Country of origin
HEAT or HE-FRAG
Range of effective fire against tanks
1 500 m
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
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).
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Basic production model, loaded with a rocket bearing a shaped charge
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
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
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