Since 2002 the Polish Army has been equipped with guided anti-tank Spike-LR, Israeli made missiles, manufactured by the Rafael company. Nonetheless, Poland still lacks modern multi-purpose anti-tank weapons at the level of an infantry team. Only the Special Forces were able to get rid of that problem.
Potential procurement of single-use or reusable anti-tank grenade launchers depends on many factors, including the following issues: time (how quick do we want to equip our army), funds (how much we are willing to spend), support on the side of the national defence industry (own product, licensed products), tactical concepts (single-use, reusable individual weapon, team weapon) etc.
The best solution would be to acquire modern anti-tank weaponry, in sufficient quantity, along with a large supply of a variety of munitions (including anti-tank ammo of course). Manufacturing such weapons in Poland would also be beneficial. Unfortunately, Poland has not yet taken any steps to resolve this issue (even though the problem was approached several times in the past). It is hard to expect that now, with all the defence spending plans being executed, acquisition of large quantities of modern grenade launchers would be possible, in order to equip the army infantry with a proper anti-tank weapon.
It seems that, so far, 2-step concept would be a reasonable compromise, where step 1 would be an indirect and quick solution, based on the current equipment and step 2 – the target solution – would aim at selecting and consistently acquiring the desired anti-tank (support) weaponry and dedicated ammo and projectiles.
1. Step 1 – RPG-7 and RPG-76 – To be done now
The Polish Army still uses large quantities of the RPG-7 grenade launchers. Nevertheless, lack of modern ammo for this weapon disqualifies it as an effective anti-tank solution. RPG-7 may be used to destroy light combat vehicles or fortified points. In case of tanks RPG has a limited use, since the tactical conditions need to be favourable in order to provide effective application.
Effectiveness of the RPG-7 depends on two basic components – the sight and the ammo. When it comes to the grenades, in the mid-80's the Military Technical Institute of Armament (Wojskowy Instytut Techniczny Uzbrojenia – WITU) in Zielonka has developed a family of new projectiles, but the Army did not get involved in the programme.
Back in 2003 WITU made another attempt at creating modern and effective projectiles for the RPG-7 launchers, together with Dezamet S.A. Mechanical Works from Nowa Dębia. PG-7M projectiles with a modified HEAT warhead, PG-7MT with a HEAT-tandem warhead, PG-7MT HEAT-fragmentation warhead, PG-7OD and OG-7M fragmentation warheads and finally, fuel-air PG-7TB warhead have been created. After the idea of cooperating with Bulgaria has been abandoned, WITU started to work together with a German Dynamit Nobel Defence company. The German 90 mm tandem charge HEAT warhead has been a basis for the PG-7MT1 projectile, which expanded the capabilities of the launchers within the scope of anti-tank usage. Other new projectiles have been developed as well – HEAT-fragmentation variant – KO-7M; and smoke variant – DG-7M; the aiming sight has also been modernized. As we can see, a decision and proper funding is enough to create new ammunition for the RPG-7, which would provide enhanced capabilities within the scope of destroying tanks or being an effective support weapon.
Some opinions exist, claiming that RPG-7 is an obsolete weapon, used solely by the irregular forces. Taking that into account, we should note that RPG with a modern set of projectiles is still a dangerous grenade launcher. In 2001 the Russians modernized RPG again in a form of RPG-7W2 (index – GRAU 6G3-2). This weapon has been equipped with the UP-7W universal sight. There are some rumors, according to which, during the Iraq war back in 2003, RPG-7 was used (along with a Tandem HEAT PG-7WR warhead) to effectively destroy an M1A1 Abrams MBT (side penetration). The tactical point of view may suggest that equipping an infantry team with a single anti-tank weapon may not be enough. Even when the soldiers have an access to a variety of projectiles, it is still being a single firing point, along with all the specific limitations that are related to such tactical approach. Hence it seems that using a single-use grenade launchers may be an alternative solution. The reasonable transitional plan would involve using the RPG-76 Komar launcher, which was used by the Polish Task Forces in Iraq and Afghan theatres. It is a light and relatively effective weapon and it has one more benefit – it may be safely launched from the interior of any vehicle.
It has been estimated that ca. 90-100 thousand RPG-76 Komars are stored in the Army warehouses. They have been withdrawn and stored due to lack of a detonator equipped with a self-liquidator. Re-equipping the Polish soldiers with RPG-76 would require development of a safe detonator. It is not a problematic task, since such initiative has been undertaken back in 2009. This is a quick and cost-effective solution.
2. Step 2 – To be done tomorrow
The second, target, step, which is to be undertaken in the near future, should involve procurement and implementation of modern grenade launchers in the Polish Army. Simultaneous use of two types of launchers seems to be reasonable – meaning heavy, reusable launchers and single-use light launchers.
Decision regarding the choice of the given equipment shall be motivated with tactical needs, and specific characteristics of the launchers, and, which may be considered to be a key factor here, participation of the Polish industry in the procurement process. Considering the financial limitations and potential tactical concepts, the solution described above may be considered, namely using a reusable heavy launcher on the platoon or company levels and single-use ones on the team level. The former ones would be transferred to the team from a higher level (e.g. platoon's anti-tank section), while the latter would be passed to the soldiers depending on needs analysis, tasks, etc. This flexible approach would make it possible to equip teams with a larger quantity of modern support and anti-tank weapons, even at the expense of another team, which is temporarily operationally “excluded”.
Selection of the weapon shall be preceded with a detailed needs and capability analysis. Carl Gustaf M3, single-use AT-4 (CS), Panzerfaust-3 (IT600) and other weapons may be considered an option. By connecting good performance along with an international cooperation, foreign and Polish R&D think tanks may work together. 90 mm RGW-90 (MATADOR) is a perfect example of such cooperation. It is capable to penetrate a 500 mm RHA armor plate, with hardness of 330-380 HB30 in HESH mode. This weapon, in cooperation with Dynamit Nobel Defence, is offered by the Dezamet company from Nowa Dęba. Back in 2008 the Polish MoD was interested in this weapon. But the interest was everything that was done.
3. Step 3 (as an option) – to be done on the day after tomorrow
After the Army needs within the scope of providing the new anti-tank weapons are fulfilled, another step may be considered. Namely, developing, testing and purchasing of modern, Polish-made anti-tank weapons. The beneficial impact of such solution on development of the Polish science and industry seems to be obvious. At the moment such solution is quite far-fetched, it would – that does not mean it must – significantly prolong the implementation of the launcher in the Polish Army (procedures, tests, decisions, production, process-related problems etc.).
It may also be assumed that, if enough time for research is provided (that’s why this steep is step 3), along with funding, clear requirements on the side of the Army and finally foreign support, such multi-purpose anti-tank weapon may be designed in Poland.
Author – graduate of the Historical Instiute of the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. Military journalist, author, contributor working for the professional magazines in the field. Author of books published by WarBook publishing house.