Skip to comments.How Rocket-Propelled Grenades Work
Posted on 03/19/2004 7:42:12 PM PST by mhking
How Rocket-Propelled Grenades Work
|by Shane Speck
But why? Why are rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) so prevalent? Where did they come from and just how do they work? It's obvious they're more than just a normal grenade simply because they're rocket propelled, but just what does that mean? In this article, we'll investigate the origins of rocket-propelled grenades, how they're used and what makes them so common in military conflicts all over the world.
Mortars, Rockets and Grenades: A Brief History
This need to attack from a distance, coupled with the invention of increasingly complex metalwork techniques, led to the invention of ever more complex devices for launching projectiles; in around 1500 AD mortars became popular as a siege weapon. A tube of metal from three to five feet in length, weighing several hundred pounds, would be placed on the ground and aimed into the air. Mortar shells would then be dropped into the tube and propelled upwards by an explosive charge. The mortar operator had relatively little control over where the shell landed, but despite this mortars increased in popularity and are still used today. A small mortar can easily be moved and operated by two people, and a small, high-quality shell can have the destructive force of a stick of dynamite: easily enough to destroy a small vehicle. The destructive power of the shells increases with size, of course - the larger the shell the greater the power - and mortars come in a range of sizes to reflect this. There is a trade-off between cost, weight and effectiveness. The mortar's usefulness as a weapon is limited by the lack of an accurate aiming mechanism and its relatively short range: Because the mortar shell has to go up before it can come down, much of its speed is dedicated to getting it far enough up into the air -- so against a ground target, it has limited reach.
You can solve the range problem by improving the path of the projectile - a straight line from launching device to target is far more efficient. Enter the rocket: A rocket makes a sensible choice, because it can easily be launched from a tube device and is capable of travelling for at least a mile. In fact, a large rocket can travel up to twenty miles. The equipment required for such rockets is not unlike that used in launching mortars. Essentially, all that is needed is a set of tubes mounted on a platform or towed by a small vehicle. While this is useful, in this form it is way too bulky to replace the easily deployed mortar.
Combine certain elements of these two weapons and you've got the basics behind a rocket-propelled grenade. A small rocket is mounted on a tube, which is then aimed and launched. It may not travel as far as a larger rocket - only a few hundred feet - but it is more portable, can be aimed directly at the target, and will still do the same damage as a stick of dynamite upon impact.
The launcher is basically a tube that rests on the operator's shoulder. It is open at both ends, and a projectile with a small rocket engine is affixed to the front end of the tube. Firing is usually accomplished through a trigger mechanism, at which point the grenade's rocket engine is activated and a short, high-powered burst of ignited gases launches the grenade for a short distance - maybe between 500 to 1,000 feet (150 to 300 meters) depending on the target and the skill of the operator. An RPG operator should be aware of what's immediately behind him; the exhaust gases will flare out behind the device in a cloud of searing hot smoke.
The projectile itself travels toward the target, usually exploding upon impact. However, some modern grenades use an electronic fuze system instead of a mechanical or chemical fuze so that the projectile will detonate after a particular time-span has elapsed.
Most RPGs follow this basic operational design, although different models feature various refinements and modifications. Some are designed to be most effective against troops; some are designed to work well against armored vehicles and tanks, launching high explosive anti-tank projectiles. The M-72 Light Anti-tank Weapon (M-72 LAW) is popular with American forces, and features a pre-packaged rocket which is fired and then discarded. The M136 AT-4 also features a disposable launch device, and its 820 feet (250 meter) range and re-usable night-sight bracket has led to it becoming the U.S. Army's principal light anti-tank weapon.
Although not favored by the U.S. Army, by far the most common rocket-propelled grenade in use today is the RPG-7, a Russian designed weapon closely related to the German Panzerfaust anti-tank weapon, dating from World War II. Like missiles, these grenades have a built-in rocket propulsion system. Let's take a closer look at the RPG-7.
Now that we know what an RPG-7 is, let's take a look at how one operates.
Firing an RPG-7
that has four stabilizing fins that are folded around it with two additional fins at its rear end. A cardboard container encases the back end of the stabilizing pipe. Inside the cardboard container, a squib of nitroglycerin powder is wrapped around the stabilizing pipe and a primer or charge of gunpowder is stuffed into the end of the stabilizing pipe.
The RPG operator or artillary person then takes this assembled artillery and loads it into the front end of the RPG launcher so that it lines up with the trigger mechanism.
After the RPG operator pulls the trigger, this is what happens:
There are several types of grenades that can be used in the RPG-7. Some have a point initiating, base-detonating (PIBD) piezoelectric fuze: meaning that they are impact grenades. And, many others have back-up time delay systems, so that if they have not reached a target in a certain amount of time (something like four and a half seconds) the grenade will self destruct. The most commonly launched grenades are a High Explosive(HE) or High Explosive Anti Tank (HEAT) rounds.
Impact grenades must be unarmed until they are actually fired because any accidental contact might set them off. Since they are usually shot from a launcher, they must have an automatic arming system. In some designs, like the one we describe above, the arming system is triggered by the propellant explosion that drives the grenade out of the launcher. In other designs, the grenade's acceleration or rotation during its flight arms the detonator.
As for the back-up timed delay, the same fuze mechanism that sets off the the rocket would set this off. The spark ignites a slow-burning material in the fuze. In about four seconds, the delay material burns all the way through. The end of the delay element is connected to the detonator. The burning material at the end of the delay ignites the material in the detonator, thereby exploding the warhead.
Tactics: How Are RPGs Used?
Buildings, vehicles with little or no armor and, of course, human beings are all vulnerable to RPG fire. In particular, the fragments from exploding grenades can cause considerable damage to troops, and this principle was used effectively against Mujahideen firing positions dug into mountain slopes. A rocket-propelled grenade would be fired above and behind the firing position, raining down shrapnel and rock onto the hidden troops.
Of course, rocket-propelled grenades are most efficient when deployed in small groups. Two or three shots at a vehicle from close range increases the chances of destroying the vehicle, and can even be effective in destroying an armored tank. A first shot takes out the driver's viewing prism, and further shots work their way through the armor, concentrating on one particular spot.
Helicopters, too, are easily ambushed when landing or hovering; rocket-propelled grenades downed both US Black hawk helicopters lost in Mogadishu and Somalia.
Given the effectiveness of well-used RPGs, what strategies are there for defense? When it comes to avoiding vehicle losses from rocket-propelled grenades, a tactic adopted by less well-equipped armies is to send in infantry screens. Armies with more resources may use bombs or napalm to sweep areas in which RPGs may be located.
Another obvious tactic adopted by the Russians when fighting against the Mujahideen between 1979 and 1989 was to remain at least 1,000 feet (300 meters) away from the enemy, out of RPG-7 and AK-47 Kalashinikov assault rifle range.
RPGs: The Future
Despite this, there is always room for modification. Lighter weapons with greater range and destructive capability are always being developed, and there may even be the possibility of automatic or semi-automatic rocket-propelled grenade systems.
The accuracy of rocket-propelled grenades is another area where improvements can be made. Laser guidance systems, though expensive, would greatly increase accuracy. An encoded laser could be trained on the target -- providing reference information to the rocket, thereby allowing it to make appropriate in-flight corrections to its trajectory. Other systems, perhaps utilizing GPS satellite technology could also become incorporated in future versions of RPG weaponry.
For more information on rocket-propelled grenades and related topics, check out the links on the next page.
If you want on the list, FReepmail me. This IS a high-volume PING list...
RPG . . . American style.
It goes boom. I like things that go boom.
I'm going to put this one on my Christmas list.
Whatever became of muttley? As he would say: "Poor Muttley want one."
I have a neighbor down the street whe is starting to piss me off . . .
Worth repeating. No discussion of shaped charge, no differentiation between a rocket, recoiless rifle and RPG. Lots of errors of omission.
Can you show me how to mke a nuclear bomb too? just kidding.
Some articles appear to indicate "Base Fusing", and some, which might be disinformation, indicate "center of the 'V' in the wine glass".
This is more than theoretical...B. J. Clinton's mentor, Caroll Quigley, clamed that "beam riding" [Shortwave to a target at night] was a Brit invention, yet we now know it was Nichtbein [sp?], a Kraut invention.
Similarly, claims have always been made that the very first V-2 rocket was fired at London, whereas the British expert on Rocketry has ALWAYS maintained that ANTWERP, Belgium, was the first target, out of HATRED for the Churches playing [via the Carillion] the ZIONIST National Anthem, HATIKVA!!! [The Hope!]
Would you please post the next pic in that sequence?
Most likely. It is possible that they are some odd RPG's UXO, but you are right they are likely mortar rounds.