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Rocket-Propelled Grenade-7 (RPG-7)
Soviet/Russian Rocket-Propelled Grenade-7 (RPG-7)
The Soviet-developed RPG-7 grenade launcher is one of the most common and most effective infantry weapons in contemporary conflicts. It is rugged, simple and carries a lethal punch, the weapon that downed American Blackhawk helicopters in Somalia, destroyed Russian tanks in Chechnya, attacked government positions in Angola, and is widely used in the Middle East by forces fighting the United States and its allies. The RPG-7 has been the weapon of choice for infantry and guerrillas around the world since the 1960s.
In 1958, the Soviet government created a special design bureau called GSKB-47 to develop and field anti-tank weapons and grenade launchers. The result was the RPG-7, adopted by the Soviet Armed Forces in 1961, the first rocket propelled grenade launcher to offer vast improvements over existing systems like the German Panzerfaust of World War II and early post-war RPGs. The weapon was fielded by the Soviets as a squad-level antitank capability. The RPG-7 immediately started showing up in Vietnam, where the Soviets could study the capabilities and limitations of the system in combat.
The RPG-7 is a shoulder-fired, muzzle-loaded, anti-tank and anti-personnel grenade launcher which launches a variety of fin-stabilized, oversized grenades from a 40mm (1.6 in) tube. The launcher with optical sight weighs 6.9 kilograms (15.2 pounds) and has a maximum effective range of 300 meters (984.25 ft) against moving point targets and 500 meters (1,640 ft) against stationary point targets. The maximum range for anti-tank grenades against area targets is 920 meters (3,018 ft), at which point the round self-destructs after its 4.5 second flight. The anti-personnel grenades reach over 1,100 meters (3,609 ft).
Among the production grenade munitions are the PG-7, PG-7M, PG-7N, and PG-7VL anti-tank grenades with armor penetrability of up to 600mm (23.6 in) of rolled homogeneous steel. The PG-7VR is a tandem warhead designed to penetrate explosive reactive armor and the armor underneath. The OG-7 and OG-7M are high-explosive anti-personnel grenades.
Evolution of the RPG-7
Although newer models of RPG launchers and munitions have been developed and fielded, the most common RPG in the mid-2000s is still the RPG-7 in its many variants. For example, the multi-purpose RPG-7V2, and its assault variant RPG-7D3, were fielded with the Russian army and are sold into the world market. The RPG-7V2 grenade launcher is backward compatible with older HEAT grenades and can launch newly developed rounds with thermobaric and fragmentation warheads designed to kill enemy personnel equipped with body armor.
Tactical use of the RPG-7
The Soviet Army assigned one RPG-7 per motorized rifle squad. Forces involved in regional conflicts tend to add more RPGs to their organizations. In the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranian 11-man squad had two RPG-7 gunners. In the Soviet-Afghan War, the Mujahideen averaged one RPG for every 10-12 combatants in 1983-1985. By 1987, there were two RPG-7s for every 10-12 combatants. The Mujahideen formed special armored-vehicle hunter-killer teams where 50 to 80% of the personnel were armed with RPG-7s. This could be up to 15 RPGs. When there weren't mortars available, these groups also used their RPG-7s as a form of pseudo-artillery and conducted RPG preparation fires.
In the asymmetric warfare of the Middle East and insurgencies world-wide, individual fighters will utilize RPG-7s against targets of opportunity, operating alone or in very small teams. Huge stockpiles of launchers and grenades have been seized in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere but the supply appears to be unending.
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