SADJ Identification Series: The RPG ID Guide
SADJ has brought a number of articles on the RPG-7 and its technology and history to our readers. We’ve covered light armorer work, as well as operational idiosyncrasies, and we’ve dispelled myths perpetuated by a generation of writers and Internet gurus who insist on saying “RPG” means “Rocket Propelled Grenade” no matter how many times it’s explained that this is a recoilless launcher system, with many launchers using rocket-assisted grenades. This is a fundamental difference in system, not a minor picking point for us firearms techno-geeks. There are many different capabilities and characteristics to consider in this.
“RPG” stands for “Ruchnoi Protivotankoviyi Granatomyot,” in the case of RPG-2 and RPG-7. There are different Russian words with the same initials for the true rocket propelled grenades of RPG-18, RPG-22, etc. In no case does “RPG” represent the English words “Rocket Propelled Grenade.”
Our goal is to educate the small arms community, and especially those going into harm’s way, so that they have a full understanding of the system. While there is a stigma in the Western press, the NATO and U.S. allies in this world are now using the RPG-7 system more and more. It is an effective, robust, reloadable and generally easy to use system. It is entirely worthy of upgrades and operational use.
There are two stories we haven’t done yet at SADJ; identification of the grenades used in these systems, and identification of the weapons that fall into the category of “RPG.” We decided to start with the launchers, and to concentrate on overall pictures and identifying marks, so that the reader would have the ability to perform fast forensic identification of a unit, hopefully helping solve the questions of where it might have come from.
For the museums and collectors of military pieces out there, here’s another set of items to start tracing down and filling out your displays, as if you didn’t have enough to chase already! At the end of the RPG-7 section, we have moved further into as many of the weapons called “RPG” whether they are recoilless launcher systems or true shoulder fired rocket launchers, so that the reader can tell what they are, as well as some odd pieces that fit the category but not the nomenclature.
Previous Articles that the Reader Should Reference:
The RPG-7 System Primer by Dan Shea. (History, some ID, light armorer work. SADJ Vol. 1, No. 3, 2009)
Rocket Versus Recoilless; A Brief History of the RPG by Paul Newhouse. (History, operation, good technical understanding of the systems. SADJ Vol. 1, No. 3, 2009)
A Primer on Shaped Charges by Paul Newhouse. (History, physics, good technical understanding of shaped charges. Small Arms Review Vol. 11, No. 1, October 2007)
Rocket Launchers & Recoilless Rifles by Robert Bruce. (History and operation of some WWII era systems. Small Arms Review Vol. 4, No. 12, September 2001)
This Russian designed, reloadable, shoulder operated recoilless system is the first real step towards the RPG-7 of today. The RPG-2 was copied in many countries, and many of the subvariants are shown here. No RPG-2 grenades had rocket assist, the sheet metal bodies simply couldn’t take the added pressures in the experimental rounds that were tried and this severely limited the range and time to target. One major step up from the German designs is that instead of two charges spread out over the interior of the launching tube, the RPG-2 utilizes six in tandem to create much more velocity and keep the tube integrity intact.
The following are not illustrated due to low or non-existent production, and a resulting lack of photos.
RPG-1: Russian design. Very similar to the German Panzerfaust of WWII, this recoilless system did not progress from design.
RPG-3: Russian design. A design step up from the RPG-2 series, did not progress from design. Frequently this designation is mistaken for the infamous RKG-3 drogue-parachuted, shaped charge, hand thrown grenade that saw so much use in Africa and the Balkans (Yugoslav M79).
RPG-4: Russian design, limited production. RPG-4 is where the RPG-7 was truly born – the expanded tube from the 40mm size of the RPG-2, to 45mm, and the central “chamber area” providing for more expansion of the propellant gases, combined with the new Venturi at the rear, made for more range and faster target hits. Not issued in significant quantity.
RPG-6: Russian design. Hand thrown grenade from WWII.
RPG-8: This designation was mistakenly applied by Western intelligence to what was later known as the RPG-7D takedown model of the RPG. RPG-8 as part of this series did not exist except in some late 1960s reports.
RPG-15: This designation is seen occasionally and apparently dates to 1970s era intel reports- talking about the newly seen RPG-18. SADJ has seen no other indication that an RPG-15 was made.