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Breaching walls: a must in mout operations: why breach walls during a military operation? At least two answers immediately come to mind; (1) to neutralise enemy troops that are hiding in the building and (2) to open an access for one's own troops, avoiding too-obvious accesses that would quite certainly be booby-trapped. Those two aspects require two different approaches, however.

In the first instance, the aim is to penetrate the building and generate an effect that will one way or another neutralise the occupants inside the room. This will only result in a reasonably small hole in the wall.

In the second case, the hole's dimensions are what counts. Indeed, it needs to be large enough to allow a human being--often loaded with bulky equipment--to pass through. On top of this, the effect must be sufficiently controlled to avoid extensive damage to the building's structure for two different reasons:

* the building must not collapse on friendly forces

* collateral damage reduction, which really sticks to current missions.

In the recent past a number of weapon systems have been developed in order to improve the effectiveness of troops in an urban warfare scenario. Amongst these are specific ammunition, rocket launchers and wall-breaching systems.

Neutralising Only

Numerous anti-tank missiles and antitank rockets have been equipped with warheads that provide good penetration capability through reinforced concrete walls with the detonation taking place behind the wall itself.

Following the development of its Panzerfaust 3, Dynamit Nobel started to work on the evolution of that weapon system, with the use of new warheads. The Panzerfaust 3 is based on the Davis principle, by virtue of which a counter-mass, made of iron powder, is launched backward as the projectile leaves the launcher, in an effort to reduce back-blast effects. Not only does this system reduce the amount of propellant required, but it also enables the weapon to be used from confined spaces with a minimal signature, a feature that is of vital importance in an urban environment.

With the Cold War tapering out, Dynamit Nobel began work on new warheads better suited to the new, emerging types of confrontation, as most users were looking for multiple-purpose weapons able to defeat targets such as armed jeeps, the so-called 'technical' light armoured vehicles and, most importantly, to open breaches in walls and barricades. Whatever improvement they were to offer, these weapons were not to impair the soldiers' mobility and therefore length had to be kept within one metre and weight under ten kilos.

A device aimed at 'coping' with personnel behind a wall, the Bunkerfaust, was developed in co-operation with Diehl. The weapon features a two-stage warhead, the first being a hollow charge with a 106 mm diameter (the warhead calibre being 110 mm) with a piezoelectric impact fuse to ensure penetration. In a series of tests it penetrated reinforced concrete walls over 200 mm and brick walls over 240 mm thick. The second stage of the warhead, in the form of a 47-mm grenade, follows. This explodes in the room, generating over 2000 fragments, part of them already existing in the body of the grenade in the form of 900 0.1-gram steel balls, while other fragments of varying dimensions are generated by the body itself. The fragment distribution covers a 360[degrees] pattern, although the maximum density, with over 100 fragments per square meter is a 90[degrees] cone in the launch axis of the weapon. Already well in use with the German Army by late 2004, the Netherlands acquired 1421 such rounds for its PzF 3. Other undisclosed countries also use this weapon.

In the late 1990s Dynamit Nobel, together with Singapore Defence Science & Technology Agency, developed the RGW 90/Matador (Man-portable Anti-Tank Anti-Door)--the German company being responsible for the propulsion system, again based on the Davis principle, and Rafael in charge of the warheads. The weapon is produced in three different versions, anti-structures (AS), wall-breaching (WB) and multi-purpose (MP).

Busting and/or Neutralising

While the multi-purpose version was the first one to be available, the RGW 90/Matador AS builds on Bunkerfaust experience. However, its smart fuse allows a blast mode to be selected--either to allow the follow-through charge to detonate inside the building, or to create a man-sized hole, resulting from the two warheads combining in a Hesh-like effect thanks to a delayed action. The Hesh-type effect adopted in both modes, however, has a drawback, in that it can damage the building structure, making it impossible to access it following the detonation. To overcome this problem the RGW 90/Matador WB was developed. This is based on a 174-mm diameter warhead equipped with a stand-off probe that detonates the charge at the right distance from the target surface. According to the company, the warhead works in the opposite way to a shaped charge; if in anti-tank warheads the aim is to concentrate the energy onto one point, here the goal is to create a cutting circle that surgically opens an 800-mm diameter breach in the wall while minimising the impact on the building's structure. Apart from the terminal effects they produce, the warheads have also been developed to take into account the safety of the soldiers, because in an urban environment the engagement range must be as limited as possible.

At Idex 09 last February, Dynamit Nobel told Armada that the RGW 90 WB had completed its company qualification in Germany, the potential customer being the special forces. In the same period the Israel Defense Force announced that the Matador had been used during operation 'Cast Lead' against Hamas in the Gaza strip, although they did not unveil exactly which model was involved. In early 2010 Dynamit Nobel should start deliveries of the RGW 90 Anti-Structure munition to the British Army, following a contract signed in early 2006.

As an interim measure the British Army acquired, under an Urgent Operational requirement, a number of M72 A9 Anti Structure Munitions; known as the Lasm (Light Anti Structures Missile) it retains the size of the standard M72, with a carry length of 0.78 metres, a weight of 4.3 kg and a range of about 500 metres. Instead of the standard hollow-charge, the A9 has a penetrating warhead made of an aluminium case filled with PBX-6 insensitive explosive equipped with a time delay fuse. In its earlier versions the M-72 Light Antitank Weapon equipped both the US Army and the US Marine Corps.

However, in the early 1980s the US Marine Corps decided that the M-72 Law warhead was too small to neutralize some of the targets and called for a greater calibre weapon. The system chosen was the Mk 153 Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon (Smaw), developed at the time by McDonnell Douglas Missile Systems-now Nammo Talley. The 83-mm-calibre reusable rocket launcher was largely based on Israel Military Industries' B-300 and, in the late 1990s its ammunition range was complemented by a new round, the Mk 3 Mod 0 HEDP (High Explosive Dual Purpose), the fuse of which detonates the warhead at the optimum moment according to the target, allowing it to be effective against light armour as well as against brick and concrete walls.

This was then followed by another munition using a follow-through grenade, which employs a precursor charge to open a breach through which a full-calibre grenade can travel, ensuring maximum neutralisation effect inside the room.


A further add-on to the Smaw range took place in 2003 when the US Marine Corps received over 1000 new Mk 80 Mod 0 Smaw-NE (Novel Explosive) rounds. Used in the battle of Fallujah in 2004 in Iraq, the new round features a thermobaric warhead which, however, proved to be unable to penetrate walls and therefore required a first shot to be fired in order to open a breach through which the NE round could be despatched. It cannot therefore be considered a wall-blaster ammo as such, while legal consideration on thermobaric rounds, which generate heavy collateral effects, put a question mark over their future use.

Russia produces the 93-mm-calibre RPO Shmel rocket launcher, the RPO-A thermobaric warhead of which is said to have been used in Chechnya, while Vazovski Mashinostroitelni Zavodi (VMZ) of Bulgaria produces the GTB-7VS1 thermobaric round for the RPG-7V rocket launcher.

More Shoulder Launch

Returning to Nammo, a disposable version of the Mk 153, known as M141 Smaw-D Bunker Defeat Munition using the same Mk 3 HEDP round was produced in the 1990s, This opens man-sized breaches in concrete and triple brick walls, pictures showing openings of more than one metre in diameter. Some 6000 M141s have been acquired and the type has been used in Afghanistan since 2001. In the carrying configuration, the M141 is 0.82 metres long and weighs less than 7.25 kg.

A very similar weapon is the Israel Military Industries Shipon, based on a disposable ammunition with a reusable fire control system and firing mechanism. With a length of 1.05 metres, a diameter of ten centimetres and a weight of nine kilos including the fire control system, it has a range of 550 to 600 metres and its anti-fortification/anti-personnel warhead can defeat targets behind walls. It has a penetration capacity of 500 mm in reinforced concrete, and in both version it exploits the Smaw propulsion system (IMI produced and delivered more than 300,000 sets of B-300, Smaw and Smaw-D propulsion units), which gives it firing-from-enclosures capability. The Smaw is also in service with the Republic of China Marine Corps, while the Smaw-D BDM is in service in Lebanon.

Nammo Talley was selected in August 2008 to provide the US Marine Corps with the successor of the Smaw, known as Smaw II. Not many details have been released, although this should be a system based on a similar principle of the current weapon, leveraging the proven propulsion solution, which allows firing from enclosed spaces, while saving about 40% of the current weight of 7.71 kg. Moreover, it will be fully compatible with current ammunition, although new ammo will also be available with range increased to 600 metres. It is expected to combine current anti-structure capabilities with a new highly reliable electronic fuse. The contract is scheduled to be completed by February 2011.

Saab Bofors Dynamics' AT4 anti-tank rocket launcher was developed into a system able to be fired from confined spaces under the AT4CS denomination. While the first version was an anti-tank disposable weapon, another version named AT4CS Ast, for Anti-Structure Tandem, was developed. The new system is based on a double warhead; the first being the break-in charge while the second is the main charge. As with other systems based on the twin-charge principle, the weapon offers two modes. In the delay mode, the time between the two warheads is such that the main charge can pass through the wall and be well inside the room before detonating, while in the breach mode the short delay allows the two warheads to detonate within the wall to burst a man-sized hole. The selector is placed on the launching tube allowing the soldier to instantly choose the weapon's mode. The AT4CS Ast is currently in the last stages of development.

Saab Bofors Dynamics is leveraging its warhead research in order to constantly update the range of ammunition available for its Carl Gustaf 84-mm recoilless gun, currently available in the M3 configuration. Three rounds are available for a multi-role/anti-structure role. The HEDP 502 is under all aspects a true multi-role round, its fuse having both impact and delayed shock functions, which are selected before loading the ammunition in order to match the target, the delayed mode being used for behind-wall effect. While the former round is a compromise for destroying both armour and structures, the ASM 509 is designed especially for destroying buildings. ASM standing for Anti-Structure Munition, it is based on an enhanced blast warhead and is equipped with a dual-mode fuse, although no more data are available from the company. The round has been acquired by the Australian Army.

The MT 756 (Multi Target) is a dual-charge round; the precursor charge being used to open the way for the fragmentation warhead that detonates inside the building. The 3.4-kg shell provides a penetration of 20 cm of reinforced concrete or three brick layers and an effective range of 300 metres. So far, Saab Bofors Dynamics has not developed a breaching charge for its Carl Gustaf, although this could be an option for the future if the market requires it. Currently the company is finalising the CS (Confined Space) configuration for its Heat 551C round, although it would make sense to see this capability extended to the other rounds, as this would perfectly match the needs of the urban warfighter.

Instalaza of Spain has developed a BK dual-warhead for its C90 disposable rocket launcher. Its precursor charge ensures the penetration of over 300 mm of double reinforced steel concrete, 1.2 metres of earth wall, one metre of earth and stone wall and 600 mm of brick wall. The follow-through grenade generates about 400 fragments and has a lethal radius of eight metres. A 90-mm-calibre weapon, the C90-CR-BK is 0.9 metres long (stretching out to 1.015 in firing configuration) and weighs 5.4 kg. Against a stationary target its range is about 350 metres.


Apart from shoulder-fired systems, another solution has been envisaged for opening breaches, by using heavier charges mounted on tripods that can be quickly installed at a given distance from the wall. At least two types of such systems are currently available: again developed by Dynamit Nobel of Germany and Rafael of Israel. The Static Assault Weapon (Saw), for the former and Urban Star for the latter, has a total weight of six kilos, a 120-mm diameter and a length of 0.6 metres. The system must be placed against the wall so its 400-gram precursor charge can penetrate up to 20 mm of B-300 reinforced concrete allowing the main 2.5-kg blast-fragmentation warhead, which contains about 700 grams of explosive, to penetrate in the building before detonating. Secondary uses for the Saw/Urban Star is to dig foxholes as well as incapacitating airfield runways or bridges. According to company sources, the Saw is not yet qualified. Rafael also proposes the Matador WB in a static version, known as Wall-buster: mounted on a light tripod, the munition is remotely operated and obviously has the same effect as the shoulder-launched version.

Until now we have considered short-range systems. Obviously, the problem of anti-structure munitions has been considered for longer-range weapons, such as anti-tank missiles, which can ensure maximum precision at medium-long range. The Rafael Spike ER has been equipped with a new anti-bunker/anti-structure warhead, while the Tow 2A was also equipped with a bunker buster warhead in the BGM-71H version. The European missile company MBDA is currently studying new types of warheads for anti-structure purposes and is studying the right balance between fragment dimension, types of explosive and amount of the latter in order to limit collateral damages, while providing a single weapon for different types of use by programming the warhead before the launch. The company is currently discussing the requirements with its principal customers and considers that the technologies will soon be mature enough to allow the fielding of infantry guided missiles with very effective multirole warheads in the short-to-medium term.
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Author:Alpo, Paul V.
Publication:Armada International
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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