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Rocket-Propelled Grenades - Use in Modern Warfare

Rocket Launchers Continue to be Lethal and Widely Used

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One of the most lethal weapons used in modern combat is the Rocket-Propelled Grenade – commonly known by its initials "RPG."

Designed to Attack Military Vehicles

Today’s Rocket-Propelled Grenades (RPGs) – sometimes called rocket launchers – are frequently used to destroy military vehicles, notably armoured personnel carriers. In Iraq and Afghanistan, RPGs are used to target heavily armoured tanks. An RPG is defined by militaries around the world as a hand-held anti-tank weapon that fires an unguided rocket armed with an explosive warhead.

The RPG has proven popular in Afghanistan where enemy combatants use them to destroy powerful tanks and attack the U.S. military and its allies. Current models of RPGs provide an inexpensive means of delivering an explosive warhead. Because the rockets fired from RPGs are not guided, accuracy can be a problem. Rockets from RPGs achieve the best results when fired at close range. This often requires people using an RPG to put themselves in the line of fire to score an accurate hit.

Widely Used by the Soviet Union

Rocket warfare was largely developed during World War II. Military researchers in the U.S. developed the American Bazooka while the German Army introduced the Panzerfaust. These rocket launchers were used to destroy armoured vehicles and tanks, and were widely praised for their compact portability and accuracy.

Following World War II, the then Soviet Union commercialized the RPG-7, which became the most widely used rocket launcher in the world. The RPG-7 took the best design elements from the American Bazooka and German Panzerfaust and combined them into one weapon. The RPG-7 was extremely successful at penetrating armoured vehicles and destroying tanks.

However, in an ironic twist, the Soviet Union found that their RPG-7 was used against them in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Guerrilla fighters in Afghanistan used RPG-7 rocket launchers against Soviet tanks in the 1980s with great success. In some instances, missiles from as many as four RPG-7 weapons would be fired by Guerrillas at a Soviet tank at the same time – ensuring the tank’s destruction.     

Improving Armored Vehicles

Today, RPGs are used by most militaries around the world. The weapon has become common in modern warfare. Current models such as the RPG-29 have proved effective against tanks and other armoured vehicles. In response, militaries and defense manufacturers have worked to create tougher armor and additional armor that can be added on to tanks such as the M1 Abrams. The hope is that additional armor, or stronger armor, will better protect against the explosive warheads fired from RPGs.

Despite the various models of current RPGs and the weapon’s evolution over the years, rocket launchers still consist of two main parts – the launcher and the rocket. The rocket continues to carry the explosive warhead. Common warheads include the high explosive warhead and also the high explosive anti-tank warhead. Some RPGs are even disposable and discarded by soldiers after one use. Disposable RPGs include the U.S. M72 LAW rocket launcher. 

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