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On June 27, 1963, the U.S. Department of Defense established a designation system for guided missiles and drones jointly used by all the United States armed services.[1] It superseded the separate designation systems the Air Force and Navy had for designating US guided missiles and drones, but also a short-lived interim USAF system for guided missiles and rockets.[2]


The basic designation of every guided missile is based in a set of letters, which are in sequence.[1] The sequence indicates the following:

  • The environment from which the weapon is launched
  • The primary mission of the weapon
  • The type of weapon

Examples of guided missile designators are as follows:

  • AGM - (A) Air-launched (G) Surface-attack (M) Guided missile
  • AIM - (A) Air-launched (I) Intercept-aerial (M) Guided missile
  • ATM - (A) Air-launched (T) Training (M) Guided missile
  • RIM - (R) Ship-launched (I) Intercept-aerial (M) Guided missile
  • LGM - (L) Silo-launched (G) Surface-attack (M) Guided missiles

The design or project number follows the basic designator. In turn, the number may be followed by consecutive letters, representing modifications.

RGM-84D means:
  • R - The weapon is ship-launched;
  • G - The weapon is designed to surface-attack;
  • M - The weapon is a guided missile;
  • 84 - eighty-fourth missile design;
  • D - fourth modification;

In addition, most guided missiles have names, such as Harpoon, Tomahawk, Seasparrow, etc. These names are retained regardless of subsequent modifications to the missile.


First letter designating launch environment
Letter Launch environment Detailed description
A Air Air-launched
B Multiple Capable of being launched from more than one environment
C Coffin or Container Stored horizontally or at less than a 45 degree angle in a protective enclosure and launched from the ground
F Individual or Infantry Carried and launched by one man
G Ground Other Ground-launched, such as runway
H Silo-stored Stored vertically in a silo but raised to ground level for launch
L Land or Silo Launched from a fixed site or hardened silo
M Mobile Launched from a ground vehicle or movable platform
P Soft Pad Partially or unprotected in storage and launched from the ground
R Surface ship Launched from a surface vessel such as a ship, barge, etc.
U Underwater Launched from a submarine or other underwater device
Second letter designating mission symbol
Letter Mission Detailed description
D Decoy Vehicles designed or modified to confuse, deceive, or divert enemy defenses by simulating an attack vehicle
E Special Electronic Vehicles designed or modified with electronics equipment for communications, countermeasures, electronic radiation sounding, or other electronic recording or relay missions
G Surface Attack Vehicles designed to destroy enemy land or sea targets
I Intercept-Aerial Vehicles designed to intercept aerial targets in defensive roles
Q Drone Vehicles designed for target reconnaissance or surveillance
S Space Vehicles designed to destroy space-based targets
T Training Vehicles designed or permanently modified for training purposes
U Underwater attack Vehicles designed to destroy enemy submarines or other underwater targets, or to detonate underwater
W Weather Vehicles designed to observe, record, or relay data pertaining to meteorological phenomena
Third letter designating vehicle type symbol
Letter Vehicle type Detailed description
M Guided Missile An unmanned, self-propelled vehicle with remote or internal trajectory guidance
R Rocket A self-propelled vehicle whose flight trajectory cannot be altered after launch
N Probe A non-orbital instrumented vehicle used to monitor and transmit environmental information


An X preceding the first letter indicates an experimental weapon, a Y preceding the first letter means the weapon is a prototype, and a Z preceding the first letter indicates a design in the planning phase.

See also


External links

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