Shoulder-launched missile weapon

From Academic Kids

Missing image
M136 AT-4 rocket launcher

A shoulder-launched missile weapon is a weapon that fires a rocket-propelled missile at a target, yet is small enough to be carried by one man, and fired whilst held on their shoulder.

The smallest shoulder-launched missile weapons are called rocket propelled grenades (RPG). There are also larger "dumb" shoulder-launched missiles, used in a similar way to a RPG, but with far greater destructive power.

A number of specialised "smart" missiles are available in shoulder-launched forms, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft guided missiles.

Examples include:


Shoulder-launched rockets are a favored anti-technical weapon. They permit lightly armed militias to destroy very expensive equipment such as close air-support aircraft, helicopters, and light armor.

If possible, attacks come from ambush, and attempt to immobilize a convoy of vehicles, then destroy its defenders, then destroy its contents, then exfiltrate before the air or artillery support can arrive.

Normally, the militia will plan to have two to four shooters per attacked vehicle. Reliable attack ranges are 50 to 100 m, although attacks can succeed out to 300 m. Self destruct ranges of common rocket weapons such as RPG-7s are about 900 m.

The usual response to such attacks is to suppress the shooters, with saturation anti-personnel fire, artillery or aerial barrages in area-denial attaks. Submunition and thermobaric weapons are often used to clear LZs (landing zones for helicopters).

In modern anti-insurgent operations in misty, dusty or night-time situations, advanced optics, such as infrared telescopes, permit helicopter gunships to surveil convoys from beyond human-visible range, and still attack insurgents with inexpensive anti-personnel fire. This approach is more economical than area-denial. Protecting as little as 20% of the convoys rapidly depletes an area of active insurgents.


Rocket-based weapons have a long history, starting with the Congreve Rocket immortalized in the United States's national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. They have always been prized for the portability of their launch systems.

Shoulder-launched rockets have a launch tube. In order to prevent the user from being burned, the rocket (or at least its first stage) must burn out before it leaves the tube, and if present the second stage must fire once the rocket is well clear of the launcher. Also, the rocket must have a reliable ignition system. In modern systems, this is almost always a percussion cap. This system was not fully developed until the German panzerfaust of World War II, and early rocket-propelled grenade. The concept was quickly adapted by the U.S. to the famous bazooka (named after a toy musical instrument), and the concept became a standard type of battlefield weapon.

See also:


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