The Diplomatic District of Kabul, Afghanistan is under attack right now. Reports are that the area—including the US Embassy— is taking heavy RPG fire. But what is an RPG, exactly?
RPGs are weapons primarily intended to combat tanks. They consist of a warheads attached to rocket motors, which are ignited and discharged from a launcher tube. They're also effective against armored personnel carriers, aircraft (if you've got particularly good aim), and basically anything that's too well-protected for dinky little bullets.
RPGs were created by the USSR military just after World War II for use against the US military. The RPG first saw widespread action in Vietnam, and has been utilized in pretty much any major conflict since then. The most popular model, the RPG-7, was designed in the '60s, and over 9,000,000 have been made. Requiring 85mm rounds, the RPG-7 is revered because it is light (only 15 pounds), reloadable, relatively cheap, and most crucial, effective. There are also similar models that were developed by Germany (Panzerfaust), China (Type 69 RPG), and the US (M72, MK-153, M136).
According to weapons enthusiast Gary Brecher, the RPG has been used to bring down everything from tanks, to choppers, to APCs. In Vietnam, the RPG-7 could turn the M113 APC into a box of molten shrapnel. The Afghans found a way to exploit the self-destruct safety features in the warhead so that it would achieve an airburst when launched at choppers (a feature normally found in more expensive weaponry). Plus, the effect of the blast can confuse and stun those on the receiving end.
Because of the cost-effectiveness and portability, not to mention accessibility, RPGs are a favorite weapon of insurgent forces. They were used by Afghanistan in the 80s (when they were fighting the Soviets, ironically), by Chechens fighting post-communist Russia in 1994, and even by Iraqi insurgents fighting the US. And in addition to the aforementioned contries, they're commonly used by military factions in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Argentina, Brazil, Libya, China, Egypt, and Rwanda, just to name a few. They're the little black dress of weapons: everyone's got them, and they're good for almost any occasion.
The biggest manufacturer of RPGs is a firm in Russia called Basalt. They manufacture a handful of RPG-7 variations along with at least a dozen other models ranging from the RPG-16 to the RPG-30. Other RPG manufactures include the Brazilian firm Avibras, Mexico's military wing SEDENA and the Jordanian-based JRESCO. There's even an american manufacturer, Airtronics, that makes a variation of the RPG-7.
One of the newest RPG models is the RPG-32, which was developed by the Jordanian government, uses a 105mm caliber round, fires at 140 m/s, and has a 200m effective range and are made for combat against tanks with explosive reactive armor (a damage-reducing technology). Which is to say: it makes a real nice boom. [Defense Update, World Guns, Military Photos, Wikipedia]
Image via Michal Manas