Ranged weapon

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A period illustration of the Battle of Crecy. English longbowmen figure prominently in the foreground at right where they drive away the French crossbowmen. Battle of crecy froissart.jpg
A period illustration of the Battle of Crécy. English longbowmen figure prominently in the foreground at right where they drive away the French crossbowmen.

A ranged weapon is any weapon that can engage targets beyond hand-to-hand distance, i.e. at distances greater than the physical reach of the user holding the weapon itself. The act of using such a weapon is also known as shooting. It is sometimes also called projectile weapon or missile weapon because it typically works by launching solid projectiles ("missiles"), though technically a fluid-projector (which throws out pressurized streams of liquid or even gas) and a directed-energy weapon (which does not involve any tangible projectile) are also ranged weapons. In contrast, a weapon intended to be used in hand-to-hand combat is called a melee weapon.


Ranged weapons give the attacker an advantage, since the target is often getting hit from beyond immediate visual range, therefore making it more difficult for the defenders to react and hitting back effectively. [1] It also puts distance between the attacker and the opponent, which is a safer combat option since the close physical contact during melee fights often puts the attacker within the immediate striking range of enemy counterattacks and thus at an equal risk of getting hurt or killed.

The line between ranged and melee weapons is not entirely definite; for instance, spears, axes, daggers, and knives can be used for both throwing and striking, depending on purpose and situation, and a ranged weapon can also be used as a melee weapon in close encounters, such as the buttstock of a rifle used for butt-stroking with a fixed bayonet, a handgun used for pistol-whipping, and even an arrow being used as a hand weapon in desperate situations.

Early ranged weapons often included specifically designed hand-thrown weapons such as darts, javelins, slings, as well as more complex elastic weapons such as bows and crossbows; and siege engines like stone throwers, catapults, ballistas and trebuchets. These ranged weapons were extremely effective in ancient and early medieval warfare, especially when used en masse, as they gave the wielder an opportunity to launch multiple rounds of attack before an enemy armed with melee weapons or shorter-ranged missile weapons could even get close enough to pose a threat.

After the invention of gunpowder and the development of firearms, gun-type pneumatic ranged weapons became the dominant weapon of choice in armed conflicts, even in close combat. In modern warfare, ranged weaponry is also used both tactically and strategically in the form of long-range artilleries, rockets and guided missiles. The maximum effective range of a weapon is the greatest distance from which the weapon can be fired while still consistently inflicting casualties or damage.

List of ranged weapons

Prehistoric, ancient, and medieval period

Reconstruction of a post-Marian pilum Pilum lg.jpg
Reconstruction of a post-Marian pilum

Early modern period

Late modern and contemporary period

155 mm M198 howitzer 155fire.jpg
155 mm M198 howitzer
Exocet missile in flight Exocet-mil.jpg
Exocet missile in flight

Most modern projectile weapons fall into the broader category of either direct fire or indirect fire, with the former often being regarded as guns and the latter as artillery. While some are small and light enough to be operated by individuals (i.e. small arms and grenade launchers), most require a team of individuals to service, maneuver and operate.

Future and conceptual weapon period

See also

Related Research Articles

Artillery Long-ranged guns for land warfare

Artillery is a class of heavy military ranged weapons built to launch munitions far beyond the range and power of infantry firearms. Early artillery development focused on the ability to breach defensive walls and fortifications during sieges, and led to heavy, fairly immobile siege engines. As technology improved, lighter, more mobile field artillery cannons developed for battlefield use. This development continues today; modern self-propelled artillery vehicles are highly mobile weapons of great versatility generally providing the largest share of an army's total firepower.

Catapult Pre-gunpowder projectile-launching device

A catapult is a ballistic device used to launch a projectile a great distance without the aid of gunpowder or other propellants – particularly various types of ancient and medieval siege engines. A catapult uses the sudden release of stored potential energy to propel its payload. Most convert tension or torsion energy that was more slowly and manually built up within the device before release, via springs, bows, twisted rope, elastic, or any of numerous other materials and mechanisms.

Missile Self-propelled guided weapon system

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.

Sling (weapon) Ranged weapon, typically to propel small stones

A sling is a projectile weapon typically used to throw a blunt projectile such as a stone, clay, or lead "sling-bullet". It is also known as the shepherd's sling. Someone who specializes in using slings is called a slinger. It was known in ancient China as the Piao Shih.

Ballista Ancient missile weapon

The ballista, plural ballistae, sometimes called bolt thrower, was an ancient missile weapon that launched either bolts or stones at a distant target.

Trebuchet Siege engine using long arm to throw projectiles

A trebuchet is a type of catapult that uses a long arm to throw a projectile. It was a common powerful siege engine until the advent of gunpowder.

A projectile is any object thrown by the exertion of a force. It can also be defined as an object launched into the space and allowed to move free under the influence of gravity and air resistance. Although any object in motion through space may be called projectiles, they are commonly found in warfare and sports. Mathematical equations of motion are used to analyze projectile trajectories.

Nuclear artillery

Nuclear artillery is a subset of limited-yield tactical nuclear weapons, in particular those weapons that are launched from the ground at battlefield targets. Nuclear artillery is commonly associated with shells delivered by a cannon, but in a technical sense short-range artillery rockets or tactical ballistic missiles are also included.

Ballistics Science of the motion of projectiles

Ballistics is the field of mechanics concerned with the launching, flight behavior and impact effects of projectiles, especially ranged weapon munitions such as bullets, unguided bombs, rockets or the like; the science or art of designing and accelerating projectiles so as to achieve a desired performance.

Rocket launcher Portable device that propels unaimed rocket

A rocket launcher is a device that launches an unguided, rocket-propelled projectile, although the term is often used in reference to mechanisms that are portable and capable of firing actual rockets.

Shoulder-fired missile

A shoulder-fired missile, shoulder-launched missile, man-portable rocket launcher, or man-portable missile is a rocket-propelled explosive projectile small enough to be carried by a single person and fired while held on one's shoulder. The word "missile" in this context is used in its original broad sense of a heavy projectile, and encompasses all guided missiles and unguided rockets. In many instances, although not technically defining all shoulder-fired missiles, the name bazooka is regularly used as an informal name, although the actual Bazooka is a type of unguided rocket launcher in its own right.

Wunderwaffe Propaganda term for WWII German weapons programmes

Wunderwaffe is German for "wonder weapon" and was a term assigned during World War II by Nazi Germany's propaganda ministry to some revolutionary "superweapons". Most of these weapons however remained prototypes, which either never reached the combat theater, or if they did, were too late or in too insignificant numbers to have a military effect.

A lithobolos refers to any mechanical artillery weapon used and/or referred to as a stone thrower in ancient warfare. Typically this referred to engines that propel a stone along a flat track with two rigid bow arms powered by torsion, in particular all sizes of palintonon.

List of abbreviations, acronyms and initials related to military subjects such as modern armour, artillery, infantry, and weapons, along with their definitions.

A rocket assisted projectile (RAP) is a cannon, howitzer, mortar, or recoilless rifle round incorporating a rocket motor for independent propulsion. This grants the projectile both greater speed and range than an ordinary shell, which is propelled only by the ballistic force of the gun's exploding charge. Some forms of rocket assisted projectiles can be outfitted with a laser-guide for greater accuracy.

Gun Ranged weapon that shoots projectiles

A gun is a ranged weapon designed to use a shooting tube to launch typically solid projectiles, but can also project pressurized liquid, gas or even charged particles. Solid projectiles may be free-flying or tethered. A large-caliber gun is also referred to as a cannon.

History of weapons Aspect of history

People have used weapons in warfare, hunting, self-defense, law enforcement, and criminal activity. Weapons also serve many other purposes in society including use in sports, collections for display, and historical displays and demonstrations. As technology has developed throughout history, weapons have changed with it.

Man-portable anti-tank systems are shoulder-launched anti-tank rockets. They are typically unguided weapons and are a threat to armored vehicles, low-flying aircraft, and field fortifications. Generally, MANPATS fall into three distinct categories. The first consist of a small, disposable preloaded launch tube firing a high explosive anti-tank warhead operated by a single soldier. The second is a firing system onto/into which a rocket is loaded, operated by a single soldier. The third are manufactured prepacked and issued as a single unit of ammunition with the launcher discarded after a single use.


  1. McDonald, James. "Medieval Weapons". Medieval Weapons & Armour. Retrieved 22 May 2015.

Further reading