Almost every day, we get hits from people looking for information on Rocket Propelled Grenades, or RPGs (well, we get hits for RPG, maybe they’re looking for Role Playing Games?).
We’ve discussed briefly the evolution of handheld anti-tank weapons in US service, and we’ve talked about some of the challenges light armor faces in defeating RPGs. What we haven’t really discussed is the RPGs themselves.
The Russian experience with handheld anti-tank weapons up through WWII was much like our own. But after the war, where our Army progressed toward a disposable weapon that every troop could carry, they persisted with a reusable weapon employed by a two man team of gunner and ammo bearer. The first iteration of these post-war RPGs was the RPG-2, which was also known as the B-40. It was an incredibly simple weapon- pretty much just a tube with a trigger.
The round itself was an 82mm HEAT warhead. The rocket motor burned completely before the round even left the tube. It then coasted to the target.
The problem was, this meant the weapon had a very short effective range, only 150m for a stationary target, and less than 100m for a moving target.
The Soviets addressed this shortcoming in their next production model, the RPG-7.
Entering service with the Soviets in 1961, the RPG-7 was an evolution of the RPG-2 concept. It had a somewhat more refined launcher, to include optical sights. It also had a two-stage motor, with a first stage that boosted the grenade out of the launcher, then a sustainer motor that drove it to the target. This gave it a much better effective range, though it was still better to keep the range as short as possible. The warhead was significantly larger as well, being 105mm in diameter (the effective penetration of a HEAT warhead is a function of its diameter; generally, penetration is 6x the diameter of the warhead).
The RPG-7, in many different variants, has been produced or used by many nations (there’s even a US company that makes it!) and has been used in virtually all wars and insurgencies since its introduction. It is still in use in the Soviet Army, and is still in production. And of course, it has frequently been used against US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it is in use by our allies in the Iraqi Army and the Afghan National Army. It is pretty much ubiquitous.
As we mentioned in an earlier post, the RPG-7 is hard pressed to defeat a Bradley or an Abrams, and are hardly a sure thing against a Stryker. But against a Humvee, they are a very dangerous threat. You just can’t armor up a Humvee enough to defeat one.
Nor have the Russians been content to rest on their laurels. While an updated RPG-7 with various warheads is still the standard Russian hand-held anti-tank weapon, they’ve continued development of newer, more potent PRGs. They’ve adopted the RPG-18 and its successors, which is a disposable weapon based very closely on the US M72 LAW. They’ve also deployed the RPG-29, a reusable weapon with updated warheads to defeat modern armor. Hezbollah used the RPG-29 to great effect against Israeli armor in the 2006 war.
The latest in the RPG family is the RPG-32, which is designed with an export market in mind. It has been selected for service by Brazil, Jordan, Mexico and Argentina.