A sitting duck for RPGs? The Stryker may be another CF blunder.
The attack on the Stryker in Tikrit did little to assure members of the 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment patrolling Saddam Hussein's backyard. And assurance is what armour is all about. When it's shown that even the powerful M-1A1 Abrams tank can be disabled by fuel cell attacks from rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), we wonder if Canadian armour will fare better.
Last October, former Defence Minister John McCalhim announced that $600 million will be set aside for the purchase of 66 new Stryker fighting vehicles meant to replace Canada's fleet of Leopard I battle tanks.
However, replacing a tank with a thin-skinned armoured vehicle like the Stryker seems to lack vision. A report by military consultant Victor O'Reilly published in the Washington Times describes the Stryker as "poorly armoured and entirely vulnerable to RPGs." American military sources suggest the Stryker is still under development--it is referred to as an IAV (Interim Armoured Vehicle)--and armour upgrades have been ongoing. Presently, the Stryker's armour can stop Russian 14.5mm armour-piercing ammunition, but a contract to develop and test add-on armour that would stop RPG-7 anti-tank rounds has only recently been awarded. If the applique armour passes the tests, kits will be available by 2006 which, unfortunately, will be of little help to Canadian armoured units now in Afghanistan.
However, the question remains: Can the half-inch armour now used in the Stryker or the add-on kit withstand the RPG-7's ever-evolving anti-tank (AT) grenades? These grenades have a point-initiating, base-detonating piezoelectric fuse connected at the base of a shaped charge. The effect, depending on the type of grenade, is 330mm of penetration to 750 mm of armoured steel protected by reactive armour.
THE RPG IS IN THE NEWS
To be sure, rocket-propelled grenades have limitations. They are seldom used in frontal attacks and the RPG-7's horrendous back blast is highly visible. But the sheer numbers of the weapon and its unorthodox use--from anti-aircraft to artillery--should cause alarm to Canadian troops.
For example, U.S. Army reports suggest that an RPG likely caused the November 15, 2003 collision of two Black Hawk helicopters in Mosul, northern Iraq. The crash killed 17 American soldiers and destroyed millions of dollars of equipment at a mere cost of a twenty-dollar rocket. Two other Black Hawks met a similar fate over Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993.
Humvees and Bradleys in Iraq fare no better and patrolling soldiers even worse. On June 10, 2003, one American soldier was killed and another wounded when insurgents fired RPGs at a squad manning a weapons collection point in Baghdad. American forces have dubbed one area near Baghdad "RPG Alley" due to the frequent attacks.
In response, the search for weapons is ongoing. On January 8, 2004, U.S. soldiers uncovered a cache in Ramadi where dozens of rocket-propelled grenades, a handful of launchers, almost 220 pounds of explosives, sixteen remote-controlled homemade bombs, and two surface-to-surface missiles (probably SAM-7s) were found.
As recently as January 13, an American AH-64 Apache helicopter from the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment crashed near Fallujah as a result of rocket fire. Soon after, gunmen fired RPGs at U.S. troops guarding city hall. The same day, U.S. troops raided two sites in the area of Hit, west of Baghdad, and seized 314 rockets and various manuals in both Arabic and Russian.
Troops and tankers alike have come to fear the RPG-7, a weapon, based on a German design, brought into service by the Soviets forty years ago.
EVOLUTION OF THE RPG-7
Under the term Panzerfaust, the Germans pioneered the one-shot and oversize war head RPG designs, which remain popular to this day.
Developed during WWII, the Panzerfaust design improved over time in terms of its projectile velocity and penetration. The Panzerfaust 30k (also called Faustpatrone) was developed in 1942. The range of this single-shot launcher was 30 metres and penetrated 140mm of armour at 30[degrees], which was sufficient for Russian T34s.
The Panzerfaust 150 came into service in March 1945. Featuring a reinforced firing tube (re-usable for up to 10 shots), the 150 had a projectile speed of 85 m/s, which allowed a practical engagement range of 150 metres; sights were set for 30, 60, 80, 150 and 200 metres. Penetration was 220mm at 30[degrees]. This is impressive considering the age of the weapon and that the modern Stryker's armour is nowhere near 220mm thick.
The Panzerfaust had an added anti-personnel effect: a collared fragmentation ring or sleeve to clear off Soviet desantniki riding on the tank. The longer and sharper HEAT warhead was also designed to optimize the stand-off distance for the plasma jet created by detonation of the warhead upon impact.
According to military historian Andrew Phillpotts, no Allied vehicle--or even the newest Soviet tank--was immune to a frontal hit from a Panzerfaust 30. American crews often put sandbags on the front of their vehicles, although this lessened the mobility of the tank. It also showed a lack of aggressiveness that was frustrating to infantrymen, who needed tanks to get close to the enemy or cover the footsloggers in an infantry/armour co-ordinated assault.
"The tankers, on the other hand, wanted their accompanying infantry to clear out German infantry before they moved their tanks in close. They thought that it was no use wasting tanks and their lives. Getting within a hundred metres of a German infantryman meant certain death," Phillpotts notes.
The Panzerfaust 150 never made it into combat before the war ended. However, the Russians captured the blueprints, the manufacturing facility and a stockpile of the weapon. After the war, they copied and developed the Panzerfaust 150 into the RPG-2 rocket-propelled grenade launcher. The Soviet Union gave so many RPG-2s to both the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong that they were even used against U.S. infantrymen in the open and in foxholes. This is perhaps the first instance of lineal artillery use of the RPG.
The most complete treatise on the more advanced RPG-7 is by military analyst Lester W. Grau. He has written that the RPG-7 was originally manufactured by Russia's Kovrov Mechanical Plant and entered service with the Warsaw Pact armies in 1962. Clones of the RPG-7 have been manufactured in China, Bulgaria, Egypt, Georgia, Iran, Pakistan and Romania. Until recently, the RPG-7 was also manufactured by the Iraqi state arsenal near al-Nassyria, which produced tens of thousands. So far, U.S. troops have located just a few hundred.
As detailed in FM 30-40 Handbook on Soviet Ground Forces, to fire an RPG-7 the operator attaches the propellant to the missile and inserts the grenade into the 40mm launcher tube. The nose cap of the grenade is then removed to extract the safety pin. Pulling the trigger, which releases the cocked hammer, fires the grenade. The RPG-7's rocket has four spring-loaded fins that open up after the initial booster charge has propelled the warhead and booster out of the barrel. Rocket ignition takes place after it has been propelled 11 metres.
The American 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion has published a technical manual called Operator's Manual, Launcher 40mm RPG-7 Light Antitank Grenade (Soviet). According to the manual, only 1.3 seconds elapse from launch before an RPG-7's rocket has travelled 300 meters--an astounding speed of 1,385 kilometres per hour.
In Iraq, RPG-7s have been used with deadly effect in the hands of well-organized resistance fighters, many of them having gained combat experience in the Iran-Iraq War, in Afghanistan and Chechnya.
HOW LIKELY IS AN RPG-7 TO BE SEEN?
The RPG-7 is to be found anywhere you see a Kalashnikov. It is the most common, man-portable, anti-tank grenade launcher in the world. Let's examine some statistics provided by MOUT expert Les Grau: The Soviet Army normally assigned one RPG-7 per motorized rifle squad. In the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranian 11-man squad had two RPG-7 gunners. In the Soviet-Afghan War, the mujahedeen averaged two RPGs for every 10-12 combatants.
George J. Mordica II, Senior Analyst at the Centre for Army Lessons Learned (CALL), notes that in Operation Iraqi Freedom the weapon of choice used by the resistance is the RPG-7. Citing a recent review of data compiled by the Operation Iraqi Freedom Study Group (OIF SG), indications are that 50 per cent of U.S. soldiers killed in action in post-war operations were the result of the RPG-7.
Under Saddam Hussein, RPG-7s were distributed widely to every military and paramilitary unit. It has been discovered that a large number of the RPGs are missing. It can therefore be surmised that these weapons will continue to be used by Iraqi resistance fighters in attacks on American and British forces as well as against other targets, including hotels, oil pipelines, power transformers, Red Cross ambulances, and even bank vaults.
Furthermore, RPG-7s have been widely available to terrorist groups on the global weapons black market for decades. This became evident in 1981 when German radicals used one in an attack on Gen. Frederick Kroesen, commander of the U.S. Army in Europe. Although his car was hit, Kroesen escaped with only slight injuries.
Similarly, the Irish Republican Army has also used RPG-7s in its operations (weapons that have been largely provided to them by Libya's Col. Muammar Gadhafi), with typical targets being RUC police stations, polling stations and non-moving vehicles.
In 1998, Georgian rebels fired an RPG on the motorcade of then President Eduard Shevardnadze, who escaped unharmed. In 2002, the residence of Kashmir's chief minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, came under an RPG attack by suspected Islamic militants.
All of this illustrates that whether used by organized military enemies, irregulars, terrorists or drug lords, the RPG-7 is sure to be present. Are Canadian troops sufficiently trained in anti-ambush tactics to counter this ever-present threat? Will the Stryker cut it?
First, it must be understood that the RPG-7 is a long-term threat. In Afghanistan, it will be the weapon of choice, especially in urban areas. Simple to use, the paratrooper version breaks down neatly for concealment. Canadian armoured units serving as part of ISAF need to be aware of the RPG-7's capabilities and how it will be deployed. Because chances are, this weapon will be part of the local landscape.
The Stryker--and most other armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) for that matter--is easy work for an RPG. Adding a wire mesh barrier to the outside might weaken the rocket strikes by increasing stand-off distance, but is it enough? Added plating or even reactive armour might be the answer, but will the vehicle be too heavy and too large to fit inside a C-130? Will an improved Stryker sink into the Afghan terrain?
The RPG-7 is hardly a superweapon. Proper training is needed to use RPG-7s effectively against moving vehicles or against distant targets. But all it takes is a co-ordinated "civilian" riot and a few barriers to slow down an AFV. With the political pressure for Canadian troops to be goodwill ambassadors, will there be the will or training to fight their way out of an ambush that involves civilians, women and children? With Canadian soldiers being used as global gun grabbers and with their taking on heroin dealers in Kabul, how long will it take for belligerents to strike back?
These are all questions that have to be addressed as Canadian soldiers once again find themselves in one of the world's hottest spots. Is DND up to the task?
RPG-7 BY THE NUMBERS
Launcher Weight: 7.9 kg
Round Weight: 2.25 kg
Warhead: 85mm grenade, contact electric fuse, 94% RDX and 6% wax. RDX or Cyclonite is a very powerful high explosive (Note: The improved PG-7M warhead entered service in 1980)
Muzzle Velocity: 120 metres per second
Maximum Velocity: 300 metres per second
Effective Range: 300 metres (500 metres at stationary targets)
Armour Penetration: 330 mm (or more, depending on generation of rocket)