Rocket Weapon

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Rocket Weapon


a system in which the means of destruction are delivered to the target by guided or unguided missiles or rockets; the rocket weapon is a composite system that includes the missile with a nuclear or conventional warhead, the launcher, guidance equipment, test-launch equipment, means of controlling the missile’s flight, means of transportation, and other necessary devices.

The armies and navies of various countries have rocket weapons, which are designed to destroy the enemy on land, at sea, and in the air. The basic characteristics of rocket weapons are the great range and flying speed of the missiles, which enable them to cover distances of several thousand kilometers in a few dozen minutes; the ability to deliver charges of explosives with enormous destructive power to the target; great accuracy in hitting targets; maneuverability on the flight trajectory and low vulnerability; and a high degree of combat alertness.

The prototype of the rocket weapon was apparently the arrow used in besieging fortresses in India and China in the tenth to 12th centuries. Attached to the arrow was a paper casing filled with an explosive substance resembling powder in composition. In the late 18th century, rockets with iron casings weighing 3–6 kg and with operating ranges of 1.5–2.5 km were used by Indian forces against the British colonialists during the siege of Seringapatam. In the early 19th century, rockets using gunpowder were developed and adopted in Russia and other countries. During the 1850’s and 1860’s, 2-inch, 2.5-inch, and 4-inch fragmentation, high explosive, and incendiary rockets with lightweight launchers were built and introduced as armament for armies and for certain naval ships and bases. Rockets were used in the Danish War of 1807–14, the battle of Leipzig in 1813, the battle of Waterloo in 1815, the Russo-Turkish War of 1828–29, the Crimean War of 1853–56, and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78. With the rapid development of rifled artillery, however, rockets were declared obsolete and were forgotten.

The scientific and technical advances of Soviet and foreign scientists in the 1920’s and 1930’s led to a rapid development of rocket technology. In the 1930’s, rockets (rocket projectiles) were developed, and in 1939 they were used by Soviet aircraft in the battles on the Khalkhin-Gol River. At the same time, a multibarrel rocket launcher for ground troops, called the Katiusha, was developed and found extensive use during the Great Patriotic War of 194–45. In 1942 rockets were adopted by the US and British air forces, and in 1943 by the German Luftwaffe. During World War II, fascist Germany used the A-4 (V-2) guided ballistic missile, with a warhead carrying 1,000 kg of explosives. In 1944–45, 10,800 V-2 rockets were fired at Antwerp, Brussels, Liège, and primarily London. The effectiveness of the weapon was low—38 percent. During the 1950’s and 1960’s various types of missiles were built and adopted by the armed forces of the USSR, United States, Great Britain, France, and later China. The NATO member countries and the countries that participate in the Warsaw Treaty have also acquired rocket weapons.

Depending on the launch site and the location of the target, modern missiles are classified as surface-to-surface (launched from the earth’s surface or the sea to strike ground and naval targets), surface-to-air (launched from the surface of the earth or sea to strike targets at various altitudes, including the warheads of ballistic guided missiles), air-to-surface (launched from aircraft to strike ground and naval targets), and air-to-air (launched from aircraft to strike aerial targets). Each class of missiles is broken into subclasses. Missiles may carry nuclear or conventional warheads.

Rocket weapons are usually divided into strategic, operational-tactical, and tactical, depending on the designation of the weapons, the class of missiles used, the power of the warheads, and the missions performed.

In the Soviet armed forces, the strategic rocket forces, the air force, and the navy have strategic missiles. They are designated to hit strategic enemy targets, such as nuclear weaponry, administrative-political and military-industrial centers, and large concentrations of troops. Strategic missiles can be launched from permanent silos, from aircraft, and from submarine and surface warships.

The armament of the ground forces, air force, and navy includes operational-tactical missiles, which are designated to hit nuclear weapons, airfields, railroad junctions, supply stations, large troop concentrations, operational reserves at assembly points, and other targets in the enemy’s operational-tactical depth.

Table 1. Characteristics of some rockets of US armed forces
 DesignationLaunch range (km)WarheadEngine
Minuteman 2 ................... Strategic11.0001NuclearSolid fuel
Titan 2 ....................... Strategic11,0001ThermonuclearLiquid
Polaris A3 ..................... Strategic4,600NuclearSolid fuel
Poseidon...................... Strategic4,600NuclearSolid fuel
Pershing...................... Tactical185–740NuclearLiquid
Sergeant...................... Tactical41–140NuclearSolid fuel
Lance ........................ Tactical5–120Nuclear and conventionalLiquid
Honest John.................... Tactical9–40NuclearSolid fuel

Various combat arms have tactical missile weapons, which include self-propelled launchers and antitank guided and un-guided missiles. The tactical missiles of the ground troops are designated to hit enemy targets and destroy the enemy in the tactical zone. Multibarrel self-propelled launchers are deployed in the battle formations of the troops and perform combat-support missions for combined armed units and subunits. Antitank guided missiles are launched from portable and self-propelled launchers. The combat arms of ground forces and aviation have unguided fragmentation and antitank missiles, which are designated for combating tanks and other armored targets and for destroying enemy personnel and combat matériel.

All the armed services have antiaircraft guided missiles, which are the primary weapon of the air defense forces.

In the armed forces of foreign countries, rocket weapons have been most highly developed in the United States. The strategic missile weapons of the US armed forces include land-based intercontinental missiles, missiles deployed on strategic bombers, and missiles deployed on submarines.

Among the US tactical missiles are the Sergeant, Lance, and Pershing guided missiles that are provided to detached missile units, as well as missiles used by tactical bombers and interceptors. They are designed to destroy manpower and other targets in the operational-tactical depth.

The Honest John tactical missile, antitank guided missiles, and the missiles used on army aircraft are designed to hit important targets in the enemy’s tactical zone.