2013/10/29

Infantry "AT" weapons

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It is probably by now widely known that anti-tank missiles were used to shoot at Argentinian bunkers at Port Stanley in '82, Hezbollah used anti-tank guided missiles to shoot at buildings occupied by Israeli troops during the 2006 Lebanon war, American troops have used TOW and Javelin anti-tank missiles against buildings et cetera.
This re-purposing extends to unguided anti-tank weapons; the utility of RPG-7s in occasional shots at helicopters and as near-universal anti-infantry weapon are well-known. M72s were almost never fired at tanks either, but plenty were expended at infantry.

World War 2's Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck series were produced as follows (rounded to thousands):

1943: 350,000 and 173,000 rounds
1944: 5,662,000 and 1,806,000 rounds
1945: 3,314,000 and 120,000 rounds (up to February '45 only)
Most were expended, but almost none of them against tanks.

Now what the infantry really needed was apparently a means to project a hand grenade or a small demolition charge beyond throwing distance. It receiving shaped charge projectors instead and used them as hand grenade and demolition charge projector equivalents. The employment of the munitions against tanks was a rare occasion (several thousand tanks were still destroyed with these munitions).

Peacetime procurement kept focusing on the shaped charge warhead's penetration performance nevertheless.
Post-1990 plenty high explosive and wall-penetrating warheads for bazookas and Panzerfaust-type weapons have been developed and delivered for Western armies. After all, the tank armies of the Warsaw Pact finally lost their fascination - about a decade after they lost their pact. The Soviets Russians are even declared fans of using thermobaric warheads on anti-tank guided missiles and have this warhead on offer for about every ATGM design of theirs. Which is strange, as thermobaric munitions are said to be weather-dependent in their effect.



Infantry anti-tank weapons have also a hard time keeping up with their notional prey. The German Cold War Panzerfaust munitions badly lagged behind Soviet/Russian developments, for example (very late response to T-72, which then was already obsolete in face of ERA tiles and the anti-ERA warhead type matured later than active protection systems). 
The passive and active protection of main battle tanks and several other armoured vehicle types appears to de-value the majority of infantry anti-tank weapons and munitions. This is to be expected, after all said vehicles' crews are also facing weapons and munitions of much greater weight and bulk and the vehicle suppliers need to be able to justify their contracts even in face of these more capable threats. So-called infantry AT weapons are widely useful against infantry opposition, but usually useful or even reliable against modern tanks under favourable conditions only.
 
We should stop calling infantry weapons and munitions "anti-tank" or "AT". Let's prepare the appropriate mindset: These weapons and munitions project fragmentation, blast, illumination and smoke warheads and very rarely shaped charge warheads. They're about warhead projection, not much about tanks.
We don't call military barbed wire (S-Draht) "anti-tank" either, even though it's relevant as obstacle and can entangle so badly as to stop a tank.

S O
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2 comments:

  1. In OEF I learned something interesting. Our platoon weapons aren't so good at suppressing these people enough so we can maneuver safely when we want to break out from cover and concealment. But fire a rocket or launch a mortar shell and things change. I think you're on the money with emphasizing HE/frag projectors especially at the platoon level.

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  2. This would conform with some ideas promulgated by Jim Storr where he did some historical analysis and concluded what was needed was a return of the infantry gun or a modern equivalent with more high explosive per round than existing grenade launchers of 40mm caliber or automatic cannons of 25-30mm. He didn't go on to say whether or not 35-50mm automatic cannons provided adequate explosive throw weight.
    Link: http://www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/storr_RDS_feb2010.pdf

    The recent re-popularization of legacy systems such as the Carl Gustav recoilless rifle are due to what we in Canada would call the "GP Advantage," that it is a general purpose weapon capable of accurately throwing a good amount of HE or obscuring/designating smoke out to a good range. The 84mm antitank rounds are accepted to be - unless circumstances are well and truly ideal - useless against anything larger than a BMP or BTR equivalent. Even then, if you hit them in their void spaces (troop compartments) you can't expect to disable the vehicle in a way that will prevent the gunner from hosing down the patch of suddenly-defoliated woodland you fired from.

    I think the PzF-3 is good as its supercaliber warhead (warhead outside the muzzle, a'la RPG) can be made to take on, and be effective at, different missions. The "Bunkerfaust" projectile in particular is useful. Its weight is prohibitive.

    A note on Russian thermobaric practice: Thermobaric, or TB, weapons seem to offer a greater explosive power than a like weight of conventional HE, which is why the Russians like them. Their recent experiences in Chechnya and Ossetia suggest that even if the TB round doesn't function flawlessly, its partial detonation causes enough suppression to allow for a follow up round or effective manouevre. A bigger issue is that the more common means of projecting TB rounds are difficult to use because their aerodynamics are a bit shit: TBG-7V for the RPG-7 is an example, the RShG series of disposable launchers and the RPO-A etc series all have some effective range issues given the nature of mountain fighting... but interestingly the Russians clearly don't view this as being something so problematic they won't use the weapon commonly.

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