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a designation system for rockets and guided missiles jointly used by all the United States armed services.[1] It superseded the separate designation systems the Air Force and Navy had for designating US guided missiles and drones, but also a short-lived interim USAF system for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


On 11 December 1962, the U.S. Department of Defense issued Directive 4000.20 “Designating, Redesignating, and Naming Military Rockets and Guided Missiles” which called for a joint designation system for rockets and missiles which was to be used by all armed forces services. The directive was implemented via Air Force Regulation (AFR) 66-20, Army Regulation (AR) 705-36, Bureau of Weapons Instruction (BUWEPSINST) 8800.2 on 27 June 1963.[3][4][5] A subsequent directive, DoD Directive 4120.15 "Designating and Naming Military Aircraft, Rockets, and Guided Missiles", was issued on 24 November 1971 and implemented via Air Force Regulation (AFR) 82-1/Army Regulation (AR) 70-50/Naval Material Command Instruction (NAVMATINST) 8800.4A on 27 March 1974. Within AFR 82-1/AR 70-50/NAVMATINST 8800.4A, the 1963 rocket and guided missile designation system was presented alongside the 1962 United States Tri-Service aircraft designation system and the two systems have been concurrently presented and maintained in joint publications since.[6][7][8]

The current version of the rocket and missile designation system was mandated by Joint Regulation 4120.15E Designating and Naming Military Aerospace Vehicles[9][Note 1] and was implemented[10][Note 2] via Air Force Instruction (AFI) 16-401, Army Regulation (AR) 70-50, Naval Air Systems Command Instruction (NAVAIRINST) 13100.16 on 3 November 2020.[11] The list of military rockets and guided missiles was maintained via 4120.15-L Model Designation of Military Aerospace Vehicles until its transition to on 31 August 2018.[11][12]


The basic designation of every rocket and guided missile is based in a set of letters called the Mission Design 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 missile

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


  1. ^ The most recent version is DoD Directive 4120.15E from September 17, 2020 (incorporating Change 2) which is an update of DoD Directive 4120.15E November 29, 2004
  2. ^ DoDD 4120.15E is enacted by Air Force Policy Directive (AFPD) 16-4 which is implemented by AFI 16-401/AR 70-50/NAVAIRINST 13100.16


  1. ^ a b "Current Designations of U.S. Unmanned Military Aerospace Vehicles".
  2. ^ "Pre-1963 Designations of U.S. Missiles and Drones".
  3. ^ Trapp, Robert E.; Berkeley, William P.; Egerland, Arnold V. (1967). "The Criteria for an Equipment Identification Coding System" (PDF). Air Force Institute of Technology School of Systems and Logistics. p. III-22. Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 April 2022. Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  4. ^ "New missile code names reveal wealth of information on them". Air University Library Index to Military Periodicals. Air University Library. 13–15 (4): 689. 1964. Archived from the original on 17 April 2022. Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  5. ^ Mindling, George; Bolton, Robert (2008). U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949-1969 The Pioneers. p. 269. ISBN 9780557000296. Archived from the original on 20 June 2020. Retrieved 21 April 2022.
  6. ^ "United States Air Force Statistical Digest, Fiscal Year 1974" (PDF). Directorate of Management Analysis, Comptroller of the Air Force Headquarters. 15 April 1975. p. 77. Archived (PDF) from the original on 12 April 2022. Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  7. ^ "Annual Department of Defense Bibliography of Logistics Studies and Related Documents 1976". Defense Logistics Studies Information Exchange. January 1976. p. 2. Archived from the original on 12 April 2022. Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  8. ^ "SECOND DESTINATION TRANSPORTATION PHASE 2 LMI TASK 75-4" (PDF). LOGISTICS MANAGEMENT INSTITUTE. January 1976. Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 April 2022. Retrieved 11 April 2022.
  9. ^ "DoDD 4120.15E November 29, 2004 Incorporating Change 2, September 17, 2020 Designating and Naming Military Aerospace Vehicles" (PDF). US DoD. 17 September 2020. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 March 2022. Retrieved 11 April 2022.
  10. ^ "AIR FORCE POLICY DIRECTIVE 16-4: 20 NOVEMBER 2018 ACCOUNTING FOR AEROSPACE VEHICLES AT UNITS AND INSTALLATIONS" (PDF). Department of Air Force E-Publishing. 20 November 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 April 2022. Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  11. ^ a b "DEPARTMENT AIR FORCE INSTRUCTION 16-401, ARMY REGULATION 70-50, NAVAIRINST 13100.16 3 November 2020 DESIGNATING AND NAMING DEFENSE MILITARY AEROSPACE VEHICLES" (PDF). Department of Air Force E-Publishing. 3 November 2020. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 March 2022. Retrieved 11 April 2022.
  12. ^ "DoDD 4120.15-L MODEL DESIGNATION OF MILITARY AEROSPACE VEHICLES August 31 2018" (PDF). US DoD Executive Services Directorate. 31 August 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 January 2022. Retrieved 11 April 2022.
1963 United States tri-service rocket designations and post-1963 undesignated rockets
United States tri-service research rocket designations post-1962