The Philippine Army’s Airtronic RPG-7USA and Sight Options

An RPG-7USA. Photo courtesy of the X-Box Experts Blog
An RPG-7USA. Photo courtesy of the X-Box Experts Blog

So the Philippines finally goes over to the “Dark Side” and acquires the RPG-7s for its infantry soldiers to replace its M18 and M67 Recoilless Rifles.1 This is a very positive development indeed, as not only are we acquiring these more sophisticated equipment, we are also getting MORE of them. The Philippine Army (PA) currently has approximately 186 90mm M67 and 26 57mm M18 Recoilless Rifles,2 and in place of these the Army will acquire 400 RPG-7USA.

‘Equipment Background’
RPG-7” stands for “Ruchnoy Protivotankovye Granatomyot” in Russian which means “Hand-held, Anti-Tank Grenade Launcher”. But personally I prefer the term, “Rocket-Propelled Grenade Launcher” to describe it as I feel it describes it better. The weapon consists of a reloadable launcher made of a steel tube which is mounted on the shoulder, and a projectile which is launched from the tube using a small gunpowder charge. Once the projectile has travelled 10 m away from the tube, the rocket motor ignites propelling the round faster and further up to 920 m before it self-destructs if it doesn’t hit a target by then.

The RPG-7 was initially built by the Russian company “Bazalt” and first went into service with the then Soviet Union in 1961. Since then it has become one of the most successful and iconic infantry weapons of all time of which over 9 million has been built and put into service in almost all corners of the globe.3

The version that the Army will be getting is made by the American company “Airtronic USA” with the designation “RPG-7USA” to differentiate it from the other RPG-7 builds. It is exactly the same as the original RPG-7 except for some minor differences or improvements, like the use of quad picatinny rails for mounting of additional accessories, and the use of an AR-15 pistol grip.4

‘Reasons and Uses’
One of the main reasons for getting the RPG-7 was the issue of weight. To quote Army Spokesman Col. Anthony Bacus:5

“One of the downside aspect for these old weapons (the recoilless rifles) is that they are too heavy to be carried by an individual soldier, that most instances, it impedes the movement of maneuvering troops”.

A quick look at the physical properties of the M67 and the RPG-76 shows a big difference in loaded weight, 21.2 kg for the M67 while only 9.6 kg for the RPG for a diffence or weight savings of 11.6 kg, a big deal for our infantry soldiers lugging these equipment around.
M67-RPG7

The design of the basic PG-7V High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) round is over 53 years old already, hence despite the fact that it has the ability to punch thru 260 mm of armor, it is already obsolete as an Anti-Tank round. However, it is still very effective against most if not all Light Infantry Vehicles, and can still DISABLE the most modern tanks by damaging their tracks. For the Army, its main use will be for neutralizing enemies hiding behind cover in urban or rural areas for which it can still be very effective.

‘Accuracy and Best Available Sights’
The United States Army released an excellent, comprehensive Training Bulletin for the RPG-7 way back in 1976.7 In it, they estimate that at zero wind conditions, the RPG-7 is expected to have 100% accuracy of hitting a static or non-moving target only up to 100 m. By 200 m, this would be down to 55% (almost 50-50 chance only), and by 300m the accuracy is down to 25%, or only one out of four rounds will hit. The main reason given by the US Army document for the low accuracy beyond 150 m was due to ERRORS IN JUDGING RANGE TO THE TARGET.

This means that in order for the RPG-7 to improve its accuracy above 150 m, then there has to be a way to be able to determine its distance from the target accurately. Fortunately for us in this day and age, gadgets are available that can do this that is slowly becoming more common in the battlefield in the form of LASER RANGEFINDERS. These devices use a laser beam and a computer to determine the correct horizontal direct distance to an object.

And not only that, these laser rangefinders are now incorporated into so-called INFANTRY FIRE CONTROL SYSTEMS (IFCS) that can be used with infantry weapons like Recoilless Rifles and Anti-Tank Rocket Launchers. The MAIN components of these IFCS are a SCOPE, LASER RANGEFINDER and BALLISTIC DATA COMPUTER (BDC) that allow soldiers to look at distant objects using the scope’s magnification, determine its range using the laser finder, and then that data (along with other factors) is used by the BDC to compute the correct lead needed to hit the target.

An Aimpoint FCS-12 in action. Photo courtesy of Aimpoint AB
An Aimpoint FCS-12 in action. Photo courtesy of Aimpoint AB

Examples of such IFCS are as follows:
Rheinmetall Vingfire, https://web.archive.org/web/20130412110136/http://www.rheinmetall-defence.com/en/media/editor_media/rm_defence/pdfs/produktpdfs/elektrooptischekomponenten/d526e0911_vingfire.pdf
Aimpoint FCS12 Fire Control System, https://web.archive.org/web/20150515050625/http://www.armyrecognition.com/united_states_military_equipment_uk/fcs12_aimpoint_fire_control_system_data_sheet_specifications_information_description_intelligence.html
IS2000 Laser Sight, https://web.archive.org/web/20150411021755/http://www.vinghog.com/vinghog/products/electro-optics/laser-sight-atw/

These systems would be the BEST available sights for the RPG-7 right now, but the main problem with these is their COSTS as they are prohibitively expensive, running into the tens of thousands of dollars, and would therefore be not a good match for the relatively “low-cost” USD 3,000 RPG-7USA.

‘Pocket Laser Rangefinders’
These IFCS could be approximated at less cost thru the use of the combination of POCKET LASER RANGEFINDERS (PLR) and the PGO-7 Sight.

PLRs are available commercially off the shelf and do the job of determining the range to the target, and are relatively cheap at “only” around USD 200. They are small, compact and light, allowing them to be easily and comfortably carried around by a soldier. Examples of these mini laser rangefinders are as follows, both of which have ranges of around 1,000m, a perfect match for the RPG-7’s maximum range:
Bushnell Team Primos The Truth ARC 4 x 20mm Bow Mode Laser Rangefinder, http://www.amazon.com/Bushnell-Primos-Truth-Laser-Rangefinder/dp/B00AU6DV0K/
Bushnell Yardage Pro Sport with Realtree AP Camo Laser Rangefinder, http://www.amazon.com/Bushnell-Yardage-Sport-Realtree-Rangefinder/dp/B00192M1TQ/

A Bushnell Yardage Pro Sport 450 Pocket Laser Rangefinder. Photo courtesy of Binocular.com
A Bushnell Yardage Pro Sport 450 Pocket Laser Rangefinder. Photo courtesy of Binocular.com

Although the RPG-7USA have picatinny rails that allow modern reflex sights to be used on the unit, I feel that the best sight for the RPG-7 will still be the original sight issued for it by the Soviet Union which is the PGO-7. The best feature of this sight with regards to the RPG-7 is its sight reticle which has RANGE and WIND CORRECTION reference lines designed to match with the ballistics of the RPG-7 ammunition.8 This is not something that modern reflex sights have, and the use of the PGO-7 sight would enable our soldiers to get the CORRECT LEAD for both RANGE and CROSSWIND and thus have better accuracy especially over long ranges.

A sample of the PGO-7's Sight Reticle. Photo courtesy of Ginu thru the GTA Forum
A sample of the PGO-7’s Sight Reticle. Photo courtesy of Ginu thru the GTA Forum

The PGO-7/PLR combination could be used this way: The Soviet Union training doctrine recommends a two-man team for the RPG-7, hence the Assistant Gunner could be tasked to spot and determine the range of the target using the PLR and then relay the information to the Main Gunner, who then uses the PGO-7 Optical Sight to determine the correct vertical lead to the target. Alternatively, the Main Gunner himself could to the rangefinding using the PLR and then switch to the RPG-7 and its PGO-7 sight.

A PGO-7 Sight. Photo courtesy of TX-Zen thru the AK Forum
A PGO-7 Sight. Photo courtesy of TX-Zen thru the AK Forum

‘Advanced Riflescopes’
Another option for sights for these RPG-7USA are advanced scopes for rifles, basically ones that act like mini-IFCS. These scopes have the same scope/laser rangefinder/BDC like the IFCS, but are not as sophisticated, like not having integrated Night Vision Capability, or are not Gyro-stabilized (better against moving targets), for example. But these rifle scopes will still be a major improvement compared to manual sights, and they are more ideal than the PGO-7/PLR combination because they are much more convenient, instead of using two separate equipment, soldiers will only get to use one equipment, and they could be MOUNTED on the picatinny rails of the RPG-7USA and used as the main scope.

Nowadays these are also available in retail, and relatively cheap at under USD 1,000 each. Here are some samples:
Burris Eliminator Laserscope, https://web.archive.org/web/20121127132247/http://www.burrisoptics.com/eliminator.html
Bushnell Yardage Pro Riflescope, https://web.archive.org/web/20140117201635/http://www.bushnell.com/all-products/laser-rangefinders/yardage-pro-riflescope
Nikon Laser IRT 4-12x42mm Riflescope, https://web.archive.org/web/20140104143350/http://www.chuckhawks.com/nikon_4-12x_laser_riflescope.htm

The only issue with these advanced scopes is that their BDCs are not optimized for the ballistic properties of the RPG-7 round, they are optimized for the ballistic properties of rifle rounds. This could possibly be overcome by:
– Working with the manufacturers to provide BDCs optimized for the RPG-7 rounds during bulk buys;
– Or the Army could re-program the BDCs themselves based on actual test results on the ballistic properties of the RPG-7 rounds.

If the Army can get those advanced Rifle Scopes to work with the RPG-7USA, it would be an excellent option.

A Burris Eliminator III Advanced Rifle Scope. Photo courtesy of the Black Ovis Website
A Burris Eliminator III Advanced Rifle Scope. Photo courtesy of the Black Ovis Website

‘Parting Shot’
Another issue to contend with the RPG-7 is its susceptibility to crosswinds, hence even with the use of PGO-7/PLR combination or advanced Riflescopes, training will have to be done so soldiers will have better estimation of wind speed and how to correct for it. But the use of these gadgets will SIMPLIFY training overall and improve the FIRST SHOT ACCURACY of the RPG-7, possibly AT LEAST doubling the 100% hit rate at zero wind conditions from 100 to 200 m.

There are reports that even more purchases are coming for these RPGs, and I suspect that this could be in connection with a possible conflict with China. Having hundreds if not thousands of RPGs would enable our infantry to have better firepower against a well-equipped enemy. Major superpowers like the United States and Russia found out the hard way in places like Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan how effective these RPG-7s are at inflicting casualties against them if they are available in large numbers to the opposing force.

At any rate, large numbers of RPGs will provide SUPERIOR firepower for our infantry over less-equipped opponents like Insurgents and Separatists, enabling our armed forces to have a better chance of success in confrontations while lessening casualties of their own.

Lastly, let me leave you with this Soviet Training video on the use of the RPG-7:

SOURCES:

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8 thoughts on “The Philippine Army’s Airtronic RPG-7USA and Sight Options”

  1. i still believe that we dont have to eliminate our recoilless rifles because regardless what the RPG advantage to accuracy its maximum range of only 950m, its operator is vulnerable to infantry assault weapons because he has to come closer to the target to get a better accuracy. precisely RPG operators has the most casualties in the field. i saw a lot of videos in you tube were RPG operators were cut down to pieces.

    we should have a balance of number of recoiless rifles and RPG in our inventory. after all, we still need the range of 2,100m of the recoilless rifle.

    1. I sincerely doubt our soldiers use the M67 Recoilless Rifles up to 1,500-2,000m using only manual sights. For that, you will need much better optics and better markmanship skills. As for the RPG-7, there is a way to deactivate the self-destruct mechanism of the round so it won’t explode at 920m and give it a much longer range, which is what some of the Syrian rebels are doing right now: http://rogueadventurer.com/2013/07/12/anti-assad-fighters-in-syria-modify-pg-7-projectiles/

      1. well the philippine marines i think has used their recoiless rifle effectively against the rebels. during operations specially in a company and battalion size the philippine marines will always have their recoiless rifles. it depends on a unit how they will employ their recoiless rifles. but the philippine marines made a full use of their recoiless rifles in any of their operations.

      2. I don’t think the Recoilless Rifles will be phased out completely, I suspect they will be mounted instead on vehicles, where their weight and size will be less of a problem. This will also provide firepower to our infantry vehicles, those that are not armed yet, like Humvees, M113s, etc. …

  2. since the philippine marines principle to employ heavy weaponry, the recoiless rifle was made in a full use. what i said again it really depends on a unit what is the principle and concept of warfare they will employ. if a unit feel that the recoilless rifle is only a burden to speed and maneuver because its heavy well really the recoiless rifle for them is useless. but it does not make sense, the U.S. still widely used the recoilless rifles as a matter of fact it is substitute for the TOW since sometimes its wire fails and in 2011 the recoilless rifle was re-introduce to the 101st division for used against fortification and concentration of enemy personnel. sometimes we have to realized that high tech weaponry also fail and once it fails in combat it is difficult to repair. this is the reason the U.S. armed forces realized that there is a need for substitute such as the mechanical recoilless rifle because they seldom fail.

    1. I think the SMAW and Carl Gustav Recoilless Rifles were too expensive and thus not too many were around, hence the US Armed Forces turned to M67s, M72 LAW and even these RPG-7USA to augment the number of Anti-Tank/Bunker weapons available to the soldiers.

    1. I am sure there are errors, but these equipment are from established scope manufacturers (Burris, Bushnell, etc.) hence I think they will be minimal and stated in the manual. I do agree on extensive testing first of a couple of parts, then document the results thru a report before deciding to buy more or not …

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