Armor: Anti-Anti-Missile Missiles

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December 22, 2008: In response to more nations equipping their armored vehicles with APS (Active Protection System), Russia announced a new anti-tank rocket designed to defeat this new defensive technique. APS systems consist of a radar to detect incoming missiles, and small rockets to rush out and disable the incoming threat. The Russian antidote for APS is the RPG-30, an anti-tank system that fires a decoy rocket a few seconds before the real one is fired. The decoy is meant to attract the APS missile, and allow the second RPG-30 rocket to hit the target. This won't work against the latest APSs, which are designed to deal with multiple incoming rockets or missiles. But the RPG-30 does make it easier to overwhelm the APS system on a vehicle. Too many incoming missiles and decoys, and some will get through.

A complete APS system weighs about a ton. Russia pioneered the development of these anti-missile systems. The first one, the Drozd, entered active service in 1983, mainly for defense against American ATGM (anti-tank guided missiles). These the Russians feared a great deal, as American troops had a lot of them, and the Russians knew these missiles (like TOW) worked. Russia went on to improve their anti-missile systems, but was never able to export many of them. This was largely because these systems were expensive (over $100,000 per vehicle), no one trusted Russian hi-tech that much, and new tanks, like the American M-1, were seen as a bigger threat than ATGMs.

The Israeli Trophy uses better, more reliable, and more expensive technology than the Russian Drozd (or its successors.) For about $300,000 per system, Trophy will protect a vehicle from ATGMs as well as RPGs (which are much more common in combat zones.) Israel is the first Western nation to have a lot of their tanks shot up by modern ATGMs (during the 2006 Lebanon war), and apparently fears the situation will only get worse. Israel first encountered ATGM, on a large scale, in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. But these were the clumsy, first generation ATGM. These turned out to be more smoke than fire. But the latest ATGM, like Kornet, are more deadly. So Israel is getting ready.

The RPG-30 appears to be a modified version of the RPG-29. This is a larger version of the widely used RPG-7. With a ten pound launcher firing a 14.7 pound 105mm rocket, the RPG-29 warhead is designed to get past some forms of reactive armor (ERA). The larger weapon (3.3 feet long when carried out, six feet long when ready to fire and 65 percent heavier than the 85mm RPG-7) is more difficult to carry around and fire, but has an effective range of 500 meters. The warhead can also penetrate five feet of reinforced concrete.

The RPG-29 was developed and entered production just before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. It is available through legitimate, or black market, arms dealers and is more expensive than the RPG-7 (which is manufactured by many countries.) RPG-29 launchers cost over $500 each, and the rockets go for about $300 each. The RPG-30 will cost more, but not a whole lot more.