Because of the threat posed by Soviet tank forces in Europe during the Cold War, many of the major players adopted several types of portable anti-armor counters such as rocket launchers, Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) launchers, and recoilless rifles. The latter was of note, its origins in the fighting of World War 2 (1939-1945), for it provided a relatively simple and cheap system to operate and produce while reducing inherently violent recoil effects by way of an ingenious counter-force arrangement.
Recoilless rifles accomplish this by venting a certain amount of propellant gases out of the rear of the launch tube during the exiting action of the projectile. The forward force was, in effect, counter-acted upon by the rearward force, producing a balanced firing action. In this fashion, no complex recoil mechanism needed to be a permanent part of the recoilless gun's design. Many became crew-served (two or more personnel) weapons requiring the support of a tripod assembly while others could be fired from the shoulder.
For the Italians, the "Folgore" ("Thunderbolt") was developed by the storied concern of Breda Meccanica Bresciana. The company began in the years prior to World War 2 and managed design, development, and production of various small arms, primarily aircraft and infantry machine guns, during the period. It also produced a large-caliber solution (the Breda 20/65 Modello 35) for anti-tank and anti-aircraft work. The Folgore became an 80mm weapon which could be fired from a bipod, tripod, or from the shoulder. Design work began in 1974 and continued for some time until formal adoption by the Italian Army occurred in 1986. The system weighed 60lbs overall and featured a length of six feet, a rate-of-fire of four rounds-per-minute, and a maximum engagement range out to 1,000 meters. Sighting was through a 5x optical set with integrated rangefinder. The launch tube was of a relatively lightweight, though strong, design incorporated steel, nickel, and cobalt.
When mounted on its tripod, the Folgore was fitted with the full electro-optical sighting device, allowing the operator to receive target specifics quickly. When set upon its bipod or shoulder fired, a less complex, lighter-weight optics set was used.
The Folgore relied on a special 80mm projectile with a three-second "boost" capability brought about by a propellant charge included as part of the projectile's design. The propellant ignited after the rocket had cleared the launch tube and provided a sudden increase in velocity which aided in accuracy by reducing the time the projectile spent in the air from launch tube to target. The projectiles also included spring-loaded fins for basic spin and stabilization during flight and its base was perforated to allow the necessary propellant gasses to escape.
The primary projectile in play was a basic HEAT (High-Explosive, Anti-Tank) round which provided accurate and penetrating fire against both armored vehicles (up to 450mm thickness) and fortified structures. In this way, crews could engage both enemy tanks and dug-in enemy troops protected by a bunker-type structure (many anti-tank weapons have evolved in this fashion - becoming "bunker-busters" when necessary).
Beyond its use with the Italian Army, the Folgore has been used by Kurd forces in northern Iraq. While the 80mm projectile has lost much of its potency against modern Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), it remains a capable bunker-defeating munition system.
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