What Is a Cruise Missile and How Far Can It Travel? Russia Uses Eight on Ukrainian City

Eight Russian cruise missiles hit the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia on Sunday, completely destroying the airport, the country's president and foreign minister said.

Vinnytsia is city with a population of more than 300,000 people located in west-central Ukraine—far from where most of the fighting is taking place.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the city was "peaceful" and "has never posed a threat to Russia" in a video message.

"A brutal, cynical missile strike has completely destroyed the airport," Zelensky said.

Russian cruise missiles have also hit other Ukrainian targets in recent days, including a city council building in the eastern city of Kharkiv on Wednesday, Reuters reported the deputy governor of the region as saying.

But what are cruise missiles and how far can they travel?

What Are Cruise Missiles?

Cruise missiles are unmanned aerial vehicles propelled by jet engines that, much like a small airplane, can be armed with a conventional, nuclear or even a chemical warhead and are used to strike terrestrial targets.

Unlike ballistic missiles, cruise missiles are powered throughout their flight while remaining within the Earth's atmosphere. Cruise missiles can be launched from ground, air or sea platforms and are capable of flying as low as just a few feet above the surface.

Being able to fly close to the Earth's surface makes cruise missiles very difficult to detect, according to The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Cruise missiles are self-guided, relying on several different methods to accurately deliver their warhead over long distances.

Some advanced cruise missiles even allow a remote operator to manually guide the weapon as it approaches the target or abort the strike with the help of a camera fitted to the nose.

Modern cruise missiles are capable of traveling at high subsonic (lower than the speed of sound), supersonic (faster than the speed of sound) and hypersonic (at least five times the speed of sound) speeds.

The range of hypersonic missiles can vary from hundreds of miles to a couple of thousand miles or more. The Russian 3M22 Zircon, for example, is an anti-ship, hypersonic cruise missile that has an operational range of around 620 miles, according to the Russian defense ministry.

Supersonic cruise missiles mostly have a range of a few hundred miles, but some intercontinental versions can travel several thousand miles, such as the Russian Kalibr-M, which is still under development and will reportedly have a range of 2,700 miles, according state-owned news agency Tass.

Subsonic cruise missiles can have ranges as little as tens of miles, but longer range versions can travel much further, such as the Russian Kh-101, which reportedly has a maximum range of around 3,400 miles.

An Indian-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missile
An Indian-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missile on display at the International Maritime Defence Show in Saint Petersburg on June 28, 2017. Eight Russian cruise missiles hit the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia on Sunday, according to officials. OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images