Russian Missile Designations

The reason for your confusion is that you are comparing two different naming conventions, one Russian and the other American. The Soviets developed their own designation system, which the Russians have continued, but these names were considered secret and never revealed during the Cold War. As a result, the Western allies devised their own systems to categorize and identify the Soviet weapons as they appeared. One system was a numbering scheme developed by the US Department of Defense to categorize Soviet weapons according to their purpose. A second system was devised by the Air Standards Coordinating Committee and applied codenames to the Soviet missiles similar to those adopted for aircraft. Each of these three systems is discussed in greater detail below.
  1. Soviet / Russian Missile Designations (Pt I)
  2. The Soviet designation system is still somewhat mysterious, although we've attempted to decipher it below. Part of the reason for confusion is that the Soviets had two designation systems following completely different formats.

    The system you ask about in your question is the more straightforward one, including examples like the R-27 and Kh-31. In this system, each missile is identified by a three-part code.

    The first part is a letter or series of letters describing the basic function of the missile. These designations include:

    	A	Anti-ballistic missile
    	B	Unguided test vehicle
    	KAB	Guided bomb
    	Kh	Air-to-surface missile
    	KS	Air-to-surface missile
    	S	Unguided rocket
    	R	Guided missile (includes air-to-air and surface-to-surface)
    	RS	Guided missile
    	V	Surface-to-air missile

    The second part is a number identifying its place in the sequence of missiles within that function.

    The third part is another letter or series of letters describing additional modifications to the missile. Among these codes are:

    	E	Export (?)
    	F	New warhead (?)
    	K	Export (?)
    	Kr	Modified with a guidance unit (?)
    	N	Naval (?)
    	P	Practice
    	T	Telemetry unit or guidance unit (?)
    	U	Training
    	V	Test
    	Zh	New propulsion unit (?)

  3. Soviet / Russian Missile Designations (Pt II)
  4. Another Soviet system used a different format based on the various components of a missile system. This designation scheme uses several levels, such as the entire system including the launcher and control facilities, the missile itself, and its subcomponents like the warhead and engine. This system consists of up to six parts, an example being the 9M14M anti-tank missile.

    First is a one or two-digit number indicating the organization responsible for the development of the weapon:

    	2	  Ground forces (Red Army)
    	3 or 4	  Navy (VMF)
    	5 or 6	  Air Defense and Anti-Ballistic Missile Forces (PVO, PKO)
    	8 or 15   Strategic Rocket Force (RVSN)
    	9	  Air Force (VVS)
    	11 or 14  Space Force
    	17	  Naval Space Force

    The second part is a letter or series of letters describing the function of the missile or component. These codes include:

    	A	Sealed unit
    	D	Rocket engine
    	F	Warhead
    	K	Complete missile system
    	Kh	Satellite
    	M	Individual missile
    	P	Silo
    	S	Rocket stage
    	Ya	Anti-ballistic missile
    	Zh	Solid rocket motor

    The third part is a two-digit number identifying the individual type of missile or component.

    The remaining parts of the system are optional numbers and letters defining further modifications to the original missile.

  5. US Department of Defense (DOD) system
  6. The DOD system is a very clear and straightforward numbering system based on the purpose of the missile, as exemplified by the AA-12 and AS-12 that you ask about. The system is generally similar to the system used for US missiles in that it contains three basic parts.

    The first part is a two- to four-letter code defining the function of the missile. These codes include:

    	AA	Air-to-air missile
    	ABM	Anti-ballistic missile
    	AS	Air-to-surface missile
    	AT	Anti-tank missile
    	FRAS	Unguided anti-submarine rocket
    	FROG	Unguided artillery rocket
    	SA	Surface-to-air missile
    	SA-N	Naval surface-to-air missile
    	SL	Space launcher
    	SS	Surface-to-surface missile
    	SSC	Coastal defense surface-to-surface missile
    	SS-N	Naval surface-to-surface missile
    	SUW-N	Naval surface-to-underwater missile

    The second part is a number identifying its place in the sequence of missiles within that function.

    The final part is an optional letter describing a modification to the original missile. These subvariants are in alphabetical order starting with 'A,' 'B,' and so on.

    Experimental missiles are also identified by the letter X that is inserted after the letter-code and before the sequence number, such as the SS-X-10.

    Note that this system has also been expanded to include Chinese missiles and rockets by simply adding the letter "C" to the start of the function code.

  7. Air Standards Coordinating Committee (ASCC) codenames
  8. The Air Standards Coordinating Committee (ASCC) is a joint organization formed by the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In 1954, the ASCC adopted a system of codenames to identify Soviet military equipment similar to that used during World War II to identify Japanese aircraft. The codenames start with a specific letter based on the purpose of the missile:

    	A	Air-to-air missile
    	G	Surface-to-air missile
    	K	Air-to-surface missile
    	S	Surface-to-surface missile

    This system has also been applied to Chinese weapons.

The following table lists all of the known DOD designations and ASCC codenames that have been applied to Soviet or Russian missiles and rockets to date. We hope that this description helps you better decipher the various designations applied to Soviet missiles and rockets during the Cold War period and continuing to today. Additional information is available at Andreas Parsch's Designations of Soviet and Russian Military Aircraft and Missiles.
- answer by Jeff Scott, 13 June 2004

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