Missile Classification

Written by Ashis Dubey on Feb 13, 2017

Looking for missile classification. Missiles are classified depending upon many factors. Check out how missiles are classified and how major missiles differ from each other.

Missile Classification

In simple words, a missile is munition (explosive) which can be self propelled and precision guided. In general missiles are used to destroy any threat objects such as aircraft or any particular area.

Classification of Missile

Missiles are classified as per the following factors.

  • Type
  • Launch Mode
  • Range
  • Propulsion
  • Warhead
  • Guidance Systems

Missile classification as per type

There are two types of missiles.

Cruise Missile

Following are the main characteristic of cruise missiles.

  • Unmanned
  • Self-propelled
  • guided vehicle which gets its velocity through aerodynamic lift
  • uses jet technology
  • remains in the atmosphere
  • covers major portion of its flight path at constant speed
  • used to deliver large warheads for long distances

Further a cruise missile can be categorized as per its size, range, speed and launch mode.

As per the speed of cruise missile, it can be further classified into the following three types.

  1. Subsonic Cruise Missile : A cruise missile whose speed is lesser than that of sound is called as Subsonic cruise missile. Few famous subsonic cruise missiles are American Tomahawk, Harpoon and Exocet.
  2. Supersonic cruise missile : A cruise missile whose speed is 2 to 3 Mach is called as Supersonic cruise missile. BRAHMOS is an example of supersonic cruise missile.
  3. Hypersonic cruise missile : A cruise missile whose speed is more than 5 Mach is called as hypersonic cruise missile. BRAHMOS II missile which is in developing mode is an example of hypersonic cruise missile.

Ballistic Missile

Ballistic missiles do have the following main characteristic.

  • has a ballistic trajectory

Prithvi I, Prithvi II, Agni I, Agni II and Dhanush missiles are examples of ballistic missiles.

Missile classification as per launch mode

A missile can be launched from surface, air and sea. So based upon these launch modes, missiles can be divided as the following.

Surface to surface missile

Surface to surface missile can be launched from surface and generally it is powered by rocket motor. Also Surface to surface missile is a guided projectile.

Surface to air missile

Surface to air missiles can be launched from surface and used to target aerial objects such as aircraft and other missiles.

Surface (Coast) to sea missile

Surface (coast) to sea missiles can be launched from surface to destroy ships in the sea.

Air to air missile

Air to air missiles are used in aircraft weaponry system to destroy other aircraft. The air to air missile can travel at 4 Mach speed.

Air to surface missile

Air to surface missile is used by aircraft to destroy targets on land or sea.

Sea to sea missile

Sea to sea missiles can be launched from ship to destroy other ships.

Sea to surface (Coast) missile

Sea to surface (coast) missile can be launched from ship to target object on the land.

Anti tank missile

An anti tank missile can be launched from a ship, shoulder mounted launcher or from an aircraft to destroy tanks that are heavily armoured.

Missile classification as per range

Missiles can be classified as per their striking range. Here are the classifications.

  • Short range missile
  • Medium range missile
  • Intermediate range ballistic missile
  • Intercontinental ballistic missile

Missile classification as per propulsion

As per the propulsion technique of missile, missiles can be classified into the following.

Solid Propulsion missile

A solid propulsion missile uses solid fuel such as aluminium powder. 

Liquid propulsion missile

Liquid fuel such as hydrocarbons is used in the liquid propulsion missile.

Hybrid propulsion missile

A hybrid propulsion missile uses both solid and fuel propulsion.

Ramjet missile

Scramjet missile


Missile classification as per warhead

As per the warhead used in the missile, missile can be classified as a conventional warhead missile or a strategic warhead missile.

High energy explosives are used in conventional warhead missiles and radio active materials are used in strategic warhead missiles.

Missile classification as per guidance system

As per the guidance system, missiles can be classified into the following.

  1. Wire guidance
  2. Command guidance
  3. Terrain Comparison guidance
  4. Terrestrial guidance
  5. Inertial guidance
  6. Beam rider guidance
  7. Laser guidance
  8. RF and GPS reference

So here were the missile classification as per various factors.

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