Rocket (weapon)

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Katyusha rocket launcher, one of the earliest modern rocket artillery weapons Katyusha launcher rear.jpg
Katyusha rocket launcher, one of the earliest modern rocket artillery weapons

A rocket is a self-propelled, unguided weapon system powered by a rocket engine. Rockets are used primarily as medium and long-range artillery systems, although historically they have also seen considerable use as air-to-surface, 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


M270 MLRS MLRS 05.jpg

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 complement traditional field guns, being 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)

German Army Panzerfaust 3. Panzerfaust3.jpg
German Army Panzerfaust 3.

Portable anti-tank

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 AH-64D Apache Longbow.jpg
AH-64 carrying rocket pods

Unguided rockets are a widely used weapon system and 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.

70mm (2.75")

The standard NATO calibre is 70mm and is meanwhile considered as the international calibre. The rockets can be fired from a variety of rotary and fixed-wing platforms and combat aircraft of many nations worldwide by means of a rocket launcher. The 70mm rocket system offers several warhead configurations that fulfill a wide range of special mission requirements to defeat soft to lightly armored targets.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Rocket-propelled grenade Shoulder-launched anti-tank weapon

A rocket-propelled grenade is a shoulder-fired missile weapon that launches rockets equipped with an explosive warhead. Most RPGs can be carried by an individual soldier, and are frequently used as anti-tank weapons. These warheads are affixed to a rocket motor which propels the RPG towards the target and they are stabilized in flight with fins. Some types of RPG are reloadable with new rocket-propelled grenades, while others are single-use. RPGs are generally loaded from the front.

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Indirect fire is aiming and firing a projectile without relying on a direct line of sight between the gun and its target, as in the case of direct fire. Aiming is performed by calculating azimuth and inclination, and may include correcting aim by observing the fall of shot and calculating new angles.


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Multiple rocket launcher Rocket artillery system capable of launching multiple rockets in quick succession

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Folding-Fin Aerial Rocket

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Rocket artillery

Rocket artillery is artillery that uses rockets as the projectile. The use of rocket artillery dates back to medieval China where devices such as fire arrows were used. Fire arrows were also used in multiple launch systems and transported via carts. By the late nineteenth century, due to improvements in the power and range of conventional artillery, the use of early military rockets declined; they were finally used on a small scale by both sides during the American Civil War. Modern rocket artillery was first employed during World War II, in the form of the German Nebelwerfer family of rocket ordnance designs, Soviet Katyusha-series and numerous other systems employed on a smaller scale by the Western allies and Japan. In modern use, the rockets are often guided by an internal guiding system or GPS in order to maintain accuracy.

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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. "GMLRS". British Army. 18 October 2012. Archived from the original on 18 October 2012. Retrieved 24 July 2019.