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The RPG-7

Pikache

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Don‘t know how authorative the source is, but an interesting article nonetheless

http://www.exile.ru/189/war_nerd.html

Most Valuable Weapon: the RPG
By Gary Brecher ( war_nerd@exile.ru )

"The weapon of choice for the Iraqi resistance is the rocket propelled grenade (RPG)-7."

George J. Mordica II
USA Center for Army Lessons Learned

If you‘ve been reading my columns for a while, you probably noticed I don‘t talk military hardware as much as most war buffs. There are a lot of people who‘ll talk all day about whether the Russian T-90 or the US Abrams is the best MBT. I don‘t do that much, for the simple reason that wars these days don‘t come down to one model of tank vs. another. It‘s pretty rare to find a war where both sides even use tanks. Most of the time it‘s guerrilla vs. guerrilla, or conventional army vs. guerrilla. The odds of an all-out hi-tech war between two conventional armies like the US and Russia are about...oh, zero-point-zero. So it just doesn‘t matter that much whether their tanks could beat ours in some make-believe replay of the Kursk Salient. If you want to play that kind of war, buy a computer game. God knows there‘s enough of them. If you want to know how people make war now, in the real world, you need to study people, not hardware.

Sad but true, boys: war these days is more like Social Studies than Metal Shop. It‘s about tribal vendettas, military intelligence, propaganda, money--just about everything except pure hardware.

Don‘t get me wrong, I love the hardware as much as anybody. I used to spend every free hour, back before there was an internet, going over those big heavy reference books in the library: Jane‘s Tanks, Jane‘s Missile Systems, Jane‘s Combat Vehicles. I had those things memorized. Seriously, you could open any of Jane‘s handbooks at random, read me the name of a weapons system, and I‘d recite its stats from memory--Norwegian anti-ship missiles, South African APCs, you name it.

But eventually I had to face the facts: most of those weapons are never going to get used. If you look at all the real wars going on right now, you come across the same two weapons, over and over: the AK-47 and the RPG-7--both Russian designs, and both older than your Dad.

They‘re the weapons that matter, because they‘re already out there, millions of units, enough to equip every guerrilla army in the world, simple enough that you can teach a peasant kid with hookworm and a room-temperature IQ to fire them, and cheap enough to buy in bulk.

And the RPG is the best of all, even better than the Kalashnikov. This simple little beauty just keeps getting more and more effective. This cheap little dealie, nothing but a launcher tube and a few rockets shaped like two ice-cream cones glued together, has kicked our *** (and Russia‘s too) all over the world since back when the Beatles were still together. In fact, more and more guerrilla armies are making the RPG their basic infantry weapon, with the AK used to protect the RPG gunners, who provide the offensive punch. The Chechens fighting the Russian Army are so high on it that they‘ve switched their three-man combat teams from two riflemen and an RPG gunner to two RPG gunners with a rifleman to protect them.

There‘s another stat that‘s even more important right now: the RPG has inflicted more than half--half!--of US casualties in Iraq. This is the weapon that‘s hurting us. And it‘s been doing that for one **** of a long time.

The Soviets created the RPG for use by Soviet infantry squads against US tanks, APCs and personnel in that big NATO/Warsaw Pact war everybody was dreaming of back in the sixties. The design was an example of beautiful simplicity. It was a classic of Warsaw-Pact reverse-engineering. Warsaw Pact weapons designers had this attitude that it was a waste of time to design from scratch when you could count on your spies (and the Russians had the best spies in the world back then) to get you the specs on the weapons other countries had spent billions designing. So they just put together a cross between the two best shoulder-fired anti-armor weapons around, the Wehrmacht Panzerfaust and the US Army bazooka. And that was the birth of the most important weapon in contemporary warfare.

The RPG got its start against our guys in Vietnam. The Viet Cong and NVA used them as squad-level anti-armor weapons, and they were so **** good at it that we never got our money‘s worth from the tanks and APCs we sent over. Our APC back then was a really lousy dumptruck, the M113--basically a light-tank chassis with flat slabs of aluminum on the sides and top.

Sometimes you can see how good a design is just by the way it looks. One look at an M113 and you can see that this was a lousy vehicle. It was about as tall as Yao Ming, which meant it was a real big target. The aluminum armor didn‘t have firing ports, so the soldiers inside just had to put their helmets over their balls, close their eyes and hope the crew would open the hatch and let them out ASAP. The armor was just thick enough to slow the thing down, but not nearly enough to stop an RPG round. Which is no surprise when you know that an RPG armor-piercing round can penetrate 300mm of rolled steel--more than a foot of steel. Not a bad punch for such a little weapon to pack.

GIs who‘d seen what an RPG hit could do to an M113 got in the habit of saying, "I‘ll walk, thanks." The RPG warhead does something called "spalling," which means the warhead turns the aluminum side armor of an APC into molten shrapnel which goes zipping through the guts of everybody inside like a Benihana chef‘s knife, only it‘s a knife as hot as the surface of the sun.

If GIs in Nam did have to ride an M113, they wore a lot of St. Christopher medals and sat on top. They were a lot less scared of getting shot by a sniper than of being hit by an RPG sitting inside.

We had nothing like it and still don‘t. We had the LAW, another shoulder-fired rocket originally designed to penetrate armor, but it wasn‘t nearly as easy to carry, because it didn‘t have the reuseable launcher the RPG featured. If you wanted to throw a dozen rockets at an enemy bunker, you had to carry a dozen LAWs along, whereas the RPG gunner needed just one launcher and a sack full of warheads.

Nam was just the beginning of the RPG‘s career. Just think back to Mogadishu 1993. The whole Blackhawk Down mess happened because some Afghan Jihadis who‘d retired to Mogadishu--guess it was nice‘n‘restful compared to Kandahar--showed the Somalis how to use the RPG-7 as an anti-aircraft weapon, which its Russian designers never even thought of. The RPG was the key to the whole battle that ended up killing 18 Ranger and Delta guys (Jeez, remember when 18 GIs dead was supposed to be "unacceptably high" losses?), getting us to bug out from Somalia, and getting Ridley Scott‘s directing career back on track.

First the Somali RPG gunners, firing up from the streets where they‘d dug holes to channel the big rocket backblast, hit our Blackhawks, bringing them down in the maze of slums. That drew our troops into the slums, where everybody from toddlers to grandmas started potshotting them with AKs.

The Afghans worked out how to use RPGs as AA back in the 80s, fighting the Soviets. I guess it was a little bit of poetic justice that the first helicopters to get brought down were Russian. The Afghans didn‘t have much to use against choppers except captured Russian heavy 14.5 cal. machineguns, which didn‘t have enough punch to bring down the Mi-24. And Reagan, the wimpiest hawk that ever flew, waited five long years to give the Mujahideen the Stingers that could take down an Mi-24 every time. So the Afghans started playing around with using the RPG against Russian CAS.

They came up with some great improvisations. There‘s nothing like war to bring out the inventor in people! One thing the Afghans figured out was how to use the self-destruct device in the warhead to turn the RPG into an airburst SA missile. See, the RPG comes with a safety feature designed to self-destruct after the missile‘s gone 920 meters. So if you fire on up at a chopper from a few hundred meters away, at the right angle, you get an airburst just as effective as SA missiles that cost about a thousand times more.

When the Chechens took on the post-Soviet Russian army in 1994, the good old RPG was the key weapon once again. By this time, the Russians must‘ve been cursing the name of the man who designed the thing. What the Chechens found out in their first war against the Russians in 1994 was that the RPG is the perfect weapon for urban combat. The Russians sent huge columns of armor into the streets of the city, and the Chechens waited on the upper floors, where they couldn‘t be spotted by choppers but still held the high ground. They waited till the tanks and APCs were jammed into the little streets, then hit the first and last vehicles with RPGs--classic anti-armor technique. That left the whole column stopped dead, and all they had to do was keep feeding warheads into the launchers, knocking out vehicle after vehicle by hitting it on the thin top armor. The Russians were slaughtered, and they had to pull back and settle for saturating the city with massed artillery fires, which killed lots of old ladies but didn‘t do any harm to the fighters. So basically the RPG singlehandedly lost the Russians their first Chechen War.

Which brings us to Iraq, now. The first key to the RPG‘s effectiveness is availability, and it turns out that the one thing Iraq had more than enough of, in spite of all those sanctions, was RPG launchers and rounds. Saddam‘s army had an official license from the Russians to produce RPGs in Iraqi factories, and they made so many that, when Saddam went down, there were piles of launchers with plenty of anti-armor and anti-personnel rounds in most Iraqi towns. And after the Iran-Iraq War and Gulf War I, so many Iraqi men had trained on the RPG that there were plenty of gunners and instructors to teach the new generation how to use it.

Everything about the RPG design seems like it was designed to be used in Iraqi cities. It‘s got one of the shortest arming ranges of any shoulder-fired anti-armor weapons, which means you can fire it at a Hummer coming right down the street. It‘s light enough, at 15 pounds, for even the wimpiest teenager to run through alleys with. It‘s simple enough for any amateur to use--the original non-camera example of "point and shoot."

US doctrine for countering the RPG always stressed looking for the flash when it‘s fired, and the blue-grey smoke trail it leaves. There are two problems with that, though. In the first place, unlike, say, the TOW, the RPG is unguided, so once it‘s launched, it doesn‘t do much good to kill the gunner. You‘re still going to get hit. Second, it‘s not easy to see the blast or the smoke trail in one of these Iraqi "urban canyons." Too many walls to hide behind.

Our doctrine also used to stress laying down heavy fire in the general direction of the RPG launcher, to suppress further firings and hopefully kill the crew. But when you‘re fighting in the middle of an Iraqi city, that kind of general fire is going to kill a lot of hunkered-down civilians along with the RPG crew. And that doesn‘t look good on TV. More importantly, it makes you a lot of new enemies among the people whose cousins got shot.

Even if the RPG doesn‘t disable a vehicle, the blast radius of the anti-armor round is four meters, which means anybody in the area is going to be seeing little birdies for a good few minutes, deaf from the blast, temporarily blind, not to mention very scared and pissed off. Once you‘ve got the occupying troops in a position like that--I mean literally blind and deaf--you‘re in a guerrilla strategist‘s idea of Heaven. Troops in that mood tend to start firing blind, which makes everybody hate them even more, which suits the guerrilla right down to the ground.

The next question about the RPG is how it‘s done in its first big combat test against a whole new generation of US Armor that was designed to counter it, like the M1 Abrams, Bradley, and Stryker. I‘ll talk about that in my next column.
 

scm77

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It‘s strange how such a cheap, low-tech weapon can have so many uses and do so much damage. :(
 

Michael Dorosh

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Originally posted by scm77:
[qb] It‘s strange how such a cheap, low-tech weapon can have so many uses and do so much damage. :( [/qb]
Not really, ask any of the Sherman tank crews in Europe from 1943-45 about the Panzerfaust (from which the Russians copied the first RPGs). If something works, you stick with it.
 

nULL

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Couldn‘t newer forms of armour be countered by newer types of warheads?
 

1feral1

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The RPG‘s 2 and 7 are so simple to use. The rocket only goes in one way, and cannot be loaded incorrectly.

To load place the safety catch to S, then cockk the launcher like a revolver, then place the rocket in, use the simple iron sights (or optics on the RPG 7) off safe, squeeze trigger and fire. Then re-load.

The RPG 7 has a self destruct mode too, detonating at 1000m. I have seen many of these captured from Somalia, Sandline PNG, and Afghanistan, and Iraq of both Russian and Chinese makes.

Often encountered too is the older but effective RPG2, which is also known as the B40. Many were captured in Viet Nam, and decorate messes throughout Australia.

I think the RPG is a good weapon, and has its advantages. Its light, portable, and its use is easily taught.

Cheers,

Wes
 

stukirkpatrick

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I just want to point out that the M-72 is also so idiot-proof that a child (god forbid) could use it. Since they are single use, you don‘t even have to load a round into one.

I guess it never caught on like the RPG did, because it probably wasn‘t available to third-world forces as the RPG is and since they are a single use weapon, as described in the article.
 
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48Highlander

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From what I remember, the M72 did catch on in a fashion....the VC turned discarded M72 tubes into mortars :)
 

Infanteer

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Okay, I‘ll throw the obvious bone.

Can anyone see it being upgraded and utilized in a Western military, like Canada?
 

1feral1

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The M72 has been upgraded. I first fired the M72A6 up at Shoalwater Bbay, in the tropics of Queensland back in hot steamy November of 2001.

Firstly noticeable is the longer tube, improved sling and padded folding butt.

Then the sights, both rear and front. So simple, and now adjustable, black plastic, yet much more effective and overall 110% better than those hold horrid ones we all know.

The rocket is still 66mm, but packs a heavier warhead, so it gets the job done more effectivly.

It opens up, and is fired the same as the old types.

I like it.

I wonder, is Canada using this too?


Cheers,

Wes
 

Infanteer

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I‘ve heard of new ones floating around the system in training, perhaps someone closer to the ground could confirm.

I really liked firing the M72. Relatively light and easy to aim and operate. I was more successful with it on the live fire ranges than the 84 (ugg...).
 

1feral1

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Mate, once you see and fire the new one, you‘ll love it!


Cheers,

Wes
 

1feral1

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Just thought I would share this with ya's. Recently while examining some 'war throphies' from our involvement in Iraq, I was looking at a pallet of RPG7s.

Many were Chi-Com made, and Russian made, but some had black plastic grips and guards (instead of the more traditional brown/orangey coloured ones), and the second grip was attached to the optics mount which is different from the Russian and PRC ones. Also the welding of the trigger group assy to the tube was more crude than its Russian and Chinese cousins.

So I picked this different one up, and aside from noticing one 7.62mm bullet strike (on an angle, right thru the trigger group [I wonder what happened to the poor bugger who was holding it]), there was some arabic writing on one side. I just thought it was a 'contract' RPG7. Then I flipped it over, and right next to the bullet strike in english on the right hand side, it said   the fol:

AL-NASIRAH
CAL 40mm
MADE IN IRAQ

On the left hand side, it appeared to say the same in arabic, with the exception of the serial number which read "2975-88", and I am assuming the wpn was made in 1988.

The calibre of 40mm is strictly of the tube, as the standard HEAT warhead is 85mm.


Anyways, just some food for thought.


Cheers,

Wes
 

1feral1

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Yes there is a wee bit of variety, and these include Illum, Smk, WP, CS/CN, and even a Fuel/Air Expolsive (Russian) warhead too.

HEAT is the most common, and it has many uses (use your imagination).

However i do not know any different natures the Iraqi Ministry of Defence haad purchased, nor do I know if they made their own, but I have seen pics from Iraq of both Chi-Com and Russian ammo for this thing.
Cheers,

Wes
 

Matt_Fisher

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Wesley,

When I was over there, I noticed that too about the Nasirah markings in english on the RPG-7 launchers.

Actually, there was alot of military kit over there that had english markings, one of the weirdest was a Republican Guard T-72 that had been abandoned and we examined.

All the labels and markings inside were done in english, even the communications equipment had english markings.  There was not a single arabic label anywhere in the vehicle.  :eek:

This struck me as quite odd, as back in 93 I had the opportunity to examine another Iraqi T-72 that been captured and brought over to the US as a war trophy.  The inside of this one had a combination of russian and arabic labeling.  No english whatsoever.

I'd heard that between the wars, Iraq had done an overhaul program (mostly cosmetic) on their T-72s, and I must venture to guess that the english labeling was part of that program.

Iraq in general had english signage pretty much everywhere.  Almost every road sign was bilingual in arabic and english, no matter how far out in the boonies you were.  Pretty much all Iraqi cigarettes had english labeling rather than arabic ie. Miami, Business Club, Mercury.

Iraq is very much bizzaro world.  I'd be interested to hear any stories from Afghanistan regarding english markings on weapons, businesses, etc.
 
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MG34

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Most of the weapons we came across in Afghanistan was a mix of Russian,Chinese,and local knock offs.I even saw a few M16/AR15 over there.The T55 and T6s tanks still had Cyrilic writing with Pashtun markings painted or scratched in.Of course most of it was in pretty poor shape from over 20yrs of almost constant use. In fact most times we had to either tow the tanks or provide diesel  and oil for them when we escorted them into the cantonment sites so they could move.
I did get to escort and accompany a couple of BM 21 MLRS systems to a range  and watch the AMF crank off a few dozen rounds.Man you don't want to be on the receiving end of a battery of those puppies.
 

1feral1

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Interesting Matt.

Also I was examining two PKM MGs (one really used, the other almost new), one Russian, and one I believe to be Romanian with selector markings T,Z, and U if I remember right, anad a bewdy of a Russian AKM (1977 Tula Arsenal) with a 'fresh' bullet graze/shrapnel accross the handguard. Love that battle damage! A story in itself. Aside from that, it had the typical arabic character painted in red on a white circle.

I wish I had my camera, but I was in one of those 'camera' free zones.

This eqpt will be going to various museums, or to the heritage wpns storage area. Anyways interesting stuff to look at.

Cheers,

Wes
 
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