 - 3

11. Russian 3M -54 Kalibr: Mach 2.5 – 2.9

12. Russian 3M – 51 Alfa: Mach 2.5

Special Mention: Chinese Hypersonic Glide Vehicles

Artist's Impression of HGV
Artist's Impression of HGV | Source

Now, in the hypersonic and supersonic world of missiles, China finds no mention and that is simply because they do have supersonic missiles but all below the Mach 2 range. The most recent development is the Hypersonic Glide Vehicles or HGVs being tested by China. The HGVs are expected to reach anywhere between Mach 5 and Mach 10. The advantage of HGV is that unlike a ballistic missile which has a predictable path at re-entry, the HGV can glide through and therefore allow less time for detection and countermeasures.

However, there appear to be chinks in the armor already. There are questions raised on the computing brain that would go into the HGVs; whatever it is, it may not be as complex or precise as the Russian, Indian or American one. If that is true then the HGV would be nothing but a fast moving carrier pigeon waiting to be shot down. At the moment, the HGVs are expected to be in operation from 2020 and only by then, we will come to know the true power of the missile. Till then we wait for China to “Enter the List”.

Cruising Home

Cruise missiles are the fastest modes of transportation, being faster than the military aircraft but slower than ballistic missiles. However, the reason for which they are manufactured is not a kind one and I do wish someday that they will be used more like a carrier drone, bringing your Amazon order home; can you see getting your Amazon, U.S., order delivered in India within a couple of hours at Mach 10 speed? Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Wishful thinking you say, but I do wish this wish comes true!!

Which Cruise Missile was interesting to know about?

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