In the context of military weapon and ammunition, missiles are said to be guided but rockets are not. yet the latest trends of rocket says, there are rockets with guidance system, though they are called rockets. There must be some features that distinguish these guided rockets from the missiles, ie the magnitude of guidance system, structure, maneuverability etc. What are those features that separate the guided ROCKETS from being missiles?

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    Technically, a rocket is something propelled using a fuel and oxidizer, while a missile is propelled by inertia. IOW, it's a rocket until the fuel runs out, then a missile. – Hot Licks Dec 4 '17 at 14:07
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    @HotLicks Correct, and the final stage may be guided, yet have no rocket engine at all. – Mick Dec 4 '17 at 14:09
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    A missile is anything you throw/hurtle at your oppenent. A rocket is a specific kind of missile that uses rocketry to propel itself. An Arrow fired from a bow is a missile, but not a rocket. A kamikaze-plane was certainly a guided missile, but not a rocket. – oerkelens Dec 4 '17 at 14:14
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    Hey, it's not missile science...it's English. – Rob_Ster Dec 4 '17 at 15:36
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is more suited to area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/102381/weapons – Davo Dec 4 '17 at 17:35

There is a lot of overlap between "rocket" and "missile".

Missile Wikipedia page

In modern language, a missile is a self-propelled precision-guided munition system, as opposed to an unguided self-propelled munition, referred to as a rocket (although these too can also be guided).

In military usage, munitions projected towards a target are broadly categorised as follows:

  • A powered, guided munition that travels through the air or space known as a missile (or guided missile).
  • A powered, unguided munition is known as a rocket.
  • Unpowered munitions not fired from a gun are called bombs whether guided or not; unpowered, guided munitions are known as guided bombs or smart bombs.

Notice the "broadly categorised". There is a lot of overlap between these terms.

However, the rocket Wikipedia page might have disambiguated it better:

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.

In other words, the "rocket" designation can be kept if the specific weapon was initially designed as a rocket.


Notice that the referenced definitions refer to military jargon/parlance/usage. The English dictionary defines these more broadly:


  • An object which is forcibly propelled at a target, either by hand or from a mechanical weapon.
  • A weapon that is self-propelled or directed by remote control, carrying conventional or nuclear explosive.


  • An elongated rocket-propelled missile or spacecraft.
  • A cylindrical projectile that can be propelled to a great height or distance by the combustion of its contents, used typically as a firework or signal.

Going by the English definitions, I would say that most missiles are rockets, and vice versa.

These definitions clash with the established military jargon; and in this case I'm inclined to defer to the military definitions, as they seem to make more of a meaningful distinction. The dictionary definitions are broad and are not really trying to make a distinction between the two.

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    In what way is doing OP's reasonable research beneficial to the site? – Edwin Ashworth Dec 4 '17 at 16:00
  • @EdwinAshworth: Damned if you do ("In what way is doing OP's reasonable research beneficial to the site?"), damned if you don't (Straight from the horse's mouth: "looking up 'alphabet' in a reasonable dictionary is something I consider mandatory on a site aimed at linguists") – Flater Dec 4 '17 at 16:01
  • This question lacks any reasonable research. Why do you thing other people giving responses avoided 'answers'? Cutting and pasting from the obvious Wikipedia articles is hardly the same as providing hard-to-find quotes from Svartvik and Quirk. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 4 '17 at 16:04
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    A question that lacks obvious research should be close-voted, which I did. An answer that does the obvious research OP should have shown undermines the credibility of the site. Someone presenting such LMGTFY research may elsewhere have been addressed for not supplying references in an answer to a valid question. // If OP added reasonable research here, that would remove the 'lack of research' CV-reason. But a fuller answer would delve into (doubtless conflicting) military jargons. Davo's suggested forum seems far more appropriate. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 4 '17 at 17:35

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