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The word missile usually now means a self-propelled guided weapon system, but it may refer to any thrown or launched object.



The word missile comes from the Latin verb mittere, meaning "to send". In military parlance, powered/guided munitions are broadly categorised as follows:

  • A powered, guided munition that travels through the air or space is known as a missile (or guided missile.)
  • A powered, unguided munition is known as a rocket.
  • Unpowered munitions are called bombs whether guided or not; unpowered, guided munitions are known as guided bombs or "smart bombs".
  • Unguided munitions that are fired from a gun are known as shells.
  • Powered munitions that travel through water are called torpedoes.

A common further sub-division is to consider ballistic missile to mean a munition that follows a ballistic trajectory and cruise missile to describe a munition that generates lift.

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