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 But the 1950s vintage RPG-2 and its much improved 1960s scion the RPG-7 are long out of date in the service of Russia and its close allies and weapons customers; the last several AT weapons have actually contained the rocket inside the tube in the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.
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The second is that they’ve withdrawn under their armor.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.
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.