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Rocket (weapon)

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Rocket (weapon)

Katyusha rocket launcher, one of the earliest modern rocket artillery weapons

Rocket can be a self-propelled, unguided weapon system powered by a rocket engine, while guided ones are known as missiles.

Rockets are used primarily as medium and long-range artillery systems, although historically they have also seen considerable use as air-to-ground, some use as air-to-air weapons, and even a few examples of surface-to-air devices. Examples of modern surface-to-surface rocket systems include the BM-27 Uragan and M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System.


In military parlance, a rocket differs from a missile primarily by lacking an active guidance system; early missiles were known as guided rockets or guided missiles. Some rockets were developed as unguided systems and later upgraded to guided versions, like the GMLRS, and these generally retain the term "rocket" instead of becoming missiles.[1] Rockets or missiles that travel underwater, like the VA-111 Shkval, are known as torpedoes no matter what their propulsion system is.

Early development

The use of rockets as some form of artillery dates back to medieval China where devices such as fire arrows were used (albeit mostly as a psychological weapon), and gradually spread to Europe and the Middle East. Rockets became a significant weapon during the 20th Century, when precise manufacturing processes made relatively accurate rockets possible.

Basic roles


Rockets have been used as an artillery weapon for centuries, and continue to be used in the modern age after being extensively modernized in World War II. Rockets in the artillery role compliment traditional field guns, at which they are superior in some ways and inferior in others. Rocket artillery tends to be simpler, lighter and more mobile than guns or howitzers, most of which must be emplaced. Guns tend to have better accuracy, consistency and range, while rocket artillery is light enough to be employed closer to the front lines and excels at saturation fire, expending its entire ammunition load in a single barrage on a target. The saturation fire produced by rocket artillery is only somewhat approximated in effectiveness with gun artillery via the time on target barrage method.

Time-sensitive soft target interdiction (such as personnel or unarmored vehicles moving in large groups) is where rocket artillery is particularly useful. This allows for the shoot-and-scoot method, avoiding the enemy counter-battery fire that is the greatest risk to emplaced artillery pieces, while maximizing damage to the target before it can find better cover. (see Rocket artillery vs gun artillery)

Portable rockets

With the invention of the tank, the infantry required a weapon to counter the threat. Tank armour soon developed beyond the point at which an anti-tank rifle could practically be carried by an infantryman, and by the Second World War rocket weapons such as the US bazooka and German Panzerschreck were in service. Development continued after the war, with weapons such as the RPG-7, although a need to increase range led to the development of guided weapons to fulfill the anti-tank role. Most modern armies now use guided missiles for long-range engagements and rockets for close-range or emergency use; disposable weapons such as the RPG-26 are popular for this.

The use of anti-tank weapons to attack buildings and other targets has led to the development of weapons and ammunition designed specifically to attack non-tank targets, such as the one-shot LASM and the larger SMAW.


AH-64 carrying rocket pods

Unguided rockets have been launched from aircraft since the early 20th century, to attack land, sea and air targets. Even after the development of guided missiles, rockets remain useful for short-range attacks – typically for close air support missions.


  1. ^ . British Army Retrieved 2010-12-13. 
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