Weapons: Chinas Hot New RPG Warhead



May 10, 2007: While China sells cheap rifles, pistols and RPGs to anyone with cash, they have been careful to keep them out of places like Iraq and Afghanistan. This is somewhat reassuring since China just announced a thermobaric (fuel air explosive) warhead ( WPF 2004), for use by RPG launchers. Thermobaric warhead operate by dispersing an inflammable mist, then igniting it. This produces an explosion that kills by sucking the oxygen out of the surrounding areas, as well as with blast. Fired into a large building, the thermobaric warhead would kill more people inside, and do less damage to adjacent structures, while destroying the building itself. Thermobaric warheads have been used with great success in Russian and American shoulder fired rocket launchers.


For example, about a third of the American AT-4 rocket launchers now use thermobaric warheads, which can clear out an entire house, and stun anyone it didn't kill. The AT-4 gunners quickly became quite proficient. The average range was about 400 meters, and most AT-4 gunners can put them right through a window 90 percent of the time.


The big market for the new Chinese  WPF 2004 warhead is the Russian designed RPG (rocket propelled grenade) 7. The WPF 2004 weighs seven pounds and is effective out to 200 meters. 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, although the Chinese WPF 2004 is described as accurate only out to 200 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.


In Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorists tend to use RPGs out in the open, against U.S. infantry or vehicles. An expensive (several hundred dollars each) thermobaric warhead is not much more effective than one with conventional explosives in it (and costing less than fifty dollars.)