The menace caused by tanks in warfare has led to many new inventions designed to overpower and stop them. For example, anti-tank guns were used to attack light armored tanks from a stationary position. Bazookas were created to launch shaped charge grenades at high velocity and accuracy at tanks with increased armor thickness.
With the invention of the shaped charge grenades and bazookas, the size of ammunition needed to defeat heavy tanks increased as well. As a result, it was necessary to devise a means to make anti-tank weapons portable enough to be handled by one man.
The shaped charge explosive used by the rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) could penetrate steel armor as much as ten times its diameter.
An RPG is essentially a launcher which fires a rocket equipped with a warhead. The warhead can be High Explosive or High Explosive Anti-Tank. The launcher is designed so that the rocket is propelled without any exhaust fumes which could be unfriendly to the user.
The tube provides aim for the warhead but not guidance. This means that there is no way of controlling the rocket after it has been fired, but guidance is possible with the help of some guided anti-tank missiles. However, the flight path of the rocket is maintained by fins.
Some RPGs are disposable, allowing the user to fire only a single rocket before disposing of the whole launcher. Other RPGs can be reloaded through the muzzle of the weapon. Some warheads are designed specifically for smoke illumination and tear gas.
In World War II, soldiers discovered that, by applying thin skirt armor or mesh wire around a tank’s hull and turret then triggering the RPG before it comes in contact with the tank, RPGs could be disabled. This method worked so well it was eventually incorporated into the original design of some tanks.
Another advancement in technology is Chobham armor, which is a composite armor containing layers of metals. It is used in armored vehicles to disrupt the action of shaped charges. In response to this new type of armor, the tandem charge warhead was invented. The tandem charge warhead is a combination of two shaped charges, one to activate protective armor and the other to penetrate the vehicle.
A more advanced technology in RPG protection is the Active Protection Systems that is used to defend vehicles from incoming projectiles.
The RPG exists in so many models, the most common being the RPG-7 which is a heavy modification of the original design, the RPG-2. It weighs 7kg and is 950mm long with a wooden middle to protect the user from heat. The launcher is reloadable and its variants include the RPG-7V2, RPG-7D3, and the RPG-7USA.
This weapon was manufactured primarily by the Russians but is being produced by nine countries in multiple variants. Its first use was in 1961 and since then, it has undergone a lot of changes with over eight million units of it being produced.