Another great article!
Most Valuable Weapon: the RPG
By Gary Brecher
"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 ass (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 hell 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 damn 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.
The trick is not to get hit by one
The age of Vietnam is over and the Bush administration is not as callous or stupid as the Yeltsin administration.
Hahahahaha... BS.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.
First of all they looked at the US bazooka and didn't like it much... not enough room for growth... even at the end of WWII it was not that great when used agaisnt the latest tanks. They looked at the Panzerfaust, which had plenty of room for growth but lacked range. The Panzerfaust was lobbed like a grenade by a very short burn rocket motor that burnt out before its tail had exited the launch tube. The RPG-2 was similar to the panzerfaust in operation but was made more durable. The RPG-7 was a huge step forward as it had both a booster rocket to blow it out of the tube but also a sustainer rocket that gave it high speed and good range... since copied in the WEST.
(But they did and indeed still do have excellent spies and are not backward in coming forward when they do actually copy something).
Spalling is the flaking off of the armour of a vehicle on the inside surface where a complete or near complete penetration has occured and occurs with all sort of penetrators... not just RPGs and not even just HEAT warheads.The RPG warhead does something called "spalling," which means the warhead turns the aluminum side armor of an APC
Even with a dozen LAWS you'd still be carrying less weight than an RPG operator with an equivelent number of rounds. The real difference is that the RPG had a larger more effective warhead and because it was external... ie not limited by the width of the launch tube, it can keep up with increases in armour... including dual HEAT warheads and Thermobaric warheads for variety.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.
A dozen LAWs meant a dozen near simultanous impacts too.
WOW.. genius!!! was it memories of urban warfare during WWII where anti tank traps at short ranges made anti tank weapons with short range very effective, or was it their training in the Soviet army that taught them that? Perhaps it might have been their service in Afghanistan against the Afghans?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.
So those evil Russians that wanted to wipe out all the chechens didn't just level the city to start with... they tried to use a show of force to bring them into line... but when the chechens slaughtered the Russians the Russians bombed them. Interesting view.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.
Interesting comment...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
Rocket propelled grenades are great weapons, but this guy who writes this article acts like its the greatest weapon made by man. RPGs have a lot of short comings for example they aern't very accurate and have limited range.
I read some of his other articles and he has a funny way of writing things.
Yeah, but the RPG is causing more casualties and causing more problems for the US Army in Iraq since Mar 03 than any other weapon systems (including the T-72's). If you ask me, it is a brutally cost-effective weapon.
Actually being a direct fire weapon they are more accurate than most other types of HE support most grunts have (ie artillery and mortars).RPGs have a lot of short comings for example they aern't very accurate and have limited range
Of course you need a lot of skill in cross winds as the RPG-7 rocket has the very strange tendancy of turning into a cross wind rather than turning with the wind. This is largely due to the large tail fins being pushed more by the crosswind than the nose and with the rocket engine still burning this turns the jet exhaust to point the rocket into the cross wind.
The current model ammo is quite heavy to penetrate large amounts of armour and to compensate they have a kit that super elevates the aiming sight to allow the effective range to double out to about 750m for the anti personel rounds and about 500m for the anti tank rounds. As it is mainly for short range defence of much larger and more capable guided ATGMs this is adequate... and it is also adequate for urban use.
PLus it's not terribly user friendly certainly would'nt pass any nato safety tests.
Esspecialy noise poluttionOriginally Posted by martinexsquaddie
Nice article. Thank you for posting it.
If you want to hit anything with an RPG-7 I can strongly recommend firing from the kneeling posture vs. the normal ****e posture mode. Who generaly is the recommended posture for firing NATO type anti armour rockets like the 84 mm Carl Gustav, M-72 LAW or the LRAC89.
During my stint with the former Norwegian peacekeeping battalion in Southern Lebanon we had a field day on the range with a few specimens of weapons confiscated from Armed Elements caught during night patrols, house or car searches.
Basically several variants on the AK-47/AKM theme, an UZI and a pair of RPG 7's.
On other captured weapons field days the armourer had even managed to supply a Soviet PKM GPMG for the proceedings, but unfortunately it wasn't made available for the shoot out in which I took part (would have very much liked to have a go with that one).
Ammunition for the proceedings were bought privately through the armourer from local sources, with armourer also responsible for quality/safety-controll of stuff bought.
Think the price for one RPG-7 round back then was 50 US $ or something of that order.
Think 18 of us bought 1 or 2 RPG rounds a piece.
Target a 2 X 2 X 2,5 m stone "gabion" (basicaly a square shaped contraption of steel mesh wire filled with stones).
Distance 150 m with basic Iron sights, as the examples available did were not equipped with the optical thing.
All rounds fired from the sort of ****e position we were thaught for the 84 mm Carl Gustav (with right leg crossed over the left to minimise risk of backblast burns to rigth leg), and none hit target . Though most missed the target within less than 1 to 0,5 meters.
Because of the position of the support handle on the weapon behind the trigger grip handling the weapon in ****e felt most akward. Though dry-tested the ****e position, and that felt much more natural with the weapon.
The M-72 LAW isn't all that accurate a thing either. Shorter range than the Carl Gustav (or RPG for that mather) and so so in armour penetration ability. Though light and reputedly a good bunker buster.
Interestingly some early models of the M-72 had a plastic sight with graticules that always fogged up (for good) in sub-zero (Celcius degree) temperatures.
As for the M-113 in NAM, 11 cav regt (armoured) seems to have done wery well there. So the RPG boys can't have had it all their way.
If you study pictures of M-113 in NAM, you'll see that the infantry tend to ride on top (similar to what Russian BMP 1 & 2 infantry seem to do today in Chechenya). Just as much from fear of encountering anti-armour mines as from RPG's.
Personaly don't think the M-113 was that bad, though it's basicaly a box on tracks.
"A recent review of data compiled by the Operation Iraqi Freedom Study Group (OIF SG) indicates that fifty percent of U.S. soldiers killed in action in post-war operations were the result of the RPG-7."
"The RPG-7 is perfect for close in fighting. It has a minimum arming distance, cheap but effective sights, and requires limited training to attain proficiency."
In what way is it not user friendly?PLus it's not terribly user friendly certainly would'nt pass any nato safety tests.
Seems pretty simple to me. A very basic simple trigger/hammer setup. The only complicated item is the optical sight and with training it isn't rocket science to work out how it works.
I have seen plenty of video footage of moving targets hit at 250m by trained users. Heck if OldRecon can get within 1-2m of a target on his first shot with the iron sights with a bit of practise and guidance it could be very effective. There is plenty of practise rounds that have inert warheads for proper practise without spending $US50 a pop.