SADJ Identification Series: The RPG ID Guide

SADJ Identification Series: The RPG ID Guide

Yugo M57 First Model. The early Yugoslav RPG-2 variant included a built on optic - rudimentary yet effective. It was extremely heavy, and had a bipod built on. This system used a quantity of sand in the propellant system to add mass, and the differing ammunition in the M57 series might call into question whether it is truly an RPG-2 series or not. (Photo by Dan Shea courtesy National Firearms Collection, Royal Armouries, Leeds)
Yugo M57 Second Model. Tens of thousands of the M57 were manufactured, and this very heavy tubed RPG-2 variant was quite successful as the main arm of the Yugoslav army and replaced eventually by the M80 - similar to the disposable M72 LAW shoulder fired rocket launcher. 20,000 of these have moved onto the world market in recent years, some cannibalized for their excellent M80 optics, which are seen adapted in some places on RPG-7s. Serbia and Montenegro, before the breakup, manufactured the final variant of the M57, called an M80 - not to be confused with the shoulder fired rocket launcher made in Serbia at Sloboda, also called an M80. (Photo by Dan Shea courtesy National Firearms Collection, Royal Armouries, Leeds)

RPG Nomenclature
What does “RPG” really stand for?

Reusable launchers – RPG-2/7/16/29 – ruchnoi protivotanoviyi granatomyot = handheld antitank grenade launcher.

Single use weapons – RPG-18/22/26/27/28/30 – reaktivnaya protivotankovaya granata = JET antitank grenade.

RPG-7 (introduction)
The USSR developed the RPG-7 series of launchers and grenades to extend the range of their individuals in the anti-tank role. The RPG-2 was seriously lacking in that regard. In order to get more range, and faster time to target, the Soviet designers did two things: first, they added an expansion chamber to the tube that would surround the expeller cartridge, allowing for more volume, and an internal Venturi and the Divergent Nozzle to the rear. The pressure build up and mass needed to attain more velocity was dramatically changed allowing the grenade a much further and faster trajectory. Second, they added a rocket assist that ignites after the grenade has left the recoilless launcher adding more range and speed as well. The Soviet doctrine for RPG-7 with optics and a trained operator allowed frequent hits on targets out to 550 meters and beyond. The RPG-7 is a reloadable launcher, and estimates of over 10 million of the different variants having been made would not be out of the range of believability. The RPG-7 took the steps forward that were used in the RPG-4, modified them, enlarged on the technology, and reduced the general tube size back to that of the RPG-2; 40mm (not including the enlarged expansion chamber area).

The first model in the USSR around 1962 was the RPG-7, first tracked in-country by US forces in Vietnam by about 1967-8. It gradually replaced most of the RPG-2s in the hands of the NVA and Viet Cong. This model was quickly replaced in the late 1960s by the RPG-7V, and then by the RPG-7V1 and V2 models. These designations are basically about adding different round capabilities to the launcher – the Thermobaric rounds of today would not be possible to fire from an original RPG-7. The 7V1 added a bipod capability as well. Today the Russians are manufacturing these as well as their many rocket type RPG shoulder fired launchers, and a new unit called a “Temp 10” that has a 50mm tube, and is the base for launching an EFP – Explosive Formed Projectile – Grenade. The appearance is that of an RPG-7V series launcher, but with the odd, flat nosed grenade, it stands out.

This example is dated 1966. Note the much larger central tube section, the divergent nozzle is at the rear, and the addition of a second handgrip for the left hand of the operator. It is a basic RPG-7V, without the optic: note there are no bipod or shoulder rest. Two markings are shown - first of a 1966 dated RPG-7 that was upgraded to a ‘V’ with the Latin ‘V’, second is a 1979 RPG-7V production model marked with Cyrillic letters. (Photos by Dan Shea, courtesy LMO Working Reference Collection)
RPG-7D in the carry condition, with the rear of the launcher locked underneath the front part. The RPG-7D has a locking latch that snaps into place when the tubes are properly mated together and ready to fire. If the tubes are not properly placed, the latch extension blocks the sear. The sear block is a sheet metal piece that fits around the firing pin well, and moves forward or backwards depending on the position of the locking latch. This stops the system from firing if not assembled properly. The front and rear tubes are connected together with two bayonet lugs. Once locked into place, they are very securely attached. The hammer needs to be cocked and safety ‘On’ in order for the rear tube to slide into place, or the trigger group needs to be removed. The RPG-7D trigger group has a notch on the top right hand plate that fits around the sear block mechanism. Installation and removal of the RPG-7D trigger group requires more manipulation than a straight ‘on-off’ like the standard groups. The operator needs to ensure the sear block mechanism is not compromised or bent when he installs the trigger group. (Photo by Dan Shea courtesy LMO Working Reference Collection)
This is an Egyptian made RPG-7, called a ‘Sakr’ showing both Russian and Chinese heritage. Numerous RPG-7 launchers are credited to Egypt, but this is the basic acknowledged design, with no marking. Note the forward position of the bipod on a swivel mount, leaving room for the grenade nock. (Photo by Dan Shea courtesy National Firearms Collection, Royal Armouries, Leeds)
The RPG-7 ‘Anti-Helicopter Launcher’ is a new addition to the category. The example shown is clearly of Russian manufacture but it is unclear where the modifications were made. The divergent nozzle on the rear of the tube is cut off and the tube is externally threaded. It has a solid mortar-like base attached to it. This means the RPG is no longer recoilless, and the full power of the expeller cartridge is used to send the PG7 grenade upwards towards a helicopter. With the base on the ground, the recoil would be surmountable, but the tube life would be shorter, as might the operator’s. The author has now seen several in weapons caches in PLO territories.
Azerbaijan is manufacturing the RPG-7 and it appears to be the Bulgarian version ATGL-L1.
Earlier Bulgarian made RPG-7s were simply referred to as RPG-7, and they made the first model in the 1960s. The RPG-7V was made later. The modern Bulgarian RPG-7 variant is called the ATGL-L (Anti-Tank Grenade Launcher - Light), and there are two sub variants: ATGL-L1 which is the same launcher with a bipod and PGO-73V optic, and the ATGL-L2 which is the same launcher with bipod and MGP-7V6M optic (elevating mechanism).
The Chinese branch of the RPG-7 family is the Type 69 and Type 69-1. Type 69 was a fairly faithful copy of the Russian RPG-7 although the tube was heavier and the bipod was added. The Chinese also made the rear sight adjustable for windage. The Chinese optics rail is slightly narrower than the Russian one, so the Chinese optic will not fit on a Russian launcher. The Type 69-1 adds the ability to use different ammunitions, as well as Opto-electronics. It is shorter than the Type 69, but the quickest identifier of the tube is that the 69-1 sights are centered on the tube top, where the 69 has offset sights. Many RPG-7 variants today are the hybrid children of the Russian and Chinese systems. Note the Chinese system has bipod, shoulder rest, and in this case, the optic is installed. A note on the shoulder rest: this is not generally for standing or kneeling, unsupported firing, as that would place the rear of the divergent nozzle too close to the rear of the operator, placing limbs and gear in danger. This rest is for positioning for aiming while in the bipod supported position. The number inside a circle is the factory that manufactured the RPG-7. The newest version from China is called the Type 2004, (not shown) and it is a paratrooper’s takedown version much like the RPG-7D. (Photo by Dan Shea courtesy LMO working Reference Collection)