Weapons: If You Can't Beat 'em, Make A Better Copy


July 13, 2009: The Russian RPG-7, bane of armored vehicles for decades, has found an unusual new manufacturer: A United States company. Airtronic U.S.A. has redesigned the world’s most widely used Anti-Tank weapon with upgrades users of the M-16/M-4 assault rifles will find familiar.

An M16A2 pistol grip replaces the original straight grip on this new version of the RPG-7. Picatinney Rails allowing sights, lights, laser designators etc., occupy the standard 3, 6, 9 and 12 o'clock positions in two sets, above the pistol grip and, over the shoulder stop where the tube expands. An M4 carbine stock allows for a snug fit while still allowing the tube to rest upon the shoulder.        

Perhaps more important, though undetectable, is the type of steel Airtronic uses. Since its introduction in the early 1960’s, standard RPG tubes were made from castings with varying instances of quality control. Explosions, though rare, have occurred, and tolerances have been found among cast tubes varying as much as 2mm from original specs. The new tube uses 4150 ordnance grade steel, the same kind used in M16 barrels, and is machined with much tighter tolerances. Weight of the weapon will be more than the standard 18 pounds, depending on what accessories are used.

Airtronic plans to offer a composite tube, much lighter in weight, in the near future. There are also redesigned and new warheads for the system available, or under development. Cost of the Airtronic system is 3,000 dollars, which is ten times what than Russian and Chinese versions go for, due to accessories, higher grade steel, and machining. Warhead costs may be comparable to legacy rounds depending on type and amount produced. Airtronic has already received orders from some allied nations.

The RPG 7 launcher itself was developed 40 years ago as a cheap, lightweight anti-tank weapon. It was based on a similar German weapon developed during World War II. The launcher weighs 18 pounds and the standard anti-tank rocket weighs about five pounds. China, and several other nations, make cheap clones of the RPG 7 launcher and a wide variety of warheads. The standard RPG-7 rocket contains a shaped charge explosive for punching a whole through armor. The new rockets either have fragmentation warheads or more expensive thermobaric (fuel-air explosive) warheads. The thermobaric rocket, if fired into a building, has the same effect of about five pounds of high explosive (about the same amount found in a 120mm mortar shell.) For aimed fire, the max range of the RPG-7 is about 500 meters.  Basic RPG rockets can be had in many third world arms bazaars for as little as ten dollars each. A warlord with some cash to spare can train some very expert RPG-7 gunners by supplying them with plenty of rockets. And that's exactly what has happened in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.  -- Mike Perry



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