Mark 26 missile launcher

The Mark 26 Guided Missile Launching System (GMLS) was a United States Navy fully automated system that stows, handles, and launches a variety of missiles. The system supported RIM-66 Standard, RUR-5 ASROC, and potentially other weapons.[1] The Mark 26 had the shortest reaction time and the fastest firing rate of any comparable dual arm shipboard launching system at the time. With only one man at the control console, a weapon can be selected, hoisted to the guide arm, and launched. Several mods (0 to 5) provided magazine capabilities of 24 to 64 missiles.[2]

Mark 26 Guided Missile Launching System
A RIM-66 Standard MR on a Mark 26 launcher, USS Ticonderoga, 1983.
TypeGuided Missile Launching System
Place of originUnited States
Service history
In service1976 - 2005 (USN)
Used byUnited States Navy
Republic of China Navy
WarsCold War
Production history
ManufacturerFMC / United Defense / BAE
No. built26 systems on 13 ships
VariantsMod 0 to 5
Rate of fire2 missiles every 9 seconds
1 second salvo delay


The Mark 26 was installed aboard the Virginia-class cruiser, the Kidd-class destroyer, and the early Ticonderoga-class cruiser.[3] It was one of the last rail-based missile launchers used by the US Navy. The system was deployed in limited numbers due to the advent of the Mark 41 Vertical Launching System; only the first five of twenty-seven Ticonderoga cruisers carried the Mark 26. With the Mark 26, two missiles could be on the rails and it could sustain a 9-second firing rate with a one-second salvo delay.[2] This was faster than prior launchers that required manually winging and finning of the missiles prior to loading on the rail. However, with the Mark 41 VLS, any missile could be on standby to fire at a given time with a faster firing rate.

The VLS system design size also permitted the carrying of larger missiles like the Tomahawk missile and extended range Standard Missiles which are around 21 feet (6.4 m) long with boosters. The Mark 26 was limited to 16.6 feet (5.1 m) maximum missile length.[4] The 61 cell Mark 41 VLS also exceeded the Mark 26 Mod 5 capacity of 44 missiles for Aegis cruisers.

From a maintenance standpoint, VLS has fewer moving parts than the Mark 26 and is thus less prone to failure. It also has 360 degree coverage, while the Mark 26 would be limited by the ship's structure. For example, a forward Mark 26 launcher could not shoot at a target aft of the ship due to firing cut outs.[5]

Due to issues with the vertically launched ASROC, ships with VLS had to wait until 1993[6] to have the capability to fire RUM-139 VL-ASROC. The Mark 26 provided ASROC capability in the late 1970s.

The Mark 26 system was capable of launching nuclear ASROC and included appropriate safety measures. It used a system nuclear lock and a hanger rail nuclear lock. Loading of a nuclear weapon was permitted if either the system lock or the rail lock are unlocked. Both must be locked to prevent accidental or unauthorized loading of nuclear weapons onto the launch rails. These locks required crew intervention to unlock and the system key was different from the rail lock key.[2]


According to NAVEDTRA 14909 Gunner's Mate 3 & 2, Chapter 7:

  • Mark 26 Mod 0 - 24 missiles, forward Virginia-class cruiser
  • Mark 26 Mod 1 - 44 missiles, aft Virginia-class cruiser
  • Mark 26 Mod 2 - 64 missiles, Strike cruiser, not deployed
  • Mark 26 Mod 3 - 24 missiles, updated Mod 0 systems, forward Kidd-class destroyer
  • Mark 26 Mod 4 - 44 missiles, updated Mod 1 systems, aft Kidd-class destroyer
  • Mark 26 Mod 5 - 44 missiles, modified Mod 4 system for early Ticonderoga-class cruiser

On 11 September 1976, USS Virginia was commissioned, the first US Navy combat ship with the Mark 26 GMLS. Non-combatant USS Norton Sound also had the Mark 26 in the early 1970s for Aegis testing. USS Thomas S. Gates (CG-51) was the last US Navy ship using the Mark 26 GMLS and was decommissioned in December 2005. As of 2014, the Mark 26 is apparently still in use by the Republic of China Navy on the former Kidd class destroyers.

See also


  1. Mk26 GMLS United Defense pamphlet via Accessed May 11, 2014
  2. NAVEDTRA 14909 Gunner’s Mate 3 & 2 – Chapters 7 through 8 (1996) via Accessed May 11, 2014
  3. Friedman, Norman, The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems 1997-1998, Page 419, USNI Press 1997.
  4. Mk 41 VLS presentation. Mark Zimmerman, Lockheed Martin Mark 41 VLS Systems engineer. Accessed May 11, 2014. via
  5. RUM-139 VL-ASROC. Accessed May 11, 1993.
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