Current Designations of U.S. Unmanned Military Aerospace Vehicles

Copyright © 2000-2024 Andreas Parsch

1 The Designation System

2 Designation Listings

3 Sources

1 The Designation System

The current designation system for U.S. military missiles, rockets and target drones was introduced by the Department of Defense in 1963. It became formally effective on 27 June 1963, and closely followed the pattern of the aircraft designation system, which had been introduced the year before. As such, it was not based on any previous missile designation system used by the U.S. military services, and therefore all missiles then in service were assigned new designations under the new system. The designation system has since been slightly revised and extended (notably by the inclusion of space-related vehicles in the 1988/89 time frame), and the latest version is defined by Air Force Instruction (AFI) 16-401(I) (formerly Air Force Joint Instruction 16-401) Designating and Naming Military Aerospace Vehicles, dated 3 November 2020. AFI 16-401 not only covers the aircraft and missile designation systems, but also some of the bureaucratic red tape to be followed for actually assigning a name or a designation to a military aerospace vehicle.

A U.S. military aerospace vehicle designation is also known as an "MDS Designation" (MDS = "Mission-Design-Series", see aircraft designations). An MDS for missiles, rockets, etc. looks as follows (all examples are real-world designations):

Examples:    L G M - 30 G    Minuteman III
A I M - 9 P -2 Sidewinder
C A T M - 120 C AMRAAM
Z B Q M - 90 A
M G R - 1 A Honest John
A S B - 11 A Pegasus
N S - 7 D NavStar
(6) (3) (2) (1) (4) (5) (7) (8)

In the following section, each of the eight elements is explained in detail. For all letter symbols a year range is given in brackets to document when this particular symbol is/was valid. If one of the bounds is given as a range (e.g. 1988/89), this means that I don't know the respective year more exactly.

(1) Vehicle Type: This letter defines the broad category of the vehicle, and defines in which series the MDS is numbered (see section (4) below).

Notes for Vehicle Type Symbol:

  1. The "B" and "S" type letters were introduced in the 1988/89 time frame, and almost all actual MDS's using these letters were established at the same time. Since then, essentially all new boosters (e.g. the Atlas V and Delta 4) and several satellites have not received an MDS designation. Furthermore, the booster and satellite MDS's are never mentioned outside a few formal DOD documents.
  2. From 1963 to 1997, reusable UAVs were also covered by the "M" type letter. Since 1997, these vehicles have been designated in a new Q-for-UAV series in the aircraft designation system.
  3. A "probe" is defined as a non-orbital instrumented vehicle used for meteorological and other measurements (i.e., a sounding rocket). As such, the "N" vehicle type is effectively superfluous, because every probe could be classed within one of the types "M" (if the probe is guided) or "R" (if it is not).
  4. The "R" vehicle type covers unguided rockets. The original regulation of 1963 explicitly excluded line-of-sight ground-attack rockets from the designation system. Although this is no longer explicitly stated in the current definition, it is still common practice not to assign MDS designations to these types of rockets.

(2) Mission: The letter to the left of the vehicle type symbol designates the mission of the vehicle. The following mission symbols are defined (see note 1):

Notes for Mission Symbol:

  1. It is interesting to note that there is no mission letter for "Experimental". This means that purely experimental vehicles (other than prototypes of operational vehicles) are not intended to receive MDS designations. There is also no designator for "Reconnaissance", although this is definitely a useful purpose for unmanned vehicles. Until the 1990s, reconnaissance UAVs were designated xQM-n (i.e. the same as target drones), while new recce UAVs are designated RQ-n (see also note 4 below). Reconnaissance satellites, on the other hand, do not receive MDS designations, presumably because they are operated by the NRO (National Reconaissance Office) and not the military.
  2. As of October 2018, the "C" and "M" mission symbols have not yet been used for any MDS designation.
  3. "I" covers interception within and outside the atmosphere. The designation ASM-135A for an anti-satellite missile project was allocated before the "S" mission symbol had been properly defined. Nowadays, such a missile would be designated as AIM-n.
  4. The "Q" mission symbol used to be assigned for both target drones and recoverable UAVs. However, in 1997 a Q-for-UAV vehicle type letter was introduced in the aircraft designation system, and since then the letter "Q" in the missile designation system is limited to targets.
  5. "W" covers vehicles (probes or satellites), which are gathering and/or distributing meteorological data.

(3) Launch Environment: This letter describes the launch environment of the aerospace vehicle. The original regulation of 1963 allowed the omission of the launch environment letter, if a status prefix letter was used. This option has been removed in the 1970s, resulting in a few redesignations (like YQM-94A to YGQM-94A). Designations for satellites and ground-launched boosters do not use the launch environment symbol. While this is no surprise for satellites, a "P" or "G" launch environment letter would certainly be appropriate for ground launched space boosters like Atlas, Delta or Titan. The following launch environment symbols are defined:

Notes for Launch Environment Symbol:

  1. "B" should only be used, if the missile is essentially unmodified for the different launch options. If several variants of a missile exist for different launch environments, these variants should receive different designations (e.g. air-launched AGM-84A and submarine-launched UGM-84A).
  2. In this context, a "coffin" is defined as a non-hardened container.
  3. "G" is primarily meant for runway-launched vehicles. Otherwise, it should only be used if none of the other letters for ground launched vehicles ("C", "F", "H", "L", "M" and "P") can be applied. As a result, "G" is rarely used.
  4. "H" is used for missiles, which are stored in a silo, but launched from the surface. Such technology was only used for first-generation ICBMs (HGM-16F and HGM-25A), and is now obsolete. Therefore, launch environment symbol "H" is effectively unused today.
  5. A "soft pad" is defined as a fixed, but unprotected surface location.
  6. The "S" launch environment symbol has so far only been used in the SSB-n designations for upper stages of space launch vehicles.

(4) Design Number: Each vehicle type is used to form a separate series of design numbers, each starting from 1. The numbers in each series are to be assigned in strict numerical sequence without reference to manufacturers' model numbers and/or existing numbers in other MDS series. It is possible that multiple versions of a missile for different purposes and/or with different launch options exist. These versions would use the same design number with different letter combinations. An example for this is the LTV Regulus II missile: RGM-15A was the ship-launched ground-attack missile, MQM-15A was a ground-launched target drone version.

(5) Series Letter: Variants of a basic vehicle type are designated by a suffix letter. The first model always receives suffix "A" and subsequent series letters are to be assigned in strict sequence (omitting "I" and "O" to avoid confusion with numerals "1" and "0"). The series letter is actually a mandatory component of a conforming MDS, and therefore "plain" designations like "AIM-120" always designate the general type of vehicle and never a specific model.

(6) Status Prefix: Any vehicle, which is not in normal operational service or is of a special non-operational configuration, can receive a prefix letter in its designation to reflect its current status. The following status prefixes are defined:

Notes for Status Prefix Symbol:

  1. A "captive" variant of an air-launched missile is one, which can be carried by aircraft (for training purposes) but not actually launched.
  2. A "dummy" missile is a completely inert round (without motor or warhead), which can be used for ground handling and loading training.
  3. A "J" prefix is used if the vehicle can be converted back to standard configuration after the tests have ended. The "N" prefix is used for vehicles, which are modified so extensively for special tests, that a reconversion to the original configuration is neither planned nor feasible at reasonable costs.
  4. The "M" status symbol was apparently considered as unnecessary.
  5. "Z" is hardly used nowadays. Current aerospace vehicle projects very rarely receive a designation before the actual prototype is under construction, and even if they do the "Z" prefix is often not applied.

(7) Configuration Number: This is an optional element of the designation, and not part of the MDS proper. Minor modifications or slightly differing sub-variants of a specific missile or rocket model can be indicated by an additional suffix number, separated from the series letter by a dash.

(8) Popular Name: Most missiles receive a "popular name" or acronym very early in the planning or development phase. While the name is not part of the official designation, many missiles are almost exclusively referenced by their name, both in the popular press and in official government news releases and documents.

2 Designation Listings

For each vehicle type, a list of assigned designations is provided (ellipses in suffix letters denote all letters in between, excluding I and O). For most vehicles, only the manufacturer and the popular name is given. This should provide a useful reference in most cases. Only for vehicles without a name, or for some "less known" vehicles (i.e. not normally found in standard sources) are a few details given. The link in the left column leads to the corresponding page in the Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, which includes more information about the missile, like one or more photos and reference to the major differences between the variants. A link in the "Previous Designations" column will point to an explanation of the system, under which the designation was assigned.

2.1 Missiles, Drones and UAVs

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks) Previous Designations
MGM-1C Martin Matador SSM-A-1, B-61, TM-61
RIM-2A/.../F General Dynamics (Convair) Terrier SAM-N-7 (RIM-2A/.../E)
MIM-3A Western Electric Nike Ajax SAM-G-7, SAM-A-7, M1
AIM-4A/.../H Hughes Falcon F-98, GAR-1 (AIM-4A)
GAR-2 (AIM-4B/C/D)
GAR-3 (AIM-4E/F)
GAR-4 (AIM-4G)
MGM-5A/B JPL/Firestone Corporal SSM-G-17, SSM-A-17, M2
Vought Regulus SSM-N-8 (RGM-6A/B)
Raytheon Sparrow (AIM-7)
Sea Sparrow (RIM-7)
AAM-N-2 (AIM-7A)
AAM-N-3 (AIM-7B)
AAM-N-6 (AIM-7C/D/E, Navy)
AIM-101 (AIM-7D, AF)
Bendix Talos (RIM/RGM-8)
Vandal (MQM-8)
SAM-N-6 (RIM-8A/.../F)
Raytheon (NWC/Philco/General Electric) Sidewinder AAM-N-7 (AIM-9A/.../D, Navy)
GAR-8 (AIM-9B, AF)
Boeing Bomarc F-99, IM-99 (CIM-10A/B)
Chrysler Redstone SSM-G-14, SSM-A-14, M8 (PGM-11A)
XM9 (PTM-11B)
Martin Bullpup ASM-N-7 (AGM-12A/B/C, Navy)
GAM-83 (AGM-12A/B/D, AF)
Martin Mace TM-76 (MGM-13A/B, CGM-13C)
MIM-14A/B/C Western Electric Nike Hercules SSM-A-25, M6 (MIM-14A/B)
Vought Regulus II SSM-N-9 (RGM-15A)
KD2U (MQM-15A)
General Dynamics (Convair) Atlas B-65, SM-65A/B/C
SM-65D/E (CGM-16D/E)
USM-65D/E (CTM-16D/E)
SM-65F (HGM-16F)
Douglas Thor SM-75 (PGM-17A)
USM-75 (PTM-17A)
MGM-18A Martin Lacrosse SSM-G-12, SSM-A-12, M4
PGM-19A Chrysler Jupiter SM-78
ADM-20A/B/C McDonnell Quail GAM-72
MGM-21A Nord (Model SS.10)  
Aérospatiale (Nord) (Model SS.11/AS.11)  
Raytheon Hawk SAM-A-18, M3 (MIM-23A)
XM16 (XMTM-23B)
XM18 (XMTM-23C)
RIM-24A/B/C General Dynamics (Convair) Tartar Mk 15 (see note 1) (RIM-24A/B)
Martin Titan
Titan II (LGM-25C)
SM-68 (HGM-25A)
USM-68A (HTM-25B)
SM-68B (LGM-25C)
AIM-26A/B Hughes Nuclear Falcon GAR-11
UGM-27A/B/C Lockheed Polaris A1/A2/A3  
AGM-28A/B/C North American Hound Dog GAM-77 (AGM-28A/B)
MGM-29A Sperry/JPL Sergeant SSM-A-27, M15
Boeing Minuteman HSM-80 (LGM-30A/B/F)
Martin Marietta Pershing
Pershing II (MGM-31C)
M14 (MGM-31A)
M19 (MTM-31B)
MGM-32A Aérospatiale (Nord) Entac (Engin Téléguidé Anti-Char = Remotely Guided Anti-Tank Missile)  
MQM-33A/B/C/D Northrop (Radioplane)   OQ-19 (MQM-33A/B)
Teledyne Ryan Firebee
Firebee II (BQM-34E/F/T)
KDA (AQM-34B/C, Navy)
Q-2 (BQM-34A, AF)
AQM-35A/B Northrop (Radioplane)/Bendix (see note 2) Q-4
LGM-35A (see note 3) Northrop Grumman Sentinel ICBM; also known as GBSD(Ground Based Strategic Deterrent)
MQM-36A Northrop (Radioplane) Shelduck KD2R
AQM-37A/B/C/D Beech (Model 1019) KD2B (AQM-37A, Navy)
Q-12 (AQM-37A, AF)
AQM-38A/B Northrop (Radioplane) (Model RP-76/78)  
MQM-39A Beech (Model 1001) KDB
MQM-40A Globe Firefly KD6G
AQM-41A Bureau of Standards/Fairchild Petrel (drone version) AUM-N-2
MQM-42A North American Redhead/Roadrunner  
General Dynamics Redeye M41, XMIM-43 (FIM-43A/B)
UUM-44A Goodyear Subroc Mk 28
Texas Instruments Shrike ASM-N-10 (AGM-45A)
General Dynamics Mauler (MIM-46)
Sea Mauler (RIM-46)
AIM-47A/B Hughes Falcon GAR-9
XAGM-48A Douglas Skybolt GAM-87
LIM-49A Western Electric/McDonnell Douglas Nike Zeus B (XLIM-49A)
Spartan (LIM-49A) (see note 4)
RIM-50A Bendix Typhon LR (cancelled) SAM-N-8
Ford Shillelagh M13 (MGM-51A)
MGM-52A/B/C LTV Lance  
AGM-53A/B Rockwell Condor ASM-N-11 (AGM-53A)
Raytheon (Hughes) Phoenix AAM-N-11 (AIM-54A)
RIM-55A Bendix Typhon MR (cancelled) SAM-N-9
PQM-56A Nord/Bell (CT.41 ramjet-powered supersonic target)  
MQM-57A/B Northrop (Radioplane) Falconer (similar to MQM-33/36) AN/USD-1 (see note 5)
MQM-58A Aerojet General Overseer AN/USD-2 (see note 5)
ZRGM-59A APL Taurus LFSW (Landing Force Support Weapon; cancelled)  
AQM-60A Lockheed Kingfisher (modified X-7) Q-5
MQM-61A Beech Cardinal (similar to MQM-39)  
AGM-62A (see note 6) Martin Marietta Walleye  
ZAGM-63A - (Navy project for anti-radiation missile; cancelled)  
XAGM-64A Rockwell (North American) Hornet (USAF project; cancelled)  
Raytheon (Hughes) Maverick  
Raytheon (General Dynamics) Standard SM-1/2 MR (Medium Range) (RIM-66)
Standard ARM (Anti-Radiation Missile) (RGM-66)
Raytheon (General Dynamics) Standard SM-1/2 ER (Extended range)  
ZAIM-68A Air Force Weapons Lab Big Q (cancelled USAF project; see note 7)  
AGM-69A/B Boeing SRAM (Short Range Attack Missile)  
LEM-70A Boeing Minuteman ERCS (Emergency Rocket Communications System) (see note 8)  
Raytheon (Hughes) TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire guided)  
Ford Chaparral (modified AIM-9)  
UGM-73A Lockheed Poseidon C3  
Northrop Chukar  
ZBGM-75A - AICBM (Advanced ICBM; cancelled USAF project WS-120A)  
AGM-76A Hughes Falcon (air-to-ground derivative of AIM-47)  
McDonnell Douglas Dragon  
General Dynamics Standard ARM  
XAGM-79A Martin Marietta Blue Eye (TV guided derivative of AGM-12; cancelled USAF project)  
XAGM-80A Chrysler Viper (derivative of AGM-12 with inertial guidance; cancelled USAF project)  
AQM-81A/B Teledyne Ryan Firebolt  
ZAIM-82A - (1969/1970 USAF design study for advanced short-range AAM for F-15 aircraft; cancelled in favour of AIM-95)  
Texas Instruments Bulldog (laser-guided derivative of AGM-12; cancelled Navy project)  
Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) Harpoon
SLAM (Standoff Land Attack Missile) (AGM-84E)
SLAM-ER (SLAM-Expanded Response) (AGM-84H/K)
ZRIM-85A - (Navy project for medium-range SAM; cancelled)  
Boeing ALCM (Air-Launched Cruise Missile)  
AGM-87A General Electric Focus (AIM-9B derivative)  
Raytheon (Texas Instruments) HARM (High-Speed Anti-Radiation missile)
AARGM (Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile) (AGM-88E)
AARGM-ER (AARGM Extended Range) (AGM-88G)
ZUGM-89A - Perseus (cancelled Navy project)  
ZBQM-90A - (Navy project for high-speed high-altitude target; cancelled)  
AQM-91A Teledyne Ryan Firefly (UAV for Compass Arrow program)  
FIM-92A/.../K Raytheon (General Dynamics) Stinger  
XGQM-93A (see note 9) E-Systems (Model L450F UAV for Compass Dwell program)  
YGQM-94A/B (see note 9) Boeing B-Gull (UAV for Compass Cope program)  
AIM-95A Hughes Agile (Navy project; cancelled)  
UGM-96A Lockheed Trident I C4  
XAIM-97A General Dynamics Seekbat (USAF project; cancelled)  
YGQM-98A (see note 9) Teledyne Ryan R-Tern (UAV for Compass Cope program)  
XLIM-99A ? (I have no details; see note 10)  
XLIM-100A ? (I have no details; see note 10)  
RIM-101A - (Navy project; see note 11)  
PQM-102A/B General Dynamics (Convair)/Sperry Delta Dagger (F-102 modified as target drone; see note 12)  
XAQM-103A (see note 9) Teledyne Ryan Firebee (modified Model 147G; similar to AQM-34)  
MIM-104A/.../E Raytheon Patriot  
YMQM-105A Lockheed Aquila  
XBQM-106A/B/C USAF FDL Teleplane (experimental UAV)  
MQM-107A/.../E Raytheon (Beech) Streaker  
XBQM-108A NWC (Navy VATOL (Vertical Attitude Take-Off & Landing) project)  
BGM-109A/.../G (see note 13)
Raytheon (General Dynamics) Tomahawk
Gryphon GLCM (Ground-Launched Cruise Missile) (BGM-109G)
LTV (unsuccessful competitor to BGM-109)  
ZBQM-111A Teledyne Ryan Firebrand (Navy target; cancelled)  
AGM-112A/B Rockwell (unpowered guided bomb; redesignated as GBU-15(V)/B)  
XRIM-113A - (cancelled Navy project for Anti-Cruise-Missile missile)  

Boeing/Lockheed Martin (Rockwell/Martin Marietta) Hellfire  
XMIM-115A Euromissile/Hughes/Boeing Roland  
Raytheon (General Dynamics) RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile)  
FQM-117A/B/C RS Systems RCMAT (Radio-Controlled Miniature Aerial Target; see note 14)  
LGM-118A (see note 15)
Martin Marietta Peacekeeper (often referred to as "MX" ICBM)  
Kongsberg Penguin  
Raytheon (Hughes) AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile)  
Boeing Pave Tiger (YCQM-121A)
Seek Spinner (YCGM-121B)
Motorola Sidearm (obsolete AIM-9C modified as anti-radiation missiles)  
Emerson Electric Skipper II (GBU-16/B Paveway II glide bomb fitted with a rocket motor)  
AGM-124A Hughes Wasp (USAF anti-tank mini-missile; cancelled)  
Boeing Sea Lance ASWSOW (Anti-Submarine Warfare Stand-Off Weapon; cancelled)  
BQM-126A Beech (Model 997 target; cancelled)  
YAQM-127A Martin Marietta SLAT (Supersonic Low-Altitude Target; cancelled Navy project)  
YAQM-128A - (subscale aerial target missile for Navy; cancelled)  
AGM-129A/B Raytheon (General Dynamics) ACM (Advanced Cruise Missile)  
Boeing (Rockwell) (GBU-15(V)/B glide bomb fitted with a rocket motor)  
AGM-131A/B Boeing SRAM II (Short-Range Attack Missile II; cancelled) (AGM-131A)
SRAM-T (SRAM-Tactical; cancelled) (AGM-131B)
AIM-132A MBDA (BAe Dynamics/Matra) ASRAAM (Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile)  
UGM-133A Lockheed Martin Trident II D5  
XMGM-134A Martin Marietta Midgetman SICBM (Small ICBM; cancelled)  
ASM-135A (see note 16)
Vought ASAT (Anti-Satellite missile)  
Northrop Tacit Rainbow (cancelled anti-radar cruise missile)  
Northrop TSSAM (Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missile; cancelled)  
YCEM-138A Boeing Pave Cricket (ECM drone similar to YCGM-121B)  
Lockheed Martin (Loral) VL-Asroc (Vertical Launch - Anti-Submarine Rocket)  
Lockheed Martin (LTV) ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System)  
ADM-141A/B/C IMI (Brunswick) TALD (Tactical Air-Launched Decoy; see note 17)  
Rafael/Lockheed Martin Have Nap (original Isreali name is Popeye)  
MQM-143A Continental RPVs (1/5th scale target model of MIG-27)  
ADM-144A - (designation reserved but most probably not used; I have no further details)  
BQM-145A Teledyne Ryan Peregrine (JUAV-MR; Joint UAV - Medium Range; cancelled)  
Oerlikon/Lockheed Martin ADATS (Air-Defense Anti-Tank System)  
BQM-147A BAI Aerosystems Exdrone UAV  
FGM-148A/B/C/D Raytheon/Lockheed Martin Javelin AAWS-M (Advanced Anti-Tank Weapon System - Medium)  
McDonnell Douglas
Isreal Aircraft Industries
(see note 18)
UAV-SR (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle-Short Range; designations reserved by Army/Navy, but not used)  
FQM-151A AeroVironment Pointer UAV  
YAIM-152A - AAAM (Advanced Air-to-Air Missile; cancelled Navy project)  
XAGM-153A/B - (1992 USAF requirement for tactical standoff air-to-ground missile; cancelled)  
AGM-154A/.../E (see note 19)
Raytheon (Texas Instruments) JSOW (Joint Standoff Weapon)  
BQM-155A TRW/IAI Hunter UAV (has since been redesignated as RQ-5A)  
RIM-156A/B Raytheon Standard SM-2ER Block IV (derivative of RIM-67)  
Raytheon EFOGM (Enhanced Fiber-Optical Guided Missile; cancelled)  
Lockheed Martin JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile) (AGM-158A)
JASSM-ER (JASSM-Extended Ramge) (AGM-158B)
LRASM (Long Range Anti-Ship Missile) (AGM-158C)
JASSM-XR (JASSM-Extreme Range) (AGM-158D)
AGM-159A Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) JASSM (unsuccessful competitor to AGM-158A)  
Northrop Grumman (Teledyne Ryan) (ADM-160A)
Raytheon (ADM-160B/C)
MALD (Miniature Air-Launched Decoy)  
RIM-161A/B/C/D Raytheon Standard SM-3  
RIM-162A/.../K Raytheon ESSM (Evolved Sea-Sparrow Missile)  
GQM-163A Orbital Sciences Coyote SSST (Supersonic Sea-Skimming Target)  
MGM-164A Lockheed Martin ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) Block II  
RGM-165A Raytheon LASM (Land Attack Standard Missile; cancelled)  
MGM-166A Lockheed Martin LOSAT KEM (Line-Of-Sight Anti-Tank Kinetic Energy Missile)  
BQM-167A Composite Engineering Skeeter  
MGM-168A Lockheed Martin ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) Block IVA  
Lockheed Martin JCM (Joint Common Missile)  
MQM-170A/B/C Griffon Aerospace Outlaw  
MQM-171A/B Griffon Aerospace Broadsword  
FGM-172A/B Lockheed Martin SRAW (Short-Range Assault Weapon)  
GQM-173A/B Alliant Techsystems MSST (Multi-Stage Supersonic Target)  
RIM-174A/B Raytheon ERAM (Extended-Range Active Missile)  
MQM-175A/B EADS (sub-scale target drone)  
Raytheon Griffin  
BQM-177A Composite Engineering    
MQM-178A Composite Engineering Firejet  
Lockheed Martin JAGM (Joint Air-to-Ground Missile)  
YAGM-180A Lockheed Martin LRSO (Long Range Standoff Cruise Missile; unsuccessful competitor to AGM-181)  
YAGM-181A Raytheon LRSO (Long Range Standoff Cruise Missile)  
YLGM-182A Northrop Grumman GBSD (Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent); redesignated as LGM-35A (see note 3)  
AGM-183A Lockheed Martin ARRW (Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon)  
Kongsberg NSM (Naval Strike Missile) (RGM-184)
Kraken (AGM-184A)
MQM-185A/B QinetiQ Banshee Jet 80+  
MQM-186A/B Griffon Aerospace RedWing; sub-scale aerial target for U.S. Army ADA-T (Air Defense Artillery Targets) program  
AGM-187A Lockheed Martin JAGM-F (Joint Air-To-Ground Missile - Fixed Wing)  
Lockheed Martin JATM (Joint Advanced Tactical Missile)  

In 1997, the designation system for manned aircraft was extended to include a Q category for UAVs. The following designations have since been allocated:

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks)
RQ-1A/B (see note 20)
General Atomics Predator
Gray Eagle (MQ-1C)
IAI/Pioneer Inc. Pioneer
RQ-3A Lockheed Martin DarkStar
Northrop Grumman (Teledyne Ryan) Global Hawk
Northrop Grumman (TRW/IAI) Hunter (BQM-155A redesignated)
RQ-6A Alliant Techsystems Outrider
RQ-7A/B AAI Shadow 200
Northrop Grumman Fire Scout
MQ-9A/B General Atomics Reaper (Predator B) (MQ-9A)
SkyGuardian (MQ-9B)
CQ-10A MMIST SnowGoose
RQ-11A/B AeroVironment Raven
RQ-12A (see note 21) AeroVironment Wasp AE
(Q-13) Not assigned
RQ-14A/B AeroVironment Dragon Eye (RQ-14A)
Swift (RQ-14B)
RQ-15A DRS Neptune
RQ-16A/B Honeywell (VTOL Micro Air Vehicle)
XMQ-17A MTC Technologies SpyHawk
YMQ-18A Boeing A160T Hummingbird
XMQ-19A AAI Aerosonde
RQ-20A/B AeroVironment Puma AE
MQ-20A (see note 22) General Atomics Avenger (Predator C)
RQ-21A Boeing Insitu Blackjack (Integrator)
XRQ-22A AeroVironment Global Observer
RQ-23A NASC TigerShark
CQ-24A Kaman K-MAX
Boeing UCLASS (Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike) (ZRAQ-25A)
Stingray CBARS (Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System) (MQ-25A)
RQ-26A Aeronautics Defense Systems Aerostar
MQ-27A/B Insitu ScanEagle
RQ-28A Skydio X2D
(Q-29 ... Q-34) (No information) (see note 23)
MQ-35A Shield AI V-BAT
XQ-58A (see note 24) Kratos Valkyrie
XQ-67A (see note 24) General Atomics OBSS (Off-Board Sensing Station)
XRQ-72A (see note 25) Northrop Grumman Great Horned Owl
RQ-170 (see note 26) Lockheed Martin Sentinel


1. Source [3] (1974 ed.) lists SAM-N-7 as the old designation for Tartar. Since Tartar was a direct development of Terrier, the original SAM-N-7, it is possible, that the Navy at some time started to refer to both systems as SAM-N-7.

2. Several sources list the AQM-35 as the Bendix Talos, with an old designation of XQ-4B. Some of these sources say that there was also an RIM-35 designation, implying a shipborne surface-to-air missile. But the designation of the Talos SAM was of course RIM-8. While it seems to be certain, that Bendix produced a batch of XQ-4B drones originally designed by Radioplane, the XQ-4 is a vehicle completely different from the Bendix SAM-N-6/RIM-8 Talos missile. That said, it can be safely assumed that there was never a "RIM-35" missile, and that the sources saying so are in error.

3. The GBSD had the designation LGM-182 originally allocated to it. It is unknown, why this was changed to the out-of-sequence designation LGM-35.

4. The Nike Zeus A was developed into the Nike Zeus B/Spartan exo-atmospheric interceptor component of the Safeguard ABM system (the endo-atmospheric short-range component was Sprint). Several sources claim that Nike Zeus A was designated XLIM-49A, and Spartan became LIM-49A, although it was significantly different from Nike Zeus A. However, official records clearly indicate that XLIM-49A was actually the Nike Zeus B, which was far more similar to the Spartan.

5. The AN/USD-n designations are from the Joint Electronics Type Designation System (JETDS). The designations apply to the complete drone surveillance system, including ground equipment (the AN/USD series includes - among other equipment - also some drones, which were not redesignated in the missile series). The USD designator means:

6. The AGM-62 Walleye is an unpowered glide bomb and shouldn't have been designated in the missile series. The US Navy actually dropped the AGM-62 designator soon after it had been allocated, and designated the Walleye as Guided Weapon Mk 1 instead (later versions received higher Mark numbers). No GBU-n/B designation was used, because the GBU designator did not yet exist in 1963.

7. The missile project number 68 is also reported as AGM-68, but this is incorrect. Also related to the M-68 slot is the U.S. Navy's request in 1995 to assign the designation RIM-68A to the Standard Missile Block IV (as a continuation from RIM-66 and RIM-67). However, the request was turned down, and the missile became the RIM-156A instead.

8. Although it is likely that the designation LEM-70A was reserved (but apparently not used) for the Minuteman ERCS, I have no definite confirmation for this.

9. The XGQM-93A, YGQM-94A, YGQM-98A and XAQM-103A were originally designated XQM-93A, YQM-94A, YQM-98A and XQM-103A, respectively. This was in accordance with the original designation system, which allowed omisson of the launch-environment letter when a status prefix was used.

10. The XLIM-99A and XLIM-100A designations were reserved for the US Army in October 1972. This strongly suggests that the numbers were assigned to the silo-launched anti-ballistic missiles then in development. One possibility would be Martin-Marietta LIM-99 Sprint and LIM-100 Sprint II (advanced Sprint, later cancelled), but I have no evidence for this.

11. Some sources say that the RIM-101 is the Sea Sparrow, later designated as RIM-7. Also, the original AIM-101 designation of the Air Force Sparrow is sometimes listed in the "101" slot of the 1963 system. However, both of these descriptions are incorrect. The official source [3] describes the RIM-101A as a "tube-launched SAM, with passive radar and IR guidance", which does not fit the original RIM-7E Sea Sparrow. The most plausible explanation for the confusion is that the RIM-101 was an advanced Sea Sparrow derivative, which was later cancelled in favour of further RIM-7 development.

12. The PQM-102 designation is unusual:

13. The Navy initially used the BGM-109 designation for all Tomahawks, using numerical suffixes (e.g. BGM-109A-1) to differentiate between the various launch options. This was later appropriately changed to different launch environment letters (RGM-109, UGM-109). The USAF BGM-109G Gryphon GLCM should have been designated MGM-109G, because it was used only from a mobile ground launcher.

14. The FQM-117A is a very simple model plane, while FQM-117B/C are 1/9th scale models of MiG-27 and F-16 aircraft, respectively.

15. It was planned to develop a mobile basing system for the Peacekeeper. The mobile missile would have been designated MGM-118A.

16. ASAT should have been designated AIM-135A, because purpose-indicator letter "I" is defined as "air and space intercept".

17. The ADM-141A/B are unpowered glide decoys, while the ADM-141C ITALD (Improved TALD) is a powered derivative.

18. The designations YPQM-149A and YPQM-150A were reserved for the two finalist contractors (McDonnell Douglas and IAI) for the joint Army/Navy UAV-SR requirement of 1990. However, it was apparently never formally established which design number would refer to which contractor's design. In the end neither designation was ever used before the whole UAV program was restructured.

19. The original AGM-154A/B/C JSOW are unpowered guided glide bombs and should have received GBU-n/B designations. The planned AGM-154D/E variants are turbojet-powered derivatives.

20. The designations RQ-1A/B are used by the USAF for the whole Predator system, including ground equipment. The designations RQ-1K and RQ-1L apply to the UAVs of the RQ-1A and RQ-1B systems, respectively. The Predator GCS (Ground Control Station) is called RQ-1P, and the "Trojan SPIRIT II" SATCOM (Satellite Communication) station is designated RQ-1U. The designation MQ-1B refers to the Predator system with UAVs modified to carry the AGM-114 Hellfire anti-armour missile, and the armed UAVs are called MQ-1L. RQ-1Q is an upgraded GCS, and RQ-1W is a new SATCOM station (known as PPSL - Predator Primary Satellite Link). A further upgrade of the GCS is designated as MD-1A, though (in a new "D-for-Drone Control System" series).

21. The Q-12 design number was originally requested by the Army for the YMQ-12A, but rejected in favor of YMQ-1C. The Q-12 slot remained unassigned for several years, until it was filled with the allocation of RQ-12A.

22. It is unclear, why the Q-20 slot was used for the Avenger, when the RQ-20 designation for Puma AE is still in use. However, it seems that MQ-20A is not an officially assigned MDS.

23. It is unclear, if numbers 29 to 34 are already assigned, but not yet made public, or if MQ-35A was allocated out of sequence.

24. XQ-58A and XQ-67A are out-of-sequence designations, where the numbers were taken from the X-series. When XQ-58A and XQ-67A were assigned, the numbers 58 and 67 were the next in line in the X-series. A plain X-58 designation was never assigned, and it's effectively certain, that X-67 will be skipped as well.

25. It is unclear, why the out-of-sequence number 72 was assigned.

26. The number 170 is derived from Lockheed Martin's in-house designation P-170.

Undesignated Missiles, Drones and UAVs

Only a few operational missiles after 1963 have not (yet) received standard designations. These include:

There are numerous other missiles, test vehicles, drones, targets and UAVs, which were funded and/or procured by the U.S. military services, but did not receive standard designations. Listing them all is beyond the scope of this article, but many of them are listed in the Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, Appendix 4.

2.2 Rockets

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks) Previous Designations
MGR-1A/B/C Douglas Honest John M31 (MGR-1A)
M50 (MGR-1B/C)
Douglas Genie MB-1 (AIR-2A)
MMB-1 (AIR-2B)
MGR-3A Emerson Electric Little John M51
RUR-4A Naval Ordnance Test Station Weapon Alpha (rocket-propelled depth charge)  
RUR-5A/.../F Honeywell ASROC (Anti-Submarine Rocket)  
MER-6A L.T.V./Ford (USAF Program 279L: Blue Scout Junior rocket with ERCS (Emergency Rocket Communications System)) RM-91 (rocket only)
XADR-7A Raytheon (USAF decoy rocket; possibly similar to ADR-8) RCU-1/B (see note 1)
ADR-8A Revere (Tracor) (USAF chaff rocket; used in AN/ALE-25 Decoy Rocket Pod) RCU-2/B (see note 1)
XADR-9A Tracor (USAF decoy rocket) RCU-3/B (see note 1)
XADR-10A Raytheon (USAF decoy rocket) RCU-4/B (see note 1)
XADR-11A ? (USAF decoy rocket)  
XADR-12A ? (USAF decoy rocket)  
XMQR-13A USAMICOM BMTS (Ballistic Missile Target System)  
XAGR-14A Martin Marietta ZAP (Zero Anti-aircraft Potential; Navy project)  
MTR-15A USAMICOM BATS (Ballistic Aerial Target System)  
MQR-16A Atlantic Research Gunrunner (Army/Navy target for FIM-43 and MIM-72 training)  
XFGR-17A General Dynamics Viper (light anti-tank rocket; cancelled)  
Naval Weapons Center Smokey Sam (inert training rocket for simulating SAM launches)  
AGR-19A/B (see note 2) BAE Systems APKWS II (Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, for USMC)  
AGR-20A/B/C/E (see note 2)
BAE Systems APKWS II (Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, for USAF)  


1. The RCU-n/B designations were defined in the Aeronautical and Support Equipment Type Designation System (ASETDS), which includes air-dropped ordnance. The "RCU" designator has been deleted from the ASETDS since at least 1974, and I have no references as to its exact meaning. Most likely, it was either "Rocket, Chaff" or "Rocket, Decoy".

2. The AGR-19 and AGR-20 are incorrectly designated as unguided rockets. They are guided missiles, and as such should have been designated AGM-n.

Undesignated Rockets

Many small rockets, especially infantry rockets and rockets launched from airborne multi-tube launchers, have not received MDS designations. These include:

2.3 Probes

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks) Previous Designations
PWN-1A JPL Loki-Dart RM-82
PWN-2A Aerojet General Aerobee-Hi RM-84
PWN-3A University of Michigan/NACA Nike-Cajun RM-85
PWN-4A University of Michigan Exos RM-86
PWN-5A Cooper Development Rocksonde 200 RM-88
PWN-6A/B Atlantic Research Kitty (Arcas)  
PWN-7A Atlantic Research Rooster (Arcas-ROBIN)  
PWN-8A/B Space Data Loki Datasonde  
XPWN-9A Aerojet/UTC Kangaroo (US Navy program; cancelled)  
PWN-10A/B Space Data Super Loki Datasonde  
PWN-11A Space Data Super Loki Datasonde  
PWN-12A Space Data Super Loki ROBIN  

2.4 Boosters

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks)
SB-1A General Dynamics Atlas E
SB-2A/B Lockheed Martin (General Dynamics) Atlas II (SB-2A)
Atlas IIA/AS (SB-2B)
SB-3A Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) Delta II
SB-4A Martin Marietta Titan II
SB-5A/B Lockheed Martin Titan IV (SB-5A)
Titan IV B (SB-5B)
SB-6A Martin Marietta Titan 34D
SSB-7A Boeing IUS (Inertial Upper Stage; used with SB-5A/B Titan IV)
SSB-8A/B Lockheed Martin (General Dynamics) Centaur (used with SB-2A/B Atlas II (SSB-8A) and SB-5A/B Titan IV (SSB-8B))
SSB-9A McDonnell Douglas PAM D-II (Payload Assist Module D-II; used with SB-3A Delta II)
SSB-10A Martin Marietta Transtage (used with SB-6A Titan 34D)
ASB-11A Orbital Sciences Pegasus

Undesignated Boosters

The following launch vehicles have not (yet) received SB-n designations:

2.5 Satellites

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks)
WS-1A/B General Electric DMSP Block 5D-2 (Defense Meteorological Satellite Program) (WS-1A)
DMSP Block 5D-3 (WS-1B)
WS-2A - DMSP Block 6 (Defense Meteorological Satellite Program 6; cancelled)
LS-3A/B TRW/AESC DSP (Defense Support Program) (LS-3A)
DSP-I (DSP-Improved) (LS-3B)
ES-4A TRW DSCS II (Defense Satellite Communications System II)
ES-5A General Electric DSCS III (Defense Satellite Communications System III)
LS-6A - BSTS (Boost Surveillance and Tracking System; cancelled)
NS-7A/.../E Boeing (Rockwell) Navstar GPS I (Global Positioning System) (NS-7A)
ES-8A Lockheed Martin Milstar
LS-9A - SSTS (Space Surveillance and Tracking System; cancelled)
LS-10A - SBR (Space Based Radar Satellite System; cancelled)
XSS-10A (see note 1) Boeing (USAF experimental micro-satellite program)
(S-11) Not assigned (see note 2)
(S-12) Not assigned (see note 2)
(S-13) Not assigned (see note 3)
ES-14A Boeing WGS (Wideband Global SATCOM)
LS-15A Ball Aerospace SBSS (Space-Based Space Surveillance) (see note 4)
LS-16A Lockheed Martin SBIRS (Space-Based Infrared System)
ES-17A Lockheed Martin AEHF (Advanced Extremely High Frequency)
(see note 5)


1. The S-10 slot in the satellite series was reused for unknown reasons. The "XSS" prefix of the MDS designation has since been used as an acronym with various interpretations ("Experimental Small Satellite", "Experimental Spacecraft System", "Experimental Satellite System").

2. Other than XSS-10A, the designations of the XSS-11 and XSS-12 follow-on programs were not official MDS designators. However, because of the relatively wide-spread use of the XSS-11 and -12 labels at the time, the numbers S-11 and -12 have not been assigned to other satellite programs to avoid confusion.

3. The design number 13 has been skipped, because that number is not used anymore in any MDS designations (triskaidekaphobia).

4. The designation LS-15A almost certainly refers to the SBSS (Space-Based Space Surveillance) satellite, but this is not confirmed with 100% certainty.

5. An unannotated list of approved MDS designators up to October 2022 includes the three satellite designations ES-19A, -21A and -23A, most likely assigned at some time in 2022. No additional information whatsoever about which satellites these designations refer to is available so far. One somewhat plausible possibility is that the USSF has assigned MDS to communication satellite systems taken over from the Navy in 2021, namely the UFO and MUOS satellites. Also, there is currently no public information about the missing even number S-series designations, xS-18, -20 and -22.

Undesignated Satellites

Many military satellite systems, including all reconnaissance and intelligence satellites, never received MDS designations. The following list does not include satellites, which were already out of service, when the designation series for satellites was introduced in 1988/89.

3 Sources

In no particular order:

[1] John M. Andrade: "U.S. Military Aircraft Designations and Serials 1909-1979", Midland, 1979
[2] Bill Gunston: "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rockets and Missiles", Salamander Books Ltd, 1979
[3] Department of Defense Publication 4120.15-L: "Model Designation of Military Aerospace Vehicles", 1974, 1977, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2004 editions
[4] Department of Defense: "Model Designation of Military Aircraft, Rockets and Missiles", 7/1964, 1/1965, 7/1965, 1/1970 editions
[5] Department of Defense Missile Nomenclature Records

Comments and corrections to: Andreas Parsch

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Last Updated: 15 April 2024