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Armbrust

Anti-tank rocket launcher

Armbrust

The Armbrust had many important innovations, though it was not a particularly powerful weapon for its size and era

 
 
Country of origin Germany
Entered service Late 1970s
Weapon caliber 67 mm
Weight 6.3 kg
Rocket weight 1 kg
Warhead HEAT or HE-FRAG
Length 850 mm
Muzzle velocity 210 m/s
Sighting range 300 m
Range of effective fire against tanks 300 m
Maximum range 1 500 m
Armor penetration 300 m

 

   The Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (now Dynamit Nobel) Armbrust is a man-portable anti-tank weapon of West German origin, manufactured primarily during the Cold War. It is a disposable, single-shot rocket launcher of minimal weight and volume, designed to be issued to as many riflemen as possible after a minimum of training. It was a media sensation, due to the array of advanced features it possessed, but paradoxically little has been published on the Armbrust's origins, production, or proliferation.

   MBB initiated the development of the Armbrust was in 1970, which was completed in the mid-1970s. It impressed the Bundeswehr, and was adopted by the West German military soon after development was completed. West Germany continued to produce the Armbrust into the late 1980s, by which time it had been passed-on to several other nations.

   Armbrust is German for "Crossbow", and the name of the weapon is quite fitting, considering the historic context. During the Middle Ages, the crossbow was a weapon that was extremely lethal, capable of penetrating armor, and very easy to manufacture and use, giving common foot soldiers an equalizer against the armored knight. Furthermore the Armbrust has also been marketed under the name "Crossbow". Today, disposable anti-tank rocket launchers provide infantry with an equalizer against tanks, allowing them to engage armor while keeping their distance (less than many other weapons, but certainly more than a thrown anti-tank grenade allows for).

   The launch tube is a straight and nondescript long, narrow cylinder, with a flared and fluted muzzle brake and a double-flared venturi. A rectangular assembly on the base of the launcher contains a folding, half-tube shaped pistol grip, the trigger group (which is covered by the pistol grip while it is folded), a carrying handle that doubles as an aftergrip when the launcher is shouldered. At the other end of the fixture is a folding butt plate (which is apparently not always lowered), and a canvas carrying strap is attached to the fore and aft ends of this assembly.

   The sight mount is attached to the left side of the tube, and consequently, the Armbrust may only be fired from the right shoulder. It is mounted on a large, rectangular, block-like fixture, which is sloped on its aft side to provide relief for the operator's face. The sight itself is a flip-up reflex type with external illumination for use at night and in other low-visibility situations, and a maximum sighting range of 300 m (though it is possible to hit targets at much greater distances, albeit with the only aiming reference being the user's best judgment). No other optics are available for the Armbrust, though a clip-on laser sight can be attached.

   The entire launcher is made from inexpensive fiberglass, plastic, and alloys, and it cannot be reloaded by hand, so there is no need to keep it after the rocket is launched. In practice, the launcher is discarded as soon as the rocket reaches its target, and isn't recovered until long after the battle.

   The Armbrust is pretty special. It is the first modern recoilless weapon to employ a countermass, which virtually eliminates the backblast. The heart of the operating principle of the Armbrust involves two pistons built into the launch tube; one forward and one aft of the rocket. The aft piston ejects a countermass behind the rocket, which disperses the force of the backblast into a canister containing 5 000 shredded plastic chips (which are turned into a cloud of plastic *particles* when the rocket is fired). This is similar to the operating principle of the First World War-era Davis Gun, a recoilless gun that also used a countermass (though the Davis-gun used an amalgam of grease and birdshot, rather than plastic chips).

   The Armbrust also has the unprecedented feature of a venturi and muzzle that seal the instant the rocket leaves the tube, making it smokeless, flashless, and no louder than a pistol shot when fired. The countermass eliminates fan of debris created by the backblast, and also allows the Armbrust to be fired from inside confined spaces. The danger area behind the Armbrust is only a few meters in area, so the operator can fire it from a confined space, such as a pillbox or a small room, and it is safe to fire the weapon even if there is a tall vertical obstacle such as a wall directly behind the operator --- though at least 0.8 m of relief is still required to safely fire the weapon. The forward piston projects the rocket from the tube as it launches, and both the forward and aft pistons seal both ends of the tube, preventing nearly all of the smoke and flash of the launch from leaving it.

   Between the countermass, and the muzzle seals, the Armbrust is effectively smokeless, flashless, blastless, safe to fire from a confined space, and quieter than a typical pistol shot. As a result, soldiers operating the Armbrust have significantly greater engagement options against tanks than allowed for with most other anti-tank rocket weapons. And while these capabilities are no longer unique, the Armbrust was the first weapon to combine them all into one package.

   In operational service, the Armbrust seems to have a strange knack for ending up in the hands of factions that ostensibly shouldn't have them. Notably, it was first used in combat by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s, during the Cambodian-Vietnamese War. In May of 1992, during the Yugoslav Civil War, Germany send 2 000 Armbrusts to Croatia in May of 1992, and another batch was sent to Slovenia during their 1991 War of Independence as well. The Provisional IRA also attempted to reverse-engineer the Armbrust, resulting in a crudely-built weapon known as the "PRIG", which was nonetheless effective in destroying at least one British armored vehicle during The Troubles. Armbrusts have also been encountered by Coalition forces in Iraq, usually in weapon caches, and it is still unclear as to who was supplying them, as well as how and when they got there.

   The Armbrust has been manufactured by MBB in Germany, PRB in Belgium, and Chartered Industries (later ST Kinetics) in Singapore. Its known operators are Albania, Belgium, Brunei, Cambodia, Chile, Croatia, Germany, Indonesia, Kosovo, Mauritius, the Philippines, Singapore, and Slovenia. Non-state groups have also used the Armbrust, but there is no evidence that it was ever abundant among them.

   It is unclear exactly when the Armbrust entered service, as publications on the weapon don't mention specific dates. Similarly, it is also unclear when production of the Armbrust began and ended, except that STI's licensed production in Singapore began in 1988. The unit cost is unknown, though new Armbrusts are no longer offered.

 

Variants

 

   Armbrust AT: Basic production model, loaded with a rocket bearing a shaped charge warhead.

   Armbrust AP: Standard launcher loaded with a rocket carrying an HE-FRAG warhead, for use against personnel and soft targets.

   Armbrust Ub: Training versions of the Armbrust, loaded with an inert projectile.

   Armbrust SC: Reloadable training version, carrying a reloadable spotting rifle. The rifle has a tube life of over 1000 rounds.

   AC300 Jupiter: Reloadable version of the Armbrust. It is unclear if this model ever entered service.

   PRIG: The operating method of the Projected Recoilless Improvised Grenade is based on that of the Armbrust, but its construction was not; the PRIG was welded together from whatever satisfactory metal pieces that could be scavenged, and launched a rocket whose hull was a tin can. Reputedly, its muzzle report was even quieter than that of the Armbrust!

   MATADOR: The MATADOR (Man-portable Anti-Tank, Anti-DOoR) rocket launcher is joint project between Germany, Israel, and Singapore. This a dual-purpose weapon that evolved from on the Armbrust, with both an anti-tank setting and an anti-structure setting.

 

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