Developed by Germany as an antitank weapon in World War II, the Panzerfaust shoulder-launched weapon (SLW), manufactured by Dynamit Nobel Defense, is becoming increasingly effective against a range of targets, both in its traditional role as a portable weapon and mounted on platforms on land and at sea.
Dedicated antitank versions with fire-control systems such as the Panzerfaust 3 and bunker-busting Bunkerfaust have evolved into disposable multipurpose weapons with add-on devices. Examples include the lightweight RGW 60, the RGW 90 with different warheads, and the Effector 90 mm. (For a report on developments in rocket-propelled grenade launchers, see DTI October, p. 44.)
Herbert Weisshaupt, director of business development at Dynamit Nobel Defense, says the weight of the weapon has been reduced to 10 kg (22 lb.) from 12.8 kg, and length to 1 meter (3.3 ft.) from 1.2 meters, which makes them easier to carry and operate. Accuracy is improved by a sustainer rocket motor in the projectile, which neutralizes crosswind and extends range to 1,200 meters without increasing thrust. Range figures quoted by the German military were 400 meters against a stationary target and 300 meters for a moving target.
Since the weapons are recoilless, they can be fired from enclosures at close range—as little as 10 meters—making the SLWs suitable for urban operations. A variety of targets can be engaged by using multipurpose warheads with selectable modes, and fire-control units (FCU) can be added to increase range and hit probability. Night-vision devices are routinely used to provide targeting capabilities in low light and at night.
The versatility of the SLW is evident in the RGW 90. The weapon can fire high-explosive antitank (HEAT) rounds, high-explosive squash heads (HESH), multipurpose blast rounds, antistructure munitions, wall-breaching rounds and long-range multipurpose rounds. Accuracy, hit probability and daytime range have been improved with the same optical sight as used on the Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifle. Zeiss of Germany, Simrad Optronics of Norway and Opticoelectron Group of Bulgaria supply night sights with identification ranges of more than 500 meters. Opgal Optronics Industries of Israel and Dynamit Nobel have also developed an infrared sight.
The German military's multirole shoulder-launched support weapon for infantry (Mehrrollenfahige Schultergestutzte Unterstutzungswaffe Infanterie) concept includes the use of an RGW 90 with HEAT rounds, an RGW 60 with HEAT rounds or HESH, and Bunkerfaust and Effector 90-mm SLWs with high-explosive, smoke and illumination rounds. Weisshaupt says that the Bunkerfaust performed well in Afghanistan against 80-mm-thick (3-in.) adobe walls.
Weisshaupt envisions SLWs being mounted on remotely operated weapon stations (ROWS) for operations in urban terrain or border control. In the latter role, multiple launchers would be on tripods and networked by wire or a radio data link to a central control unit. SLWs can also be integrated into a variety of ROWS in parallel with their existing weaponry (i.e., machine guns) and using their FCUs. In such cases, ballistics would be comparable to an automatic grenade launcher, he says.
In naval applications, multiple RGW 90s can be mounted on platforms such as Rafael's Typhoon stabilized weapon station, with a sensor head with forward-looking infrared, TV, laser range finder and auto tracker, and slaved to a ship's fire control. One benefit of this would be the ability to target and destroy explosives-laden small craft operated by terrorists. Weisshaupt says that with low signatures and unpredictable courses, such vessels are especially dangerous in harbors. Moreover, it is difficult to engage these targets at long range in the confined and often crowded space of a harbor, and the boats cannot be easily sunk or disabled by machine guns or cannons firing medium-caliber ammunition if they are less than 50 meters away.
Weisshaupt says the RGW 90 is the ideal “weapon of choice” for this scenario. It is sealed and thus protected against water and other environmental conditions, has high muzzle velocity, is insensitive to cross wind or turbulence, is easy to adapt to external safety, arming and triggering devices, and has a large enough warhead to destroy a small boat with one shot.