Theoretically it should be feasible - one end up with a tracked or wheeled vehicle with rockets strapped to top of it and it shouldn't be a big deal whether they are designed to hit land/sea or air targets. There are cases of using SAMs to hit land targets, though it's highly cost ineffective. It seems also that flexibility for rocket artillery is highly valued, as new rocket artillery designs tend to have pods that allow loading rockets of different diameter. Next logical step would be increasing flexibility and parts commonality by using the same vehicle for both roles.

However, this good on paper idea does not seem to be specially used, thus I wonder where is the catch. (Legacy of old standards? Feasible but too minuscule gains to bother? Totally different rocket dimensions?)

  • $\begingroup$ What is the difference? $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Dec 4, 2022 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Daron One hits air targets, another land ones. Armies seems to use different vehicles for both roles so apparently there is some difference, though I'm trying to figure out what's the rationale behind. $\endgroup$
    – Shadow1024
    Dec 4, 2022 at 10:24
  • $\begingroup$ Why do you think this is unusual? Russian terrorists have been using S300 batteries to attack both air and ground targets in their criminal invasion of Ukraine. $\endgroup$ Dec 4, 2022 at 22:56
  • $\begingroup$ What engagement distances are you looking for your SAMs? There's a large range of AA systems $\endgroup$
    Dec 6, 2022 at 0:48

3 Answers 3


Honestly, nothing is keeping a hypothetical military from using the same type of vehicle to launch both surface-to-air missiles and rocket artillery, although long-range or high-altitude SAMs can be much larger than surface-to-surface weapons usually tend to be.

I think we don't see it in the real world due to weapons-development practices. Weapons manufacturers design launchers specialized for their own weapons and offer them as a complete package, rather than develop weapons that fit a specific preexisting launcher.

What is more common to see, though, is the same basic vehicle platform being modified to carry different weapon systems or meet different roles. As one very common example, the M113 APC has been adapted into a huge number of variants by countries around the world--everything from armored ambulances to nuclear missile launchers. So this gives you specialized vehicles for each role as needed while still allowing them to share a large number of parts.

If your military does have the same vehicle for both SAMs and rocket artillery, though, I wouldn't expect a specific vehicle to be carrying both weapons at the same time (or be actively swapping between them) due to operational requirements. You wouldn't want your air defense unit distracted by artillery fire missions, and you wouldn't want to lose artillery support because an enemy plane wandered into range. And an artillery unit(*) would be coordinating with FOs or other infantry or armor units, while an air-defense unit would have a radar unit attached.

(*-"unit" in the organization sense (company/battery/regiment/etc), not the "individual vehicle" sense)


The problem is radars and kill chains.

Its not easy to detect and shoot down an aircraft. Even short range anti-air systems like the German Gepard carry their own radar with them. Your artillery system will need something similar if it wants to do short-range duty which takes space away from the rockets and missiles, or it needs to be linked to the long-range radars that work with the bigger anti-air weapons.

This is a problem. You have radars with a wide view that search for a target and say "there's a target somewhere over there" and then a radar with a far smaller view that will then try to find and track the target, passing that information to the missile systems. Ofcourse it needs to try and identify what kind of aircraft it is, if its hostile, what distance it is at, what height, what speed it is going, determine if anything else has already fired at it, designate which anti-air weapons will fire at it and how much they fire at it. Each radar system has a limited amount of targets it can track and engage at a time, and when attacking that kill-chain to designate and fire something needs to be as short as possible.

The kill-chain is basically the chain of people and systems information has to travel through before something is fired at it. To take Ukraine as an example: Russia detects a flat that is used to stockpile ammunition. It takes a day or two before the choice is made to engage it and with what to engage it (artillery, airstrike, cruise missile). By that time the Ukrainians have moved the stockpile and the Russians are firing at a civilian target*. This can be observed with more military targets that are attacked with artillery or similar, then it takes a few days before they are attacked again. The kill-chain takes hours to days for some of them.

The kill-chain for aircraft has to be fast, seconds fast. Or else your missile might miss the target by kilometers. This is why most anti-air systems are close to the radars that serve them and often a way behind the frontline to reduce the effects of jammers. Your rocket artillery would usually not be in such a good position, increasing the time for that kill-chain and making them far less useful as communication takes longer to reach them and interference/jamming can mess up your capabilities. Not to mention they have to communicate whether or not they are in a position, facing the right direction and deployed to fire all the time.

There's also training. Your rocket artillerymen would suddenly be trained on not just their artillery role but also on their anti-air role, how to deploy, how to act, how to fire.

Better maximise your effectiveness by using dedicated system, rather than spreading it out over various systems.

  • I'm not saying that the Russians arent shooting at civilian targets. I'm saying that Russians dont always tell lies and that some of the targets may not have been civilian when they targeted it.
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding your Ukraine example, when the Russians hit a residential building I find it much more plausible that they either missed their target (and refused to admit it) or transposed some coordinates in their kill chain (and refuse to admit it). There were a few cases where Russians did hit military targets in ex-civilian buildings, but those were more like conference centers than flats. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Dec 4, 2022 at 13:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @o.m. the thing about propaganda is that it makes it hard to see the truth. Yes we have dozens of examples of Russia outright lying ("no aircraft destroyed on Crimea! Those wrecks were already there...), and that makes it more believable that if something like that happens it is a mistake by Russia. However "believable" does not mean "truth". While I would believe the exact same as you do and think it a miss, theres plenty of evidence that Russia misses constantly, I have to try and keep an open mind that some of it might not be a lie. Although in my example it exposes a different failing. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Dec 4, 2022 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ I assume that Russia is lying a lot, but unlike many talking heads I believe that much of this lying is about hiding mistakes as well as deliberate atrocities. When a Russian missile hits an apartment, my first thought is to wonder what intended target there was a mile or two away ... $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Dec 5, 2022 at 6:00
  • $\begingroup$ In terms of radar and killchain, things can be simplified if OP is willing to make a downgrade from radar guided AA to heatseakers. Of course range is severely downgraded as well as maximum height. However, they could extend the length of the missile. The US and Japan iirc have employed heatseekers on things like humvees or Strikers $\endgroup$
    Dec 6, 2022 at 0:51

What exactly do you want to achieve?

Warships commonly carry multiple, different weapon systems. Ground vehicles usually carry only secondary weapons in addition to one primary weapon. That's in part because ground vehicles and water vehicles scale differently. What you have in mind is a ground vehicle either mounting two different primary weapons or firing different munitions from one primary weapon.

  • Tanks typically mount one main gun and a couple of secondary MGs. The main gun of a tank can fire both anti-armor munitions (shaped charge or KE penetrators) or area-target munitions (HE fragmentation or WP). They tend to be optimized for anti-armor (by being smoothbore), at the expense of efficiency in the area-target role.
  • Some infantry fighting vehicles mount both autocannon and anti-tank missiles, with one or more secondary machine guns. The autocannon and the ATGM are different systems, competing for space in the turret, etc. But one could argue that the primary weapon of an IFV are the dismounting troops, and that cannon, ATGM, and MGs are all secondaries in that sense.

In theory, one might fit half the IFV with more/better ATGM and the other half with more/better autocannon, but that would risk not having the right weapon when one needs it. Likewise, one might fit half the tanks to fire KE from smoothbores, and the other half to fire HE from rifled barrels. But in the HE role, how often would those tanks be better than proper self-propelled artillery or self-propelled mortars? The common solution is to mount multi-purpose or multiple primary weapons, but in the case of tanks optimized for one role.

So to your combo system:

  • (Rocket) artillery tends to 'shoot and scoot' to avoid counterbattery fire. That means the vehicle goes to a firing position, prepares, fires at maximum rate of fire for a short time, and then leaves. Mounting an air defense radar on rocket artillery compromises the rocket artillery. SAM batteries also have to displace frequently, to avoid SEAD attacks, but if they are not active much of the time, they limit their effectiveness.
  • (Rocket) artillery often comes with terminal guidance, but it needs to be aimed properly. SAMs are much more agile, many have a vertical launch before they turn on their own. That means launchers will be different.
  • SAMs are limited as much by the need for sensors and guidance as by the launchers themselves. Adding a SAM guidance system to rocket artillery is wasteful if it is not commonly used as SAM.

Yet artillery often needs to be protected by air defenses. So it might make sense to mount a secondary air defense capability on a sufficiently advanced artillery system, for self-defense. Or you could have a future where counter drone, rocket, artillery, and mortar systems get fitted to all serious military vehicles. Possibly lasers? But this would not be an additional primary weapon, just a secondary.

So by and large, my answer is no. With ships, it often makes sense to have one 2,000-ton ship doing two things instead of two 1,000-ton ships doing one thing each. With ground vehicles, it seldom makes sense to have one 100-ton vehicle doing two things instead of two 50-ton vehicles doing one thing each.


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