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If an unguided warhead is attached to some type of propulsion system, most often a solid rocket motor, the result is a rocket. A rocket has no form of guidance and remains a "dumb" weapon. However, the rocket has a means of propulsion that allows it to travel farther and faster than a bomb. Unguided rockets are also commonly used weapons around the world, and most nations have developed rocket pods to carry different types of rockets aboard aircraft.


Hydra 70 rocket pods and a sample of different warhead options
Hydra 70 rocket pods and a sample of different warhead options

Rockets are typically classified by the maximum diameter of the body tube. A particularly common type in the US military is the 2.75-inch (70-mm) rocket, also known as the Hydra 70. The US military also designates rockets with the term RLU for Live Rocket Unit, or RBU for Rocket and Launcher Unit. These rockets are often carried on attack helicopters like the AH-64 Apache and AH-1 Cobra. Larger types of rockets have also been frequently used on both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Among these are the 5-inch (127-mm) Zuni rocket developed by the US while Russian attack helicopters like the Mi-24 often carry 57-mm, 80-mm, 160-mm, 210-mm, or 240-mm rockets. The Su-17 attack fighter has even been known to carry rockets up to 370-mm (14.5-in) in diameter.

Another interesting exception is new versions of the venerable 2.75-in rocket. Although rockets are cheap and can deliver impressive firepower, they have traditionally suffered from poor accuracy. Pilots are often forced to fire the entire contents of a rocket pod to blanket a large area even though they may only be trying to attack one small target in that area. Both the US Army and Navy have investigated small, low-cost guidance units to improve the accuracy of these weapons and allow one rocket to do the job an entire volley would do in the past. These efforts, known as the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) and Low-cost Guided Imaging Rocket (LOGIR), would turn today's unguided rockets into guided missiles, much like laser seekers and JDAM kits turned dumb bombs into smart bombs.


LOGIR and APKWS guided rockets
LOGIR and APKWS guided rockets

Despite this addition of a guidance system, however, both weapons are still officially classified as rockets. This decision was probably made because the weapons are viewed more as an incremental improvement to existing rockets rather than as new weapons. In any event, the "guided rocket" concept may never actually see service since both APKWS and LOGIR have encountered funding difficulties.

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Last modified: 10/12/05.