Weapon: RPG-7 (variants: RPG-7V, CHICOM Type-69)
Country of Origin: Russia, China, others
Original Designed Use: Anti-armor, anti-personnel, bunker buster
Terrorist Use: Anti-armor, anti-vehicle, anti-ship, anti-personnel, anti-aircraft, building and bunker buster
Max Effective Range: 500 m (PG-7V warhead), up to 1400 m as improvised indirect-fire; varies by warhead
Destructive Power: 230mm armor, 1.5 m brick wall (PG-7V warhead); others up to 700mm armor, varies by warhead
Launcher Bore Size: 40mm (tube)
Launcher Length: 953mm (w/o projectile), 1340mm (w/projectile)
Launcher Weight: 6.3 kg unloaded w/ optical sight
Launcher Materials: Steel w/ wood or plastic handgrips and heat shield
Projectile Diameter: 85mm (PG-7V warhead); up to 105mm, varies by warhead
Projectile Weight: 2.25 kg (PG-7V warhead); varies by warhead
Sighting System: Optic scope (primary), Iron sights (secondary)

The RPG-7 is the ubiquitous “terrorist weapon” and it is a favored and standard weapon of maritime pirates. Lets take a look at why…

The RPG-7 is a reloadable, muzzle loaded, shoulder-fired, smoothbore recoilless rocket propelled grenade launcher that fires an unguided rocket/grenade. The “grenade launcher” definition throws some people off because the RPG-7 is seen as a “rocket launcher” more than a “grenade launcher”. It is essentially both. The projectile (rocket and warhead) is classified as a grenade, hence the designation of “rocket propelled grenade launcher”.

Introduced in 1961, the weapon was designed and originally made in the former USSR and then produced in a number of the Warsaw Pact countries. Like many Russian weapons, it was copied by China and other nations. The RPG-7 was preceded by the less powerful RPG-3/RPG-2, and has seen service in every area of conflict since the Vietnam War. It is still produced by several nations, including Russia and China.

Imminently flexible. A selection of anti-armor, anti-materiel, and anti-personnel warheads make the RPG-7 weapon system suitable for a wide variety of missions while providing more firepower through more ammunition for a given weight/space. The closest U.S. equivalent is the LAW and AT-4 anti-armor weapons, but these are “one shot” disposable weapons; the launchers are discarded after each shot, and each launcher/warhead assembly takes up as much space as two RPG -7 warheads.

Easily mastered and easy to employ. The RPG-7 was originally designed as a crew-served weapon,

meaning at least two people are needed to load and fire it, but with training, a gunner can handle it alone and achieve a good shot every 15 or 20 seconds; carrying extra ammo and reloading it without taking it off your shoulder is where the second person (or “crew”) comes in. The second person would also act as security for the RPG-7 gunner. Pirates usually employ the RPG-7 as an individual weapon, much like a rifle would be used.

Why do terrorists and pirates like the RPG-7 so much?
It is hard to beat the RPG-7 as a versatile and easy to use and effective multi-purpose weapon. They are affordable and available just about anywhere there is conflict, and ammunition is plentiful and cheap. An RPG-7 launcher can be purchased in certain areas for less than $300.00 (USD); with ammunition costing anywhere from $25.00 to $50.00 (USD) for each round.

Terrorists have used this weapon to take out Abrams main battle tanks; they have shot down Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters with it; and they have successfully engaged any number of vehicles, convoys, and troop formations killing and injuring a great number of U.S. and coalition military personnel. Ships have been fired upon as well. Simply put, the RPG-7 works and it is adaptable to the conventional and unconventional mission specific needs of both pirates and terrorists.

Improvise and adapt. When the Russians designed the RPG they intended it as a

horizontal direct-fire weapon; meaning it fires the projectile directly at a ground-based target with no elevation other than a small amount to account for range. Give a foot soldier (or terrorist) enough time and he will come up with more and better uses for any given weapon, and the RPG is a perfect example of this. It has been used as an expedient indirect-fire weapon against troop formations, firebases, airfields, buildings, and other targets. Although it isn’t highly accurate when used in this manner, it is very effective against targets spread over an area; it becomes the terrorist’s improvised short range artillery piece.

The RPG-7 has also been adapted to serve as expedient anti-aircraft artillery against low-flying helicopters. The first generation of RPG-7 rounds had no self-destruct mechanism and only detonated on impact. These older rounds can be lobbed out to approximately 1400 meters by super elevating the launcher; newer generation RPG-7 rounds self-detonate after a time of flight equivalent to roughly 900 meters, which limits their range as improvised indirect-fire weapons, but increases their effectiveness as anti-helicopter weapons because they burst in mid-air.

Firing the RPG-7 As a “recoilless” rocket launcher, it has very little recoil when fired because the propellant charge blast is vented through the rear of the launcher, but the launcher will jerk or jump slightly on firing as the rocket overcomes being held in place by a friction fit. The rocket is shot out of the tube by an explosive booster which gets it moving towards the target for about ten meters while the internal rocket motor is simultaneously igniting. The firing sequence produces a sizable back-blast with report, and the rocket leaves a smoke trail while traveling to the target giving it a very visible launch signature. It is difficult to hide when firing the RPG-7; the shooter must move out of his firing position quickly after firing if he (or she) hopes to survive.

Hollywood Myths
Contrary to what is depicted on TV and in the movies, the detonation of an RPG-7 anti-armor warhead will not produce a dramatic fireball and large explosion. The exception to this is if the warhead detonates and causes a sympathetic or chain reaction explosion of other flammables or explosives. The typical RPG-7 anti-armor warhead detonates with a seemingly small flash followed by a dark gray explosive cloud. This is due to the fact that the warhead contains a relatively small amount of explosives and employs the “shaped charge” principle to achieve armor penetration.

The PG-7V anti-armor warhead will make a hole approximately 18mm in diameter on steel or armor; the shaped charge detonates and forces hot gasses and molten metal through this hole and into the crew compartment or inside of the target for the purpose of killing personnel and/or detonating any stored ammunition. It should also be noted that a TBG-7V warhead is available which contains a thermobaric fuel air explosive designed as a bunker buster and this warhead does produce a sizable fireball explosion. However, it is not as widely available as the typical anti-armor and anti-personnel warheads.

Defending against RPGsA simple “stand-off” barrier of common chain-link or cyclone fencing will serve as a good countermeasure against RPG rounds when emplaced at a standoff of at least 24 inches from the protected area (the further the better). It does so by detonating and/or disrupting the shaped charge of the warhead before it strikes the target surface. There is still a significant explosive and shrapnel effect but armor or hardened surface penetration can be effectively mitigated.