Roughing It In: Weapons Classification & Theory (Part III: “MODERN”)

Roughing It In Part III – “MODERN”

(Caveat: I’m not only a writer, I’m an old-school wargamer… and the following is at best a SUMMARY of the field)

The Modern era of weapons will be defined for purposes of this summarization as beginning with the end of the Medieval period and ending anywhere in the next ten minutes. It is generally characterized by firearms of increasing lethality and complexity, but also includes an increasing array of ranged yet non-lethal alternatives. Of necessity, sections covering underlying and auxillary technologies are also needed.

Perhaps the single most important thing to note about both the modern and future epochs of weaponry is that they are still ultimately vulnerable to the ancient and medieval. One rock delivered to just the right location at just the right time can as easily destroy a war machine as a single life. That said, onward!

Is it a weapon or ammunition: With the exception of the Naval Weapons section, the majority of the following listings after the AMMUNITION section are for durable weapons and not the associated expendable ammunition. Some categorization is purely arbitrary, and certain weapons may be shown in more than one category.

Solid shot: ball / sphere / roundshot, cone, cylinder / slug, flechettes / needles, “rubble”, chains, chainshot, hollowpoints, shaped (Minie ball, boattail, wadcutter, etc.); frangible

Explosive projectiles (shells, bombs, warheads, grenades): fused explosives, contact explosives, timed explosives

“Specialty” / “chemical”: Incendiary, tracer, “dispersal”, poisoned, marker/tagger, gas‑dispersal

Modern Artillery Warheads: AP (armor piercing), APDS (AP Discarding Sabot); HE (high explosive), HESH (HE Squash Head); Case / Cannister / Beehive (in essence, turns an artillery piece into a very large shotgun expelling small projectiles in a spreading cone, typically used to defend gun position against infantry or to disable “soft” targets); nuclear warhead

Bombs: “iron”, typically HE with casing that produces shrapnel; concussion; fire / inciendiary, FAE (thermobaric); chemical (typically gas: irritants, contact toxins, neurotoxins); radiation-enhanced (any other classification to which radioactive materials have been added BUT which are not intended to produce a nuclear reaction – in other words, a “dirty” bomb); biological agents (powders or mists usually dispersed by a small HE charge); nuclear explosive (fission, fusion, neutron, etc.); propaganda dispersal / other non-lethal delivery

self-propelled (rockets, missiles, cruise missiles, remotely-piloted-vehicle drones) Rockets are unguided once launched, missiles are rockets with on-board course correction capability of some type (steerig vanes, movable canards, steering / attitudinal “jets” {small controllable secondary exhaust nozzles}, cruise missiles use aerodynamic surfaces to maintain altitude and maneuverability, RPV drones commonly are used as weapon delivery platforms intended to be recovered and reused)

Propellants: pneumatic, tension/torsion, or explosive chemical
(Examples of each being respectively: blowgun / “paintball” marker; elastic band or compressed spring speargun / spring-launcher such as a Piat; firearms / rockets)

loose powder, packeted powder, “soft” cartridge, “hard” cartridge, “caseless”

Muzzle-loading, breech-loading, “external” loading (e.g. speargun or catapult or sling)

Loading style: single-shot, repeating (manual or autoloading/semiautomatic), automatic, internal magazine, revolving magazine, multi-barrel, clip-fed, drum-fed, belt-fed, cassete-fed

Sighting aids / sensor systems: none (“sightless”), bead (“shotgun-style”), post-and-ramp / open (“iron”) sights, closed (“peep” / aperture) sights, optically enhanced: telescopic, infrared, Starlyte, laser-designated, laser-guided

RADAR, SONAR, LIDAR, Magnetic, pressure-differential

Guidance: direct-fire / indirect-fire; unguided / ballistic, ATG (active terminal guidance), wire-guided, radio-guided, actively piloted (suicide pilot / kamikaze), homing (laser “painted”, IR signature, RADAR signature, SONAR signature, other), GPS-designated coordinates; combined

Weapon mounts: hand-held, sling, suspended / hanging, monopod, bipod, tripod, “fixed”, semi-fixed, pintle, wheeled carriage, tracked carriage, skid / ski carriage, sponson, turret, railcar; anti-aircraft, anti-ship, anti-submarine, air-to-air, surface-to-air, air-to-surface, surface-to-surface, “universal”



  • Handguns: Hold-out Pistol, Pistol, Revolver, Auto-Pistol
  • Longarms: Musket, Musketoon, Rifled Musket, Rifle, Carbine
  • Smoothbores: Blunderbuss, Shotgun, Grenade-launcher
  • Military: Submachine Gun, Light Machine Gun (see following, under Machine-Guns), Assault Rifle; grenades, “anarchist”/terrorist bombs, booby traps
  • Specialty: Gyrojet Pistol (and Rifle); Taser, Speargun, duckfoot, riot gun

“Heavy” / “Squad-Support”

  • Swivel Gun
    originally a light cannon or carronade mounted atop a post or ship’s rail, often loaded with small-shot for use in boarding actions. Loaded with chain or “debris”, also effective in attacking an opponent’s rigging and sails. Possibly one direct ancestor of the modern breech-loaded grenade launcher.

    Later developments place very large caliber shotguns, grenade launchers, and even small rocket launchers into this role prior to the broad availability of machine-guns (See Also: Trap Gun)

  • Grenade Launcher (man-portable)
    As a distinct and separate weapon, found in single-shot and pump-action (auto-loading variations tend to be crew-served and emplaced or field-mounted or vehicular-mounted)
  • Volley Gun
    Consisting of multiple barrels capable of being fired simultaneously, volley guns fell into disfavor as machine-guns gained a reputation on the field of battle. Some examples of the type allowed for only partial firing of volleys, giving extended threat / coverage to a lane of approach while other guns in the battery were being reloaded.

    Removable pre-loaded breech-blocks holding fifty or more cartridges appeared in later models, increasing the effective ROF for as long as the supply of loaded blocks held out. In at least one variation, these blocks provided all of the barrel the weapon had and the firing action plus large clamps to hold the block in place made up the “gun”. Another variation on the theme figures prominently in alternate-universe fiction as part of the 1632 universe (created and edited by Eric Flint)

  • Trap Gun
    A gun intended to be used as part of a trap, often fired by a trip wire or some other unattended method. Also used to describe very large bore shotguns used for harvesting migratory birds, in which mode the gun is mounted upon a tripod or other mount allowing pre-aiming at a baited / decoy-populated area. (Such shotguns were never intended for firing from the shoulder, and were almost invariably single-shot and required re-setting the aim after firing.)
  • Light Mortars
    the general designation includes tubes of no more than 81 millimeters diameter; in the World War II era, “knee mortars” provided an alternative to grenade launchers in the squad-support role. Modern light mortar bombs consist of a warhead attached to the top of a propellant charge, most often fired by simply dropping the prepared round into an open tube which has a firing pin at the base. Individual bombs typically have two separate “safeties”, one for the warhead and one for the propellant.
  • Anti-Tank Rifle (man- or semi- portable)
  • Flame Throwers
    1. LIGHT MACHINE-GUN a.k.a. Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW)

      The M249 SAW/LMG in 5.56mm caliber has been the standard LMG in USArmy deployments since 1984CE. Although rated at a Cyclic ROF of 775RPM, it is considered to have a sustained ROF of 50 RPM and a “rapid” ROF of 100 RPM (the typical content of a single belt of ammunition).

      Although the USMC is now opting for the M27 in the SAW role, they too used the M249 for most of 25 years (1984ce through 2009ce, with some remaining in use afterward).

      During World War II, German machine-guns deployed in the “light” role (models MG34 and MG42) had cyclic fire rates in excess of 1300 rpm. The German design decision was biased in favor of high volume bursts in the belief that defenders would only be exposed to the machine-gunner’s fire for very limited amounts of time before going to cover.

    2. Medium Machine Gun
      In some armed service deployments, substantially similar to the deployed LMG except for mount(s) and ammunition supply.
    3. Heavy Machine Gun
      Generally deployed in a larger caliber than the LMG or MMG, with some notable exceptions


  • Land Mines:
    anti-armor (AKA anti-tank),
    “Rommel asparagus”
    (SEE ALSO booby-traps, above)
  • Foxhole
    a simple pit providing cover against incoming fire
  • Trench
    an excavated ditch typically no wider than it is deep, providing relatively hard cover against incoming small arms fire and varying degrees of protection against indirect weapons. A firing step is a raised platform or ledge along the side of the trench nearest the enemy which allows a soldier to use his ranged weapon in direct‑fire aimed mode while maintaining 90% or greater hard cover
  • Bunker
    sense 1 – a field fortification which includes a substantial roof to protect occupants / contents from indirect‑fire weapons and aerial bombardment. The classic bunker includes openings facing the enemy that allow for observation and use of weapons from under cover. Bunkers often serve as emplacements for heavy weapons

    sense 2 – fuel storage areas on a ship, esp. the [u]coal bunkers[/u] on steamships

    sense 3 – a protected storage area, usually roofed / enclosed, for the materiel used in warfare, including particularly such categories as fuel and ammunition

  • Revetments
    raised areas of hard cover used to provide field fortifications; most often include few specific accommodations for active defense (beyond possibly firing steps
  • “Nest”
    a defensive position used by a single weapon or weapon crew. The most commonly seen specific forms are the machine-gun nest and the sniper’s nest
  • Blockhouse
    primarily a thick-walled building with provisions for defensive weapons‑fire through firing ports (a.k.a. Loopholes) or from positions on the roof. On the American frontier, often of roughly equivalent length and width, and often with nearly matching height.
  • Stockade
    sense 1 – (as associated with the American frontier) a fortified enclosure where the exterior walls are made up of log palisades, often with one or more blockhouses included as part of the outer defensive wall

    sense 2 – a military jail

  • Redoubt
    in field fortifications, an area providing hard cover in advance of the main body of troops in a given force. In fixed fortifications, may more often be a fall‑back position outside the primary works / compound
  • Fire Base
    a field fortification intended for long term use, most often associated with artillery in battery or greater strength but usually including a significant infantry presence. Most often has near‑complete encircling cover provided by revetments, ramparts, trenches, etc.
  • Compound, Post, Fort, Fortress
    increasingly larger fortifications
  • Tank trap
  • Fougasse
    an incendiary positional defensive area trap / general‑purpose “installation” producing effects similar to a thermobaric bomb (a.k.a. FAE) by the engineered detonation of a semi-contained flammable gas such as propane or butane; gasoline vapors or a deliberate mist of other flammable liquids may also be used to create the effect. Particularly effective against infantry, cavalry, and “soft” vehicles. Distinctive in that a well‑built fougasse can conceivably be reused multiple times as long as the feed tubes and ignition method are undamaged, repaired, or replaced AND additional tanks of gas are available (as opposed to most explosive‑based mines).


  • Artillery – Heavy Mortar, Spigot Mortar
  • Artillery – Cannon
  • Artillery – Guns: Anti-Tank Gun, Infantry Gun, Multi-Purpose Gun
  • Artillery – Howitzer
  • Artillery – Anti-Aircraft / Area Suppression:
    1. Flak cannon
    2. Rocketry
    3. Missiles
    4. Phalanx
    5. Minigun, Gatling


  • Ram
  • Spar Torpedoes
  • Torpedoes
  • Depth Charges
  • Naval Mines:
    1. Limpet
    2. Magnetic
    3. Tethered
    4. Drift (free-floating)
  • Chains / Booms
  • Anti-Submarine Nets
  • Fireship
  • Q-ship

With a relatively narrow range of exceptions, vehicles CARRY weapons and are not specifically weapons themselves — although “field expedient” usage may still be lethal. (Rolling an AFV track over someone can be fairly darn lethal – cf. Tianamien Square…)

Land Vehicles
Note that the generic types of propulsion are used here, and given greater detail under the Naval Vehicle topics. An exception is for vehicles dependent upon a prepared roadbed / fixed route: trolleys, trains, canal barges being the most-common examples coming to mind.


  • Wagons:
  • Trolleys:
  • Canal / River Barges:


  • Automobiles: Staff Cars, “soft” Scout Cars, etc.
  • Trucks / Lorries
  • Rail Trains
  • Specialty Vehicles: Jeep, HMMMV, “Universal Carrier”

SELF-PROPELLED – “hard” (Armored)

  • Armored Cars a.k.a. “Scout Cars”
  • Armored Personnel Carriers a.k.a. APC
  • Armored Fighting Vehicles a.k.a. “Tanks”
  • Armored Trucks incl. Half-Tracks, Payroll Trucks, etc.
  • Armored Trains / Armored Rail Cars
  • Other Armored Vehicles: Armored Engineering Vehicles, Hum-vee, Armored “Universal Carrier” (a.k.a. Bren carrier), etc.

Naval Vehicles
Sail-driven vessels ultimately span the full range of epochs in this study of weapon systems: under nearly all conceivable circumstances where a planetary surface can support life without major technical insulation (space / environmental / armored suits) – and a good many where Terran-origin life might not survive in the open but which could still be profitably inhabited – the winds will blow and can be harnessed to propel ships. Or other things…

By necessity, Age of Sail examinations should also mention some muscle-powered watercraft that remain of importance even into the Modern era…

  • Rowed/Poled Craft (MAY have sails in addition to oars / paddles / poles): raft, coracle, dugout, pirogue, keelboat, kayak / umiak, canoe, rowboat, liburnian, longboat
  • “Hybrid” Craft (use sails more often than oars, but both are relied upon for the full range of water conditions accessed): barge, galleas, longship (drakkar), galley (monoreme, bireme, trireme, quadrireme, quinquireme), dromund
  • Sailing ships (may occasionally still have long oars known as sweeps, but typically pulled by another oared vessel if the winds fail or the sails are destroyed): galleon, cog, sloop, barkentine, clipper, brigantine, man-o-war, frigate, cutter, etc.


  • Paddle-wheel
    1. Side-wheel
    2. Double Side-wheel
    3. Rear
  • Screw (propellor) drive


  • Direct Drive
  • Usually used to power a screw propeller, although some early or special-purpose vessels powered by IC engines used paddlewheels.

  • Electrical Motor Drives
  • Typically using DC current generated from an array of batteries, EM Drive is the basis for both Hybrid and Nuclear ship’s motive power

  • Hydro-jet Drive
  • The actual propulsion in these vessels is provided by using the engines to drive pumps, and the outflow of the pumps provides thrust.

  • Hybrid Drive
  • Common in pre-nuclear submarines, a combination of IC electrical generation, battery storage, and electric motors to drive the screws (or pumps, if a hydrojet design). In port, external electrical supplies can also be used to recharge the on-board batteries.

technically driven by electricity produced from steam generated by heating a fluid as far as is generally known…

(experimental) siphon drive: water drawn through filters from surrounding environment is flash-heated and expelled through nozzles to produce thrust. Due to environmental concerns, publically believed to have been abandoned as a viable alternative by USNavy.


  • Diving Bell
  • Bathyscape
  • Submarine

Air Vehicles: LTA

Air Vehicles: HTA

Amphibian Vehicles

Ground-Effect Vehicles

  • Hovercraft / GEM (ground-effect machines)
  • Hydrofoils
  • Maglev (fixed-track, “rail”-dependent)

Tri-Phibian Vehicles


3 thoughts on “Roughing It In: Weapons Classification & Theory (Part III: “MODERN”)

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