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Anti-armour from the east: although the consequences of Tsahal's faux pas in south Lebanon in 2006 have not yet been fully analysed, observers and experts agree upon the fact that modern anti-armour weapons in well-trained hands remain lethal. Despite Israeli air, armour, electronics support and supposed C31 superiorities, Hezbollah scored dozens of deadly hits on Tsahal's heavy armoured vehicles.


While much of the Hezbollah's success can be attributed to its unparalleled knowledge of the terrain, adapted tactics and aggressive actions, it is the second time in the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) history that antitank weapons wreak such havoc in its tanks units. In October 1973 swarms of Sagger and RPG-7 ravaged hundreds of M60s and Centurions sent out in improvised counter-attacks without infantry or artillery support.

Tehran's protege was massively provided with modern Russian-made antitank missiles and shoulder-launched rocket systems. Hezbollah militants took advantage of the terrain to trap the Israeli tanks at short distance. Well-trained by Iranian and Syrian military advisers, they had identified the weak points of IDF tanks, avoiding frontal shots and systematically aiming at flanks and rear parts, with television footage of burned-to-the-ground Merkava tanks highlighting the efficiency of the new generation of eastern anti-armour weapons.

According to official Israeli reports, 50 Merkava tanks had been hit by missiles or rocket-propelled grenades, and three tanks out of the 22 that were penetrated by hollow charge jets were destroyed and 18 crew members had lost their lives. Worthy of note is that the toll had resulted from only five attacks, giving an average 3.6 losses per hit, which is close to the number of crewmembers per Merkava tank. However, it also demonstrates that a large majority of Merkava tanks survived the aggressions and saved their crews. Though they had been penetrated, the residual energy of the warhead was either dissipated or neutralised by fire extinguishers, built-in compartments, additional layers of protection such as fuel tanks, power-packs and crew kit cabinets, insulation of ammunition and use of 'dry systems' (systems without petrol oil lubricant). Two additional Merkavas were destroyed by heavy buried bombs, killing five Israeli tank crewmen.


The new RPG-29 Vampir was among the favourite weapons used by Shiite fighters. It resembles several other types of shoulder-fired rocket launchers, with a general layout similar to the old French Lrac 89 or the Israeli IMI B-300. The tube is divided into two sections: the front is reusable 300 times and carries the optical sights, the trigger and monopod; the rear is disposable and contains the PG-29V projectile. The rear tube is simply screwed onto the front unit before firing. Ready to fire it is 1.85 metres long and weighs 11.5 kg.

Compared with the previous generation of Russian infantry light anti-tank systems, the PG29-V rocket features dramatic improvements in armour-penetration performance. It has a tandem shaped-charge warhead, the precursor being on a boom extension to defeat explosive reactive armour before the main 105 mm diameter hollow charge attacks the main armour block. It is claimed that armour penetration behind reactive armour is in excess of 750 mm at normal angle of incidence, i.e. twice the penetration of the regular and ubiquitous RPG-7. In other words, the rear and flanks of even the best-armoured tanks can be penetrated.


In shoulder-launched configuration, the normal target engagement range is around 400 metres. In order to improve the accuracy out to a range of 600 metres a ground mounting option is available. It is fitted with a three-kg fire control and laser unit. The RPG-29 Vampir, designed by KBP and produced and sold by Bazalt, can also fire the TBG-29V thermobaric round.

Surfing on the wave of the highly advertised success of its products in south Lebanon, Bazalt exhibited a new antitank rocket system at Idex 2007, held in Abu Dhabi in February. Known as the RPG-28 it is a one-shot expendable rocket launcher system. It features a 125 mm tandem warhead, which is credited with a reactive armour-protected rolled homogeneous penetration capability of more than 1000 mm. It weights 13 kg and can be fired to a range of 300 metres. The RPG-28 is a 'big' RPG-27 (105 mm warhead) with enhanced ballistic capabilities. In order to improve accuracy at long range, the tube can be equipped with a 3 x 12 PGO optical sight.

More interesting is the new RMG multipurpose rocket propelled grenade launcher. The RMG uses a disposable launching tube with a simple US M74-like sight. The RMG has been specially designed to provide the soldier with a multi-target capability in urban terrain. It features a double warhead configuration with a Heat precursor and a main HE thermobaric charge. However, the real technological breakthrough lies in a special mechanical inertial fuse that is triggered at different delays according to the nature of the target. In other words, the fuse is able to discriminate a soft skin from a hard armoured target. If the target is a light armoured vehicle, the Heat detonates instantaneously and penetrates the target. If the fuse considers the target to be a soft-skin type, the rocket penetrates on its own kinetic energy and the fuse triggers the thermobaric charge when inside. With those unique capabilities the RMG can defeat a large spectrum of targets ranging from light armoured vehicles to reinforced shelters or bunkers and sandbagged positions. Penetration performances in RHA is limited to 100 mm, which is good enough to defeat the armoured protection of most of light combat vehicles and even the rear powerpack compartment of a main battle tank. Penetration in reinforced concrete and brickwork is respectively 300 and 500 mm.


The thermobaric charge technology is derived from the Bazalt RShG-1 assault rocket and has unequivocal effects on any troops sheltered in a closed room.

Interestingly, Bazalt is now exporting its technology. A co-operation agreement has been signed with the Jordan authorities to develop and produce a new antitank rocket system--the RPG-32. Also referred to as the Hashim, it consists of two parts: a multiple-use launching tube with its optical device and single-use multi-calibre cartridges of 75 or 105 mm. Jordan Russian Electronics Systems (Jresco) will soon begin production of the RPG-32 with some components delivered from Bazalt.


It is impossible to omit the RPG-7 in an article dedicated to eastern anti-armour systems. Almost everything has been written or reported on what really is the world's best-known Russian anti-tank rocket. Like its 'sister weapon' the even more famous AK47, it is an extremely low-cost, highly reliable, maintenance-free and training-free design.

Some may argue against its modest performance. The system cannot be used indoor due to the rear flame and the warhead cannot penetrate the frontal are of modern main battle tanks. Apparently users do not complain much about such drawbacks and compensate with appropriate tactics: most of the targets selected by RGP-7 users are either thin or soft skinned, like trucks, 4 x 4s, light armoured vehicles, armoured personnel carriers and so forth, but these alone represent thousands of attractive targets. The cruel reality is that main battle tanks are the only military platforms that effectively protect crews against RPG-7 rockets.

The RPG system has been copied or produced under licence in many countries--China, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Romania--and many improvements have been developed.

Slovak Konstrukta Defence introduced its PG-7M110 projectile which was designed to replace the existing 73 mm warhead by a 110 mm model, resulting in a dramatically improved armour penetration capability of up to 700 mm. Modifying the PG-7 projectile is achieved by removing the original warhead and VP-7 piezoelectric fuze and simply screwing the new 110 mm warhead onto the existing rocket motor. No modifications are required for the launcher or the sights. The new projectile has an effective range of 250 metres and flies at 180 metres/sec.

In addition to penetration-augmented projectiles, new tandem warhead rockets are now also available. The PG-7VR is designed to defeat two layers of armour protection, the first one consisting of explosively reactive armour tiles. It provides the RPG-7 system with more punch against hard targets such as first-generation tanks covered with explosive reactive armour, but nevertheless remains too weak to defeat thick passive armour blocks of third-generation main battle tanks.


Russia has also developed a family of fully disposable rocket launchers. All have been inspired by the American M74 Law light armour weapon. With respective calibres of 64, 72.5 and 105 mm, the RPG-18 Mukha, RPG-22/26 Neto/Aglen and RPG27 Tavolga cover a wide spectrum of applications, from bunker busting to multi-purpose infantry support. Those lightweight systems are cheap to produce thanks to a massive use of plastic parts and can be widely distributed to infantry units. Sight systems are simple, not to say rudimentary in the form of a graduated pop-up frame as on the original American design.

The RPG-18/22/26 weighs less than three kilos and easily finds room in a rucksack. It provides the individual soldier with a capability to engage hard targets and can be widely distributed within an infantry squad.

The RPG-27 Tavolga is more particularly aimed at defeating modern heavy tanks. It features a tandem warhead, the main charge being able to defeat 750 mm after reactive armour. It weighs eight kilos.

One of the most remarkable developments during Operation Change of Direction led by the IDF against the Hezbollah during the summer of 2006 was the use of modern anti-tank missiles by the Shiite militia (besides the man-portable rocket launchers previously mentioned). Two models were used: the KBP Metis M1 and Kornet E. The purpose of this article is not to assess how the Shiite militia was supplied with those very advanced systems. As Western armies have perfectly well understood their lesson: there no longer are any poorly armed enemies in so called asymmetric conflicts. Modern technologies are widely spread around the world.


The Metis M1 is the Russian equivalent of the European Milan. It is a Saclos (Semi-Automatic Command to Line-of-Sight) type anti-tank system and an enhanced version of the previous Metis M (also known as the AT-7 Saxhorn in Nato parlance) introduced in 1992. It features a 1500-metre range and an armour penetration of 800 mm in RHA. The system has been sold to Syria, Iran and China.

KBP improved the system to the Metis M1 version, which features better armour penetration up to 950 mm and a longer 2000-metre range. Interestingly, in the process the weight of the missile has been reduced from 10.5 kg to 9.5 kg in spite of its enhanced performance. The missile is fitted with a 4.6 kg tandem Heat warhead. Compared to the basic Metis, the velocity of the M1 version is faster, as it is in excess of 280 metres/sec against the baseline Metis' 180.

Israel's misfortunes in south Lebanon naturally fuelled some anti-tank lobbies with arguments to highlight the obsolescence of the main battle tank, but these lobbies carefully avoided the fact that 90% of the tank crews survived after having been hit by anti-tank heavy rockets or missiles, which is far from what could have been said had lighter combat vehicles been exposed. This being said, there is neither magic nor trick in Metis or RPG-29 Vampir technologies. Destructions scored by the Hezbollah would have been the same with the use of a Western equivalent, such as the Milan or Panzerfaust 3.

Kornet E

The heavy Kornet E is also a product from KBP. With a maximum range of 5000 metres the 9M133 Kornet may well be considered an equivalent to the new version of the American Tow. It nevertheless differs from its American counterpart being a beam rider, whereas the Tow is a Saclos type. KBP says that the laser-riding mode has, by nature, excellent resistance against countermeasures, since the laser beam is partially hidden by the missile itself during its flight onto the target. Interestingly, MBDA had also selected laser-riding guidance for the Pars/AC3G MP before the cancellation of this programme by the French and German armies.

The Kornet E's tandem Heat warhead is claimed to penetrate more than 1100 mm of rolled armour. The Kornet E cannot be considered a real infantry system or soldier system since the complete unit--including the tripod, the missile in its launching tube plus the aiming device--tips the scales at 60 kg. This is why the Kornet is mostly used mounted on pick-up trucks or rigged to the turret of an armoured fighting vehicle. The favourite mode of action of Hezbollah fighters in 2006 or Saddam's soldiers in 2003 was the shoot-and-scoot on a fast 4 x 4, which moved from one ambush spot to another. The Kornet is credited with three M1 Abrams kills. For use against soft targets or hardened infantry positions the Kornet missile can be fired with a thermobaric warhead.


With the Shturm Ataka system from KB Mashynostroeniya, or KBM, the anti-tank missile domain shifts to more versatile applications. The Shturm Ataka is the main anti-tank weapon of the Mi-28 attack helicopter, but it can be configured for naval or ground applications, one well-known version being the Krisantema tank hunter based on a tracked 9P149 chassis.

In comparison with most of the antitank missiles that fly at subsonic speeds between 160 and 250 metres/sec, the Ataka is a supersonic missile. This reduces the exposure time of the launcher during which it may be vulnerable to counter fire and helps beat the reaction time of defensive aid suites, no matter whether it is a soft- or hard-kill system. In addition, the normal firing mode of the Krisantema consists of launching two missiles at the same target. This dramatically improves hit probability by reducing evasive manoeuvres, efficiency and action of potential target countermeasures. The Krysantema is fitted with a panoramic day/night sight and a millimetric radar.


This comprehensive panorama of Russian products must not hide some interesting developments that are taking place in other eastern countries. Yugo-import SDPR in Serbia, for example, has recently disclosed more information on its Bumbar short-range anti-tank system. The Bumbar resembles the French Eryx that has been massively exported in Norway, Canada, Turkey, Malysia and other undisclosed countries. From the French system the Bumbar retains the Saclos type guidance mode, the general architecture of the missile and the vectoring thrust propulsion. The Bumbar is thus a very compact missile with a precursor warhead fitted in its nose. The motor is located at the front with lateral thrusters. The large diameter main charge (150 mm) is located aft. This configuration allows the warhead to detonate at the optimum distance from the target for better penetration (at the highest point of the stand-off curve).


Three firing positions can be selected by the operator: shoulder launching, seated (like with the American Dragon) or lying on the ground (like the Milan).This enables the gunner to adopt the best position according to tactical the engagement mode and terrain configuration.

Serbia is also still producing the old Maliutka/Sagger missile for export customers.

The Ukraine is a newcomer in the anti-tank weapons market. Kiev-based company Luch offers a family of antitank systems. The handheld Skif missile launcher fires the R2 missile. The latter can also be fired from the Baryer system mounted on the Shkval combat module (a turret with a 30 mm cannon that can be integrated into a BTR-90).The Skif comprises a tripod-based remotely controlled launcher that can be set-up some 50 metres away from the control post (a useful feature also available with the new Milan ER). The R2 missile carries a tandem warhead to defeat explosively reactive modules before penetrating up to 850 mm of main armour. It weighs 16 kilos and is 1.27 metres long with a diameter of 130 millimetres. The whole system, including the night vision device, weights 26kg. The Skif is a fire-and-forget weapon. The missile is guided by a television link through an automatic tracking system and semi-automatic laser guidance. Once the target is designated and locked on it is tracked automatically without human intervention.

In an effort to provide infantry antitank teams with even better mobility, Ukrainian designers are developing a new man-portable anti-tank laser-guided weapon, the Korsar. Equipped with a night vision sight, it weights 16.5 kg and fires a nine-kg missile that can be used for ranges of between 50 and 1200 metres. It flies at about 185 metres/sec and can penetrate 600 mm of armour behind explosive armour. The missile measures 1.2 metres in length and 100 mm in diameter.

Luch is developing another system, called the Alta. This is a heavy multi-purpose missile that is being designed to be carried onboard armoured fighting vehicles, helicopters and patrol boats. The missile weights 55 kg and features a large diameter tandem warhead claimed to defeat more than 1200 mm of armour behind explosive armour and also to generate fragments and blast. That makes the Alta a flexible weapon system that can engage main battle tanks, armoured fighting vehicles, helicopters, ships and sheltered positions. Able to defeat targets at a range of 7.5 km, it is guided by laser during the first phase of the flight, after which an active radar seeker takes over down to hit point. The Alta is delivered in a 70 kg container-launcher.


The Ukraine is also known to be one the few countries that master gun-launched missile technologies. The gun-launched missile method emerged in the former Soviet Union in order to improve the poor hit probability of T-series tanks at long range, particularly against moving targets. As an example, the hit probability of the T-72 at 1.5 km on a mobile target is only 0.3%.

First reports on the Ukrainian Kombat round appeared in 1999. The Kombat, developed by the Luch design bureau, is produced by the Artem factory in Kiev. It is designed to be fired from a 125 mm smoothbore gun mounted on T-80UD and T-84 tanks. It consists of a powder-charge thrower and a guided missile. This configuration is driven by the carousel autoloader of the T-80/84 in which projectiles and propellants are separated. All T-series tank gun-launched missiles developed in the Ukraine, Russia and China feature this configuration.


The powder-charge propellant ejects the missile out of the bore, thereby setting off the missile's cruise motor. The five kilometre maximum range of this beam rider is covered in 17 seconds.

As the Kombat can be adapted to the Nato 120 mm calibre standards, Ukraine approached some Middle Eastern countries that operate M1 Abrams or Leclerc tanks to promote the product. The 120 mm round is known as the Conus in Ukrainian terminology. In addition, Luch has developed 100, 105 and 115 mm versions designated Stugna for use by T-55, T-59, T-62, Al Zarrar and T-69 tanks.

Finally, the Ukraine is also promoting a 152 mm semi-active laser-guided round, the Kvitnyk, which can be considered as the equivalent of the Russian Krasnopol. The Kvitnyk has been designed by Tochnost, which is part of the Ukrainian Progress organisation. Its weight is approximately 48 kg (including an eight-kilo HE warhead) and has a length of 1200 mm. Range is said to be around 20 km. Kvitnyk is designed for high-precision destruction of mobile and stationary high-value targets and provides artillery units with a pinpoint-accurate strike capability. The warhead has proven to be very effective against tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

The aforementioned Russian Krasnopol was the first laser-guided artillery round in service in the former eastern block. The Krasnopol is arguably a more capable system than the American Copperhead, which explored the path to this technology. The Copperhead was designed in the 1970s in the context of the Airland Battle concept, which was supposed to provide Nato with a massive anti-armour strike capability (MLRS Phase 3 was also part of the concept). Unfortunately the fragility of its electronic subsystems limited the launch acceleration and thereby its muzzle velocity, resulting in a maximum operational range of only eleven kilometres in a pure ballistic flight profile and up to 16 in gliding mode.

The Krasnopol, for its part, is credited with a 20 km range. It was designed by KBP in Tula. For daylight operations, the forward observer can use the Russian army's standard 1D22 laser designator, which weighs 45 kg, but KBP also offers the Malakhit day/night acquisition and designation module. It comprises a tripod-mounted Nd:Yag laser designator and a boresighted thermal camera. The Malakhit has an effective range of five kilometres against tanks.

The current customers of the Krasnopol are China, Belarus, India and Russia and a 155 mm version was tested from a G5 in South Africa. France has carried out a full technical and operational evaluation of the Krasnopol and has decided to procure many hundred rounds in 155 mm calibre (in which version it becomes known as the KM-1).The French company Cilas has designed a new designator that incorporates French optronic technologies because the Russian original design was not able to perform night firing. Nevertheless Armada was told that some contractual issues still pose a problem and the acquisition contract between the DGA and Rosoboronexport has yet to be inked. Krasnopol will be fired by either 155/39 AUF1 howitzers or Nexter's new truck-mounted 155/52 Caesar.


China is also promoting its own 155 mm artillery laser-guided round. Norinco unveiled the system at Idex in 2007. The round was introduced in the brochure of the new truck-mounted 155/52 mm SH1 artillery system. Little is known about it and one can reasonably assume that it was designed through reverse engineering from the Russian Krasnopol.

Turning to mortar applications, KBP has designed a scaled-down version of the Krasnopol, the Gran, intended for used in 120 mm mortars. The Gran is compatible with the Malakhit designator. Depending on mortar type, its range can reach nine kilometres.
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Title Annotation:Anti-armour
Author:Huntiller, Mark
Publication:Armada International
Date:Feb 1, 2008
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