Infantry anti-tank launchers exist in both disposable and re-loadable forms.
Both types are needed, since disposable one-use weapons give each individual in the squad an anti-tank capability, while reloadable weapons form a more manageable load for anti-armour specialists that may need to make more than a couple of shots.
Some companies, such as Bazalt seem to be considering uniting the two types. This idea can either be thought of as upgrading expendable launchers by adding better sighting units and mountings, or as having launcher reloads that can also be fired from their carrying containers. I’ll detail my own ideas about such a “Universal” launcher later
“Anti-tank” is in fact something of a misnomer. Ever since their introduction such weapons have been used against personnel, machine gun nests, trucks, buildings and anything else that the user takes exception to.
This is recognised by some designers who offer a variety of warhead types. Many weapons are now regarded as multi-purpose support systems and are now being used to deliver liquid-incendiary, thermobaric and smoke warheads as well as the more traditional explosive loads.
There is some merit to the statement that such weapons can replace artillery under certain conditions. A platoon of men could carry more than a score of weapons like the RPO-Shmel, giving them a considerable destructive capability against any target within a kilometer range.
The M3 Carl Gustav is a good weapon, but I think an RPG configuration would be more useful. There is some prejudice in some US military circles against weapons with an exposed warhead, but in practice the warhead of a M72-type LAW is just as vulnerable to detonation by a sniper's bullet.
An RPG-7 type weapon is easier for a single operator to re-load, the launch tube is less bulky and different calibres of projectile can be launched from the same tube. Use of small calibre rounds for certain tasks will allow more rounds to be carried.
Being capable of both high angle and direct fire, this weapon partially fills the niches of anti-tank system, light mortar and grenade launcher. I can see this as being a useful squad and platoon level support weapon.
What I term the RPG 2000 is an RPG-7-type weapon, very simple and possibly with ammo compatible with the RPG-7. It would be designed with capability to use any RPG-7 ammo and have fittings such as Picantinny (Mil 1913) rails for the mounting of US-issue sighting systems including image intensifiers and thermal imagers.
Most likely, the weapon will fire both standard RPG ammo and dedicated rounds with a Davis-style system using liquid counter-shot for a low signature launch. It may be that only the ammo needs to be developed:- the RPG-7 as it stands is probably strong and versatile enough to handle counter-shot technology. The TRADOC manual linked to above gives the backblast clearance distance of the RPG-7 as only 2 metres and states that the weapon can safely be used inside buildings if this is observed. Firing the RPG-7 at a high angle, such as when used against targets such as helicopters can result in blast and debris injury to the legs, so a liquid countershot capability may be useful.
Rounds that have a rocket motor will be referred to as “Rockets”, while those that are projected by the just a propelling charge are referred to as “bombs”. Some warheads could use components of existing mortar rounds or rifle grenades.
60mm and 81mm mortar bombs use the M734 multi-option fuse that offers delay, proximity and impact detonation. Possibly this or something similar could be used for some RPG2000 rounds.
Two improvements are usually called for by the users of disposable anti-tank weapons.
Most common request is for the ability for the launcher to be fired from confined spaces such as the interior of buildings. This can be achieved by using a captive piston design with plastic counter-shot.
The second is for the launch tube to have some form of pistol grip so that it can be brought into action more rapidly.
Both of these criteria are met by the German Armbrust launcher. Like most disposable launchers the Armbrust has a warhead the same calibre as its launch tube (67mm), which puts it in a similar class to the M72A2.
This needn’t be the case.
It is quite possible to build a disposable launcher with a supercalibre warhead; in fact the earliest of design of launcher (the Panzerfaust) was of this form.
Using a supercalibre warhead in an Armbrust launch tube offers several advantages.
The possibility therefore exists that the standard Armbrust could replace the M72, while a supercalibre version based on the same launcher could replace the M136.
Another idea for disposable launchers is that of mounting a disposable launcher like the RPO on a bracket on the outside of a vehicle, maybe in an armoured box. This would be fired by cable or electrical circuit and form a sort of “one-shot assault gun”
A variation of this as a light vehicle tank hunter role is shown at:
The potential of disposable light anti-tank weapons could also be greatly enhanced if some form of guidance mechanism was incorporated. For a disposable weapon the most practical system would probably be wire guidance with a TCA/ SACLOS system. Such a weapon should also incorporate a low-signature launch system.
Such weapons could be used at squad level, and therefore supplement or replace the M47 Dragon or Javelin.
The British Army’s intended replacement for the LAW 80, the MBT-LAW will be a guided disposable weapon.
The Brunswick RAW (left) was an interesting weapon that showed considerable destructive potential. In form it was a spherical 140mm diameter rocket-propelled rifle-grenade. The original model had a 3lb (1.36kg) HESH warhead but in later models this was reduced to 1kg. This round could blow a 36cm (14") diameter hole in 20cm (8") of double-reinforced concrete. A later development was Muli-Purpose Munition or MPM-RAW, a pre-fragmented anti-personnel/anti-material round using tungsten pellets and know as the “Flying Claymore”. This had five to ten times the effective range and lethality of a 40x46mm grenade and was fitted with a variable range and height-of-burst fusing for both direct fire and indirect fire to 2000m. Trials indicated 81% casualty hits out to at least a 35m radius. MPM-RAW also retained 90% of the breaching capability of the HESH-RAW. There were also versions with HEAT or EFP warheads with a laser proximity fuse designed to detonate the round at correct stand-off distance. With the proximity fuse switched off the anti-tank round could be used as a HE round. The large 40 cubic inch capacity of the warhead could also be used to carry useful loads of fillings such as smoke, CS or incendiary compounds.
The launch mechanism was also quite novel. The grenade fitted in a bracket under the rifle’s muzzle and some of the gas from firing a ball round was diverted to operate the firing pin that ignited the RAW’s rocket motor. None of the ball round’s force was used to propel the grenade so alternate ignition systems should be possible.
The projectile was soft-launched with no backblast and very little recoil and spin-stabilized. Thrust was balanced for both lift and propulsion, so flight to at least 300m was effectively flat. Within 200m the weapon could be aimed without any need to consider holdover. The grenade accelerated to a velocity of 173m/s and flight time to 200m was 1.9secs. Use of spin stabilization rather than fins eliminated any tendency to “weathercock” in cross-winds. Fired at a high elevation, a range of around 2.5km was possible.
Whilst the warhead was effective, it was probably the launching mechanism that prevented the concept catching on.
Two improvements suggest themselves:
There are other cheap solutions to light armour other than AMRs:
One is to produce small high-speed rockets for weapons like the RPG 2000.
A four-barrelled launcher based on the 66mm M202 but loaded with HEAT/ HEDP rockets is another option, and this may have other applications such as being an alternative to SMAW.
Like the SMAW, this launcher might use a spotting rifle. The spotting rifle would be a “Sten gun-like” weapon in its simplicity, and several rounds for this would be issued with each rocket reload.
The original M202 was issued with incendiary or tear gas rockets. Various other projectiles may be possible, including anti-bunker rounds. The M72A3 rocket may form a good starting point for the HEAT rocket, while the HEDP equivalent could have a HESH warhead.
Multiple rocket launchers made from bazookas were used as trench artillery in Korea, so a similar weapon may still prove useful for other applications.
Another idea of an anti-light armour weapon is a repeating recoilless rifle of 25-40mm. A revolver mechanism would probably be simplest, and by diverting countershot gas from the barrel rather than the breech it may be feasible to use standard cannon shells as ammo.
Disposable recoilless guns are also possible. The Swedish Mini-Man 58mm weapons are recoilless guns that fill a role similar to the M72. Light armoured vehicles could also be attacked by disposable recoilless launchers loaded with small calibre (25-51mm) supersonic projectiles. Such weapons might also give an infantryman capability against helicopters or have sniping applications.
EFP warheads offer the infantryman the capability to attack a target with a projectile travelling at 2,500-2,800m/s instead of 150-500m/s.
The idea of the Universal Launch Anti-armour Weapon, or ULAW is to have a round that can both be used on its own or fired from a more sophisticated launcher.
The complete system comprises of a launch tube/ carrying case, sighting unit and a rest. Unlike systems such as the M-47 Dragon, the launch tube has its own sights and trigger so the rocket can be fired from the launch tube without the other components being attached.
All soldiers carrying rounds can therefore fire them themselves. Anti-armour specialists are distinguished by having a superior sighting system and mounting.
I can see such a system having a family of projectiles. These may include:
All of these rounds (with the exception of the ILL round) would use a captive-piston system for low launch signature and confined space launch. Some projectiles may incorporate guidance systems.
The sighting unit would incorporate day/ night optics, a rangefinder and a ballistic computer. Other devices such as motion trackers may also be fitted. On one side of the unit is a pylon that can accommodate different sizes of launch tube. Some mechanism for the sighting unit to recognise the type of round loaded will also be fitted.
The mounting unit may be an adjustable bipod as is used by the M-47, or may be a machine gun tripod. Vehicle mounts are also likely.
In my article on the MBIL I discuss the merits of a larger 40mm grenade round using the programmable fusing system of the OICW. Both the RPG2000 and Universal Launcher should include capability to launch such rounds and the associated ranging and fire control systems. The Universal Launcher may be capable of being loaded with more than one round.
By the Author of the Scrapboard :
Attack, Avoid, Survive: Essential Principles of Self Defence
Available in Handy A5 and US Trade Formats.