Rocket-propelled weapon, which may be nuclear-armed (see nuclear warfare). Modern missiles are often classified as surface-to-surface missiles (SSM), air-to-air missiles (AAM), surface-to-air missiles (SAM), or air-to-surface missiles (ASM). A cruise missile is in effect a pilotless, computer-guided aircraft; it can be sea-launched from submarines or surface ships, or launched from the air or the ground.
Rocket-propelled weapons were first used by the Chinese about AD 1100, and were encountered in the 18th century by the British forces. The rocket missile was then re-invented by William Congreve in England around 1805, and remained in use with various armies in the 19th century. The first wartime use of a long-range missile was against England in World War II, by the jet-powered German V1 (Vergeltungswaffe, ‘revenge weapon’ or Flying Bomb), a monoplane (wingspan about 6 m/18 ft, length 8.5 m/26 ft); the first rocket-propelled missile with a preset guidance system was the German V2, also launched by Germany against Britain in World War II.
Modern missiles are also classified as strategic or tactical: strategic missiles are the large, long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs, capable of reaching targets over 5,500 km/3,400 mi), and tactical missiles are the short-range weapons intended for use in limited warfare (with a range under 1,100 km/680 mi).
Not all missiles are large. There are many missiles that are small enough to be carried by one person. The Stinger, for example, is a surface-to-air missile fired by a single soldier from a shoulder-held tube. Most fighter aircraft are equipped with missiles to use against enemy aircraft or against ground targets. Other small missiles are launched from a type of truck, called a MLRS (multiple-launch rocket system), that can move around a battlefield. Ship-to-ship missiles like the Exocet have proved very effective in naval battles.
The vast majority of missiles have systems that guide them to their target. The guidance system may consist of radar and computers, either in the missile or on the ground. These devices track the missile and determine the correct direction and distance required for it to hit its target. In the radio-guidance system, the computer is on the ground, and guidance signals are radio-transmitted to the missile. In the inertial guidance system, the computer is on board the missile. Some small missiles have heat-seeking devices fitted to their noses to seek out the engines of enemy aircraft, or are guided by laser light reflected from the target. Others (called TOW missiles) are guided by signals sent along wires that trail behind the missile in flight.
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Weapons that are thrown or propelled at a target. Technically, anything from a rock hurled by a slingshot, to an arrow shot from a bow, to a...