Tank Go Boom

Everybody knows about RPGs — the ubiquitous Russian anti-tank weapon that began as a few improvements to the last few German Panzerfaust antitank grenade launchers, and now are one of the characteristic arms of every war large and small. But the 1950s vintage RPG-2 and its much improved 1960s scion the RPG-7 are long out of date in the service of Russia and its close allies and weapons customers; the last several AT weapons have actually contained the rocket inside the tube in the fashion of western bazookas (or the Panzerfaust’s 1944 competitor, the Panzerschreck). The current AT weapon is the RPG-29 Vampir.

This video purports to be a Syrian rebel attack on Syrian Arab Army T-72M1 tanks using an RPG-29.

http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=a9e_1360208817

The tank crews are at two very serious disadvantages here. While they’re under direct observation by the rebels (and the rebel videographers), they seem to be without infantry support. We know some tankers, and nothing gives them the heebie-jeebies like being in close terrain full of hostile infantry without any friendly grunts.

The second is that they’ve withdrawn under their armor. (As we’ll see, at least one of them didn’t have his hatch dogged down, which procedure violation saved his life). But buttoning-up means that they’re very close to being blind. If you’ve ever spent any time in a tank or AFV, the contrast between the situational awareness a TC can have when up in his hatch, and the SA he can develop while sealed in the can, is enormous.

The tanks’ lack of rifleman support is why they’re oriented the way they are. Clearly they expect trouble from the right, but the foreground tank is facing back to cover their vulnerable rears — with its own vulnerable rear backed up against a building to deny the rebels a shot. It’s a fairly good formation for taking on a thankless operation like MOUT in a main battle tank.

When the RPG-29 round hits, its first warhead of the tandem pair initiates on the rear of the engine deck, and the main shaped charge fires seemingly instantaneously. The Vampir’s warhead has over double the penetration of the common PG-7V round for the RPG-7. The crew? They stand no chance as the round ignites the tank’s ready ammunition. The temperature and pressure inside the fighting compartment (and the driver’s compartment, which is not isolated from it) are instantly more like the inside of a gun barrel than a shirtsleeve environment.

The exception is one of the turret crew, identified as the gunner by Russian analysis (a meatball machine translation of one of those analyses is here). He either bailed out or, more likely, was ejected through the above-mentioned unsecured hatch; you see him pull himself together and run off to the building on the right, the tatters of his clothes trailing behind his burnt body. And he’s the lucky one.

It will be hours before the tank is cool enough to be approached and for someone to take on the thankless, ghoulish task of removing the incinerated remains of his fellow crewmen.

RPG-29_USGov

The RPG-29 has a diameter of 70.2mm and, as mentioned above, a tandem warhead which defeats reactive armor. It’s scored penetrations and kills on some of the world’s best MBTs, including the M1A1 and the Challenger; it has more range, more accuracy, and more penetration than the familiar RPG-7. And it’s not the last word. The RPG-32 is an updated reusable anti tank ballistic rocket system, that offers further advantages over the RPG-29; meanwhile, a parallel line of development has produced updated disposable launchers as well. The RPG-30 is a disposable launcher with a parallel self-contained decoy to defeat active protection systems, and a tandem warhead to defeat reactive armor also.

11 thoughts on “Tank Go Boom

  1. Aesop

    I wonder if Leland Yee can get me some of those.
    I’m sure he needs funds for his legal defense, and that looks like a splendid piece of kit.

    Maybe we could just lift a page from Soviet Weapons Development, and copy it wholesale, product-improve the hell out of it, and save most of the R&D costs.

    Re: the original video, is it not possible and more likely the crew(s) were all dismounted in the nearby building, and the lone straggler seen afterwards was originally sitting in the shade outside his ride all along?
    There’s no movement of tubes or hatches of the other vehicles after the shot, and I doubt that last pathetic bunny was a successful explosive ejection through a hatch, or any other way, without other substantiation/corroboration. That hit was a killshot at the speed of heat, so to my mind, the only way he walks away is that he was never inside to begin with.

  2. duchamp

    It looks like you can see the guy’s arm at the very beginning, before the hit, I vote for him being outside already or possibly being the person who set the charge.

  3. guy

    Was the blast out of the gun barrel just the overpressure from cabin? Or did this thing blow itself up?

    1. Aesop

      ??

      It was hit by an RPG.

      And yes, that was probably breech-vented overpressure, possible including very small and well-cooked pieces of the turret crew, if they were inside.

      My money is still on this being a kill on an unoccupied and laagered-up tank. Which still counts in Combat Horseshoes.

  4. OBob

    I’ve seen a longer version of this on youtube that shows the prepping of the round, climbing the stairs, crawling across the rooftop, etc. I don’t remember the cameraman tracking the fleeing Syrian, just the Roman candle from the hatch and incredible delayed blow torch through the bore as the basic load’s propellant went up, so there must have been more than one videographer.

    My guess is also that t was probably a lager site, but still nicely done guys and poor security on the admin’s part to park in urban terrain without securing buildings RIGHT on top of them (maybe a 100 yard shot at most). I imagine the dumb ones are culled by now.

  5. Bill K

    I’d question whether the tattered crispy runner was the lucky one. I doubt they have anything approaching the Brooke Army Burn Unit in Syria. That poor schmuck is going to suffer intensely, then die.

  6. "Greg"

    Based on the video here, I’d say the other 2 tanks were lucky there was only 1 RPG shot available?

    1. Hognose Post author

      From the aspect he was attacking, he’d only get a shot at the strongest armor on the tank: front of the turret or the glacis plate (that’s the upper nose armor, usually the second strongest). Any shot at the side armor would be very oblique. If he closed in some, he might have a shot down at the lighter armor of the turret top. If the RPG-29 can get through the frontal armor of a Challenger or M1A1, though, it can get through the weaker protection of the T-72M1.

      The politicians controlling the purse strings of the NATO armies seem to think it’s still 1991, when nothing on Earth could kill an Abrams except another Abrams, and Russian state of the art armor was the ill-fated T72s you see here. The collapse of the USSR and Warsaw Pact was very traumatic for the Russians, but that was 20 years ago, and their military R&D and procurement is making improved, world-class armaments while we rest on Desert Storm era laurels.

      1. "Greg"

        I suppose I can “armchair QB” just like anyone else, but I suppose that is one purpose that the comments section of your blog is used for? And thus, I re-affirm – if the destroyed tank took an RPG hit in the relatively weaker engine section, then it looks to me like one other tank is positioned in a similar fashion (but it is not clear if the firing position could make use of that?) and easily might have experienced a similar fate? As for the one tank backed up against the building, it might have presented a “max armor” front shot, but then the RPG-29 would have decent chance for it’s advanced warhead to penetrate the armor, right? But my ruminations ASSumes that RPG-29s are plentiful in that theater, although the video makes me believe the actual conditions are otherwise! My opinions regarding politicians appears to parallel yours…

        1. Hognose Post author

          Yep. You were right, I had mentally oriented two tanks left and one right (in the video) which is the reverse of the actual situation.

          They might have very few RPG-29s. It’s a safe bet that Russia has not supplied them to the enemies of their client, Assad; the probable source of this one is battlefield recovery from the Syrian Arab Army. (Of course, the Syrians widely crossloaded theirs to various Shia and Sunni terrorist groups, never expecting the Sunnis to turn on their former hosts and allies. So that’s another possible source. To know the source, you’d need the serial number, and cooperation from Russia, neither of which is likely to come to hand. Well, even that would only be a lead on the source). Another factor in the one-shot attack is that survivability of an AT crew goes way down when the tank crews know where you are. Any older American tanker remembers “Sagger drills,” now as obsolete as their 1950s-tech namesake, and replaced with newer ATGM quick-reaction drills. But anyway, tankers are highly motivated to kill AT weapons crews (friend of mine took out an Iraqi RPG-7 team in 1991 with the round he had up in his tank, which was am APFSDS DU sabot round at sub 100m. Ugly kill, but still a kill).

          Anyway, AT crews know this well. They take one pass and haul ass. That’s true whether your shot hits or misses: one shot, displace. An exception to this is if you have multiple gunners firing as near as possible to the same time, then each one gets one shot. It follows from this that you want covered and concealed avenues of approach to each firing position (the Syrian rebels here have concealment at least, as you see them approach their firing pos).

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