According to this news article, Pakistan's Fatah-II is a guided rocket artillery.

What is the difference between a guided rocket and a guided missile?

  • $\begingroup$ A rocket propelled guided missile? $\endgroup$ Mar 24 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ Various answers not withstanding, I'd suggest that in the modern military context, all missiles are rockets, specifically guided rockets, but not all rockets are missiles. Sure the word missile has other definitions as well, but not in the modern military context. Guess air-breathing cruise missiles are a special case though- conceptually they have evolved from rocket-powered missiles hence the retained terminology? It's really not 100% cut-and-dried. The word "rocket" used alone, as opposed to "rocket-powered", tends to imply that there is no guidance, but consider "moon rocket", "V-2 rocket" $\endgroup$ Mar 27 at 12:42

4 Answers 4


Generally, in the military world:

  • Missile - Powered, guided
  • Rocket - Powered, unguided
  • Dumb bomb - Unpowered, unguided
  • Smart Bomb - Unpowered, guided

News outlets frequently mix it up.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Rockets do not have air breathing engines. If it is powered, unguided, and takes air into its engines, then I guess you might call it a target drone. $\endgroup$ Mar 25 at 0:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AnonymousPhysicist - Air breathing has little do do with it. Guidance, or lack of, is the key. $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Mar 25 at 0:34

What is the difference between a guided rocket and a guided missile?

In short:

  • All missiles are guided.
  • All ballistic missiles, including Fattah II, are guided rockets.


  • Not all guided rockets are missiles.
  • Not all missiles are rockets.

Rocket vs. missile

Rocket and missile don't refer to the same concepts:

  • A missile is a system propelling and guiding a military load to its impact point. All missiles are guided, and are propelled at least for the initial part of their trajectory. The engine can be a rocket engine or an air-breathing engine.

  • A rocket is a system propelled by rocket engines. It can be guided or not. A rocket carries the propellants used by its engines. The payload can be a warhead or a peaceful load.

A rocket engine is a mean of propulsion not relying on atmosphere oxygen. This type of engine is the one used when the vehicle has to operate in high atmosphere or in space where oxygen is not available. But a low trajectory is also possible.


Air-breathing engines are cheaper and less complex than rocket engines. However they rely on oxygen from atmosphere. Rocket engines are the alternative in high atmosphere or in space. They burn their propellant with their own oxidizer which must be carried on-board.


The guidance system actuates control surfaces or deflects the engine nozzle to change the direction of motion, based on the knowledge of the target coordinates, and the current position.

The current position can be determined using a satellite navigation system (GNSS), but GNSS are susceptible to jamming in conflict areas. Thus an autonomous system is used, an inertial navigation system. Its accuracy degrades with time (cumulative drift), it must be realigned from time to time with a known GNSS position.

Conversely a GNSS position validity can be confirmed by comparing with the inertial system position, and spoofing can be detected.

Propulsion/guidance combinations

The simple combinations of propulsion/guidance are:

  • Rocket engine + no guidance: An unguided rocket carrying an explosive at relatively short distance, this is what is meant by rocket when referring to an ammunition. A short for rocket-propelled grenade.

  • No propulsion + guidance is called a guided bomb. A bomb is an explosive load dropped in altitude, which trajectory is determined by the launcher speed and gravity (ballistic path). Most bombs can be converted to guided bombs by adding a guidance kit, e.g. the US JDAM. Relatively short range.

Other combinations leverage guidance:

  • Air-breathing + guidance: A missile propelled by an air-breathing engine, often a turbojet like in the Storm Shadow. It's called a cruise missile. This missile is constantly powered.

  • Rocket engines + guidance: A long-range guided rocket carrying a warhead, called a ballistic missile. This missile is powered only for its ascent. An ICBM has a sub-orbital trajectory portion, the engine is used again for re-entry. After the apogee, the trajectory is ballistic.

The civil version of a ballistic missile has been used for manned space programs: Saturn V, used to propel and guide the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon and back started with Mercury, based on the Redstone ballistic missile vehicle.

Fattah II: Missile or rocket? Both

In the case of Fattah II, the missile is made of different rocket stages, the last one propels the explosive load to its target. It's both a (guided) missile and a guided rocket.


A rocket denotes a method of propulsion, I.e. a reaction thrust device where both fuel and oxidiser are carried on board. In common usage, a device powered by a rocket engine is often called a rocket. A missile is a device intended to hit a specific target, this may be propelled by any means - sometimes a rocket.


Merrian Webster’s Dictionary defines a rocket as:

a: a firework consisting of a case partly filled with a combustible composition fastened to a guiding stick and propelled through the air by the rearward discharge of the gases liberated by combustion b: a similar device used as an incendiary weapon or as a propelling unit (as for a lifesaving line)

Similarly, a missile is defined as:

an object (such as a weapon) thrown or projected usually so as to strike something at a distance.

It further goes on to define a guided missile as:

a missile whose course may be altered during flight (as by a target-seeking radar device).

For all practical purposes, a guided rocket and a guided missile are one of the same. It refers to any number of different types of projectile weapons, generally consisting of a rocket motor to propel them, an explosive or otherwise incendiary warhead and some type of guidance system Allowing for either direct command guidance of the weapon to the target by the shooter or autonomous guidance.

The term rocket is generally used with a smaller unguided projectile weapon system which uses a rocket engine for propulsion i.e. artillery rockets, aerial rockets, etc. this nomenclature is not always honored (e.g. a Zuni missile is an unguided weapon, an M26 GMLRS, etc). Missiles in modern warfare quite often denote a larger projectile weapon as described above with a warhead and guidance system for them, but, again, not always the case i.e. a ballistic missile, etc.


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