The Cruise Missile – descended from the German V1 of World War II – is a long-range guided missile that has a terrain-seeking radar system and flies at moderate speed and low altitude.
Initial trials in the 1950s demonstrated the limitations of cruise missiles, which included high fuel consumption and relatively slow speeds when compared to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as well as inaccuracy and a small warhead.
Improvements to guidance systems by the use of terrain-contour matching (TERCOM) ensured pinpoint accuracy on low-level flights after launch from a mobile ground launcher, from an aircraft, or from a submarine or ship.
The 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) excluded reference to cruise missiles, and thus research into improved systems continued.
During the 1970s the USSR increased its intermediate nuclear force (INF) targeted upon Western Europe and at the same time improved its own air defences.
NATO therefore embarked in 1979 on a ”twin-track decision” to acquire additional cruise missiles while simultaneously offering to agree to an arms control treaty to withdraw them, provided the USSR did likewise.
Tomahawk cruise missiles were deployed from 1983 onwards. The 1987 INF Treaty resulted in Ground Launched Cruise Missiles being withdrawn.
Tomahawk cruise missiles were used in the 1991 Gulf War.