A rocket-propelled grenade, also known as an RPG, is a weapon system that fires an unguided, self-powered projectile with an explosive warhead. When fired, these rockets are usually stabilized in-flight with fins. While their relatively small hollow charge warheads are ineffective against modern tank armor schemes, they are well-suited to attacks against light vehicles and similar targets.
The first tanks were relatively poorly armored, in some cases not even fully protected from smallarms fire. A dedicated solution was sought to dealing with heavier examples, with the first solution being the development of armor-piercing rifle ammunition, followed closely by high caliber bullets fired from anti-tank rifles. However, it rapidly became clear that these weapons were approaching the limits of a human crew's ability to transport them.
With the development of the hollow charge, a series of anti-tank weapons were produced, both hand grenades and rifle grenades. However, these proved difficult to use effectively, due to short range in the former case and aiming difficulties in the latter.
Combining the hollow charge with a recoilless gun was one solution. The first successful example was the Faustpatrone, which was light, cheap, and easy to make and manufacture in large numbers. This led to the development of the improved Panzerfaust.
Later the principle would be repeated using a rocket engine to propel the warhead. The ubiquitious RPG-7 is such a weapon.
- The term "rocket-propelled grenade" is strictly a backronym; it stems from the Russian term "ruchnoy protivotankovy granatomyot" (Russian for hand-held anti-tank grenade launcher) though "rocket-propelled grenade" has been accepted as such.
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