The RPG-7 ("Ruchnoy Protivotankoviy Granatomet") was the follow-up in the family of Soviet-originated "RPG" man-portable, shoulder-fired, anti-tank rocket launchers (generically referred to as "RPGs"). The Soviet design could trace its roots back to the American "Bazooka" and German "Panzerfaust' launchers of World War 2 and many examples of these weapons came into the hands of Soviet troopers throughout the conflict. The RPG-7, like those rocket projecting systems before it, was devised as an inexpensive and easy-to-produce and operate, one-man, single-shot weapon for the purpose of defeating armor at range. Despite its 1961 introduction, the system maintains a faithful following and its production reach has meant that the weapon continues to see frontline service in a plethora of modern conflicts. Its qualities are such that the series is a favorite of organized national armies as well as rebels and guerrilla fighters the world over.
The RPG-7 is a further development of past RPG variations - from the earlier RPG-2, RPG-3 and RPG-4 rocket projectors - and can fire a variety of warhead types including FRAG (FRAGmentation), HEAT (High-Explosive, Anti-Tank) and HE (High-Explosive) rounds. The FRAG projectile is a 4lb munition relying on 210 grams of A-IX-1 explosive. There are two major HEAT projectiles in the PG-7VL single-stage and PG-7VR tandem charge. The former weighs 5.7lb and the latter 9.9lb. Diameter is 93mm and 64mm respectively and these munitions can penetrade between 500mm and 750mm of Rolled Homogenous Armor (RHA). The TBG-7V is a thermobaric projectile of 9.9lb weight with a listed caliber of 105mm.
Overall weight of the weapon is 15lb and overall length is 950mm (37.4 inches) making the system both lightweight and compact to carry. Grenades leave the muzzle at 115 meters per second and effective ranges are out to 200 meters (maximum achievable range is 920 meters). Sighting is through traditional static iron sights but optics are also supported as is a red dot reflex sighting device. At about 50 meters, the operator can achieve hit probability as high as 100% though this drops to half that at about 200 meters away from the target (of course many factors influence accuracy). Its effectiveness is not necessarily in the ability to stop light-armored vehicles but also to provide shock value to dug-in enemy troops.
The RPG-7 is an inherently compact weapon and paratrooper versions are designed to be broken down into major components for better travel. It provides generally lightly-armed troopers with necessary firepower to stop vehicles on approach or unseat defenders. The resulting "back blast" of the firing rocket is relatively minimal and this allows the RPG to be fired from enclosed spaces such as buildings and from covered outdoor positions. Its operation is also quite basic, requiring little training on the part of the user, which lends itself well to rebel forces and other less-organized fighters. Despite its sheer simplicity, the influence of the RPG-7 on the battlefield cannot be overstated.
The modern Russian Army relies on the modernized form of the weapon as the "RPG-7V2" and its paratrooper counterpart is the "RPG-7D3".
Over 9,000,000 examples of the RPG-7 have been produced since 1961 by Bazalt, Degtyarev and others. It is locally manufactured in no fewer than a dozen countries and can be found in the military inventories of nearly forty nations worldwide - from Afghanistan and Albania to Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Chinese version is designated "Type 69" and Vietnam knows it as the "B-41". For Sudan, the weapon is the "Sinar" and is produced by the Military Industry Corporation. Bulgaria designates their stock as "ATGL-L".
Airtronic of the United States fabricates the weapon as the "RPG-7USA" and this is a modern incarnation of the weapon complete with accessories rail, flip-up sights, and extended service life.
Former operators include East Germany, Rhodesia, and Yugoslavia. Comparable weapon systems in the West are the American M72 LAW, German Panzerfaust 3, and Israeli B-300.