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An air-to-surface missile (ASM) or air-to-ground missile (AGM) is a missile designed to be launched from military aircraft at targets on land or sea. There are also unpowered guided glide bombs not considered missiles. The two most common propulsion systems for air-to-surface missiles are rocket motors, usually with shorter range, and slower, longer-range jet engines. Some Soviet-designed air-to-surface missiles are powered by ramjets, giving them both long range and high speed.
Guidance for air-to-surface missiles is typically via laser guidance, infrared guidance, optical guidance or via satellite guidance signals. The type of guidance depends on the type of target. Ships, for example, may be detected via passive radar or active radar homing, less effective against multiple, small, fast-moving land targets.
There is some cross-over between air-to-surface missiles and surface-to-surface missiles. For example, there was an air-launched version of the Tomahawk missile, superseded by the AGM-86 ALCM. Other missiles used in both roles include the Penguin and AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles. Many air-to-surface missiles can be used against both ships and land targets, although some must be modified to perform a different role; for example, the AGM-84E Standoff Land Attack Missile is a land-attack version of the Harpoon.
A major advantage of air-to-surface missiles for ground attack by aircraft is the standoff distance they provide: missiles can be launched from a distance without coming within range of the target's air defences. Most air-to-surface missiles are fire-and-forget from a standoff distance, allowing the attacker to withdraw without approaching further after launch. Some missiles (typically cruise missiles or anti-ship missiles) have long enough range to be launched over the horizon, finding the target autonomously.
Sub-categories of air-to-surface missiles include:
Typically, the higher and faster the launching aircraft is flying, the longer the reach of a particular missile is. For long-range missiles this difference can be relatively small, but short-range missiles (like the AGM-65 Maverick) have a much longer range when launched at altitude.
There have been examples of air-launched ballistic missiles (Air Launched ICBM, GAM-87 Skybolt), but they are rare. Sometimes air-to-surface missiles are divided into the categories of tactical and strategic. Typically missiles with chemical explosive or small nuclear warheads are classed as tactical, and large nuclear warheads as strategic.
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. 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.
In military terminology, a missile, also known as a guided missile or guided rocket, is a guided airborne ranged weapon capable of self-propelled flight usually by a jet engine or rocket motor. Missiles have four system components: targeting/guidance system, flight system, engine and warhead. Missiles come in types adapted for different purposes: surface-to-surface and air-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles, air-to-air missiles, and anti-satellite weapons.
The Shang You or SY-series, and the Hai Ying or HY-series were early Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles. They were derived from the Soviet P-15 Termit missile.
The Kh-55 is a Soviet/Russian subsonic air-launched cruise missile, designed by MKB Raduga. It has a range of up to 2,500 km (1,350 nmi) and can carry nuclear warheads. Kh-55 is launched exclusively from bomber aircraft and has spawned a number of conventionally armed variants mainly for tactical use, such as the Kh-65SE and Kh-SD, but only the Kh-101 and Kh-555 appear to have made it into service. Contrary to popular belief, the Kh-55 was not the basis of the submarine- and ground-launched S-10 Granat or RK-55 Relief designed by NPO Novator. The RK-55 is very similar to the air-launched Kh-55 but the Kh-55 has a drop-down turbofan engine and was designed by MKB Raduga. Both have formed the basis of post-Cold-War missiles, in particular the Sizzler which has a supersonic approach phase.
Active radar homing (ARH) is a missile guidance method in which a missile contains a radar transceiver and the electronics necessary for it to find and track its target autonomously. NATO brevity code for an air-to-air active radar homing missile launch is fox three.
A surface-to-surface missile (SSM) or ground-to-ground missile (GGM) is a missile designed to be launched from the ground or the sea and strike targets on land or at sea. They may be fired from hand-held or vehicle mounted devices, from fixed installations, or from a ship. They are often powered by a rocket engine or sometimes fired by an explosive charge, since the launching platform is typically stationary or moving slowly. They usually have fins and/or wings for lift and stability, although hyper-velocity or short-ranged missiles may use body lift or fly a ballistic trajectory. The V-1 flying bomb was the first operational surface-to-surface missile.
The RBS-15 is a long-range fire-and-forget surface-to-surface and air-to-surface anti-ship missile. The later version Mk. III has the ability to attack land targets as well. The missile was developed by the Swedish company Saab Bofors Dynamics.
The Northrop AGM-137 TSSAM was a standoff cruise missile developed for the U.S. military.
The AGM-158 JASSM is a low observable standoff air-launched cruise missile developed by Lockheed Martin for the United States Armed Forces. It is a large, stealthy long-range weapon with a 1,000 pound armor piercing warhead. It completed testing and entered service with the U.S. Air Force in 2009, and has entered foreign service in Australia, Finland, and Poland as of 2014. An extended range version of the missile, the AGM-158B JASSM-ER, entered service in 2014. By September 2016, Lockheed Martin had delivered 2,000 total JASSMs comprising both variants to the USAF.
The Kh-31 is a Russian air-to-surface missile carried by aircraft such as the MiG-29 or Su-27. It is capable of Mach 3.5 and was the first supersonic anti-ship missile that could be launched by tactical aircraft.
The Kh-59 Ovod is a Russian TV-guided cruise missile with a two-stage solid-fuel propulsion system and 200 km range. The Kh-59M Ovod-M is a variant with a bigger warhead and turbojet engine. It is primarily a land-attack missile but the Kh-59MK variant targets ships.
Standoff weapons are missiles or bombs which may be launched from a distance sufficient to allow attacking personnel to evade defensive fire from the target area. Typically, they are used against land- and sea-based targets in an offensive operation. The name is derived from their ability to engage the target while standing off outside the range at which the defenders are likely to engage the attacker. Typical stand-off weapons include cruise missiles, glide bombs and short-range ballistic missiles.
The Hongqi-61 is the first generation Chinese SARH guided surface-to-air missile (SAM). It is classified by Chinese as a low-to-medium air defense missile, and the series includes both land-based and shipborne versions, and an anti-radiation version and air-to-air version have also been developed. The naval and anti-radiation versions have been retired from Chinese service but PL-11, the air-to-air version and HQ-61A, the land-based mobile version are still currently in limited service with the Chinese military.
The CJ-10 is a second-generation Chinese ground-based land-attack missile. It is derived from the Kh-55 missile. It is reportedly manufactured by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation Third Academy and the China Haiying Electro-Mechanical Technology Academy.
The AGM-158C LRASM is a stealthy anti-ship cruise missile developed for the United States Air Force and United States Navy by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The LRASM was intended to pioneer more sophisticated autonomous targeting capabilities than the U.S. Navy's current Harpoon anti-ship missile, which has been in service since 1977.
An air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) is a cruise missile that is launched from a military aircraft. Current versions are typically standoff weapons which are used to attack predetermined land targets with conventional, nuclear or thermonuclear payloads.
The ASM-3 is an supersonic anti-ship missile being developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to replace the ASM-1 and ASM-2 missiles. The major launch platform is the Mitsubishi F-2. Planned Initial Operational Capability was 2016. The missile will be used by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.