The RPO-A Shmel (Шмель, meaning "Bumblebee") is a Soviet rocket launcher, primarily designed to deliver thermobaric munitions. Like all such devices, under the Russian system of classification it is regarded as a flamethrower.
The RPO-A entered service in the late 1980s and completely replaced the RPO Rys rocket launcher.
The RPO-A behaves like certain RPGs, such as the RPG-18 and the M72 LAW. Launchers are either issued singly with a shoulder strap or in a two-launcher "transit pack" worn as a backpack. A single operator can launch the weapon without any assistance.
The launcher itself is a recoilless gun. The ejection motor, which resembles a hand grenade, is inserted into the rear of the rocket and separates instantly on firing, with the rocket being pushed forward while the launch motor is allowed to push rearward, ultimately being ejected from the rear of the launcher as a countermass. The projectile's sustainer motor ignites after it has travelled a safe distance from the launch site.
After launch, the spent tube is disposed of.
The RPO-A uses three types of rockets; the RPO-A thermobaric rocket, the RPO-Z (Zazhigatel'nyy, зажигательный, meaning "Incendiary") incendiary rocket using a "pyrogel" filler that burns at 800-1,000 degrees C, or the slightly heavier RPO-D (Dymovoy, дымовой, meaning "Smoke") smoke-producing rocket.
The filler of the latter is unclear, but is probably hexachloroethane-zinc (HC) or terephthalic acid (TPA), since it is not advertised as having a secondary incendiary function as it would be if it used red or white phosphorous.
- RPO PDM-A Shmel-M
Modernized version firing a smaller caliber rocket and using disposable tubes with a reusable fire control group. The thermobaric warhead is claimed to be equivalent in performance to 12 pounds of TNT, and said to be similar in effect to a 155mm howitzer shell.
Even smaller 62mm variant using the same fire control unit as the Shmel-M, with a thermobaric warhead claimed to be equivalent to 13.2 pounds of TNT or a conventional HE-fragmentation warhead. Designed for confined space firing, claimed to only require a 30 cubic meter enclosure for safe firing.