RPG

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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ds6j37SJc8]

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).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=na-BtfkGEF4]

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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FelCYse2b0E]

The Bradley IFV

We love posting YouTube videos. Mostly because it is easier than writing, but also because the truth about a picture being worth a thousand words.

By far the funnest, and most rewarding job I had in the Army was as a Bradley Commander. While life wasn’t exactly like the video (somehow, the videos don’t spend a lot of time showing Brads on the washrack in the winter…), it had its moments. I had a couple pleasant flashbacks to fun on the range and out in the boonies.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhQnvrCkSHM]

Even more Dragon Gunnery…

We’ve talked about  the old M47 Dragon anti-tank missile system before, once or twice.  For technology that entered service in 1973, it was pretty impressive. But by the time I fired my first live Dragon in 1991, it was clearly obsolescent.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Dragon had a fairly short range, 1000 meters, which meant that every vehicle with a machine gun had a fair chance of zapping you if you shot at them. And merely breathing heavy could be enough to make you miss the shot. And anyone who’s running around the battlefield is pretty durn likely to be breathing heavy.

Still, in the old M-113 equipped units, it was pretty much the only anti-tank weapon in the company, so you made the best of it that you could. It made somewhat less sense in the M2 Bradley equipped units, since each Bradley has a built in 2-round TOW missile launcher. Even then, each squad had a Dragon sight as part of its equipment. There is missile stowage for spare TOW rounds onboard the Bradley, but you can swap out TOWs for Dragons on a one-for-one basis. Or you can cheat and do like we did in Desert Storm, and load the full load of TOWs and strap a Dragon to the base of the turret basket.

We managed to get through the 4 days of ground combat without having to shoot any Dragons in my company. Normally, we would have turned in excess ammo for storage until the next war. Some, like the small arms ammo, it was easier to just shoot the stuff we had uncrated than to turn it in. But missiles like the TOW are somewhat more expensive than a 5.56mm round. On the other hand, the safety regulations for shipping ammunition, usually by merchant ship, are very stringent. We had tossed all the packaging the missiles all came in. So the word came down that we were authorized to expend them. By that time, almost all my company had actually left southern Iraq and was waiting in Saudi Arabia for a flight home (which would take almost a month).  We had just enough people to move the company’s vehicles, with a couple of us as spares to drive captured Iraqi vehicles. And I was the only qualified Dragon gunner in the bunch.

As a result, after countless “dry-fires” using the simulator, I finally got to fire a live Dragon. And as a bonus, I got to fire it at a real Soviet made armored vehicle (an old MTLB). And I didn’t get to fire just one. I fired all 14 Dragons we had in the company.  By the time I was done, the MTLB looked like Swiss cheeese…

I fired one more live Dragon, a few years later in Colorado. That was fun as well, but I only got to kill a plywood target with that.

Got War Porn?: You Have?

A couple quick notes, we’ve talked about the TOW missile system here before, and even shown videos. You can tell this is video from Marine Cobras because they are shooting TOWs. Apache’s don’t shoot TOWs.  In some of the scenes, you can see the missile as a white dot dancing around the reticle. In the shot at the tank under the bridge, you get an idea of just how long it can take for a TOW to reach its target.

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Smash on Saturday

In honor of reader Wilko, who’s company makes components for Army weapons, and our friend This Buddy of Mine, who’s just an ass, we stole a little footage of the 173rd Airborne doing some live-fire training. Of course, it isn’t like we need a lot of encouragement to post video of stuff getting blowed up real good…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sW88YY0USlc]

Merkava

The Israelis have long sought to manufacture as much of their military hardware as possible at home.There are a couple good reasons for this. First, in the event of an arms embargo, they won’t find themselves without the weapons they need to fight. Having faced more than one embargo, they are somewhat wary of placing any faith in anybody outside Israel. Second, as an export industry, it can be very profitable, once they have an established production base. There are more than a couple countries that have no great love for Israel but have ended up buying military hardware from them.

One area the Israelis really wanted to establish some independence in was making tanks. A modern tank takes a lot more work to make than you might think. The armor itself is difficult to produce. You also need powerful engines, the delicate machinery to operate the turret, the precision milling to make the main gun, the specialized electronics and optics for the fire control system and an industry to make the ammunition.

After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel got serious about manufacturing their own tank. And based on the heavy casualties in tank crews during that war, one of the objectives was to make crew survivability a priority (the US Army’s design of the M-1 tank was also heavily influenced by the same factors).

The result of the development was the Merkava tank. The Merkava was a little unusual in several ways. Unlike just about every other main battle tank in the world, the Merkava had its engine mounted in the front, pushing the turret towards the rear. This provided an extra degree of protection in that if a round penetrated the front armor, it would still have to go through the engine to get to the crew compartment.  And because the crew compartment was at the rear of the vehicle, you could put a small entry to the vehicle in the back. By removing some of the ammo racks, you could provide space for a couple infantrymen or extra radios and operators for a unit commander or even put in medics and litters to use the vehicle as an ambulance. Finally, the wedge shaped turret was designed to cause most shells striking it to ricochet rather than penetrate.

Over the years, the Merkava has been developed in four main versions. Most of the early versions are being withdrawn from service. Some thought was given to converting them to armored personnel carriers, but as of 2008 the decision was made to build new APCs based on the Merkava 4 design.