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DARD 120

Anti-tank rocket launcher

DARD 120

The largely forgotten DARD 120 is one of the most powerful anti-tank rocket launchers ever fielded

 
 
Country of origin France
Entered service Mid 1980s (?)
Caliber 120 mm
Launcher weight 4.5 kg
Rocket weight (including container) 5.5 kg
Weight (loaded, with scope) 11 kg
Length (launch unit only) 760 mm
Length (assembled weapon) 1 800 mm
Muzzle velocity 280 m/s
Practical rate of fire 1 round per minute
Sighting range (day) ?
Sighting range (night) 400 m
Range of effective fire (against tanks) 600 m
Range of effective fire (against stationary targets) ~ 1 000 m
Armor penetration 850 mm RHAe

 

   The DARD 120 is a man-portable anti-tank rocket launcher. A product of the French company SEP (the Societe Europeenne de Propulsion, now part of SNECMA), it is one of the most powerful weapons of its class, and reputedly penetrates more armor than any other unguided man-portable anti-tank weapon ever built. Although despite its incredible power, very little information has ever been published on the DARD 120, making it a surprisingly obscure weapon --- until now. It is also referred to by many sources as the "Dard 120", so the proper capitalization of the name is unclear.

   The program to develop what would become the DARD 120 began in 1978, in response to the increasingly better-armored Soviet tanks then being introduced, such as the T-72 and T-80. The French government issued a request for proposals to the national industry for a much more powerful infantry anti-tank weapon than the LRAC F1 then in service, and SEP was one of the competing firms that took up the gauntlet. The initial design was for a weapon that --- for all intents and purposes --- was little more than a clone of the LRAC F1, in a slightly larger 95 mm bore. Dubbed the DARD 90 (and also referred to alternately as the AC 1000), it unsurprisingly did not have a significant improvement in performance over the weapon already in service. In an unusually audacious move, SEP decided to compensate for the DARD 90's indifferent firepower by increasing the bore diameter by a whopping 21% (25 mm), to 120 mm. Scaling-up the DARD 90 took some time, but the resulting DARD 120 had outstanding range and power for its class.

   The effort ultimately didn't pay-off though; when the DARD 120 faced Luchaire's Jupiter 300 and GIAT's APILAS in 1981, it was the APILAS was declared the winner in 1983. It was an odd decision on the French Army's part, as the APILAS was nearly as large and heavy as a loaded DARD 120 (despite being a disposable weapon, unlike its competitors), it was bombastically loud, the range was much shorter, and the exhaust from the rocket tended to burn the user's face (broader shock absorbers and a face shield were later added to combat the exhaust problem). In terms of capability, the Army had chosen the loser, but it appears from information from various publications that the French armed forces ultimately did acquire the DARD 120 after all --- though the numbers and application were never stated.

   In appearance, the DARD 120 could be described as a giant LRAC F1, although the two are otherwise unrelated. The complete weapon is composed of two halves; the launcher, and the ammunition container. The container is loaded directly into the breech of the launcher, and when the two are joined, it becomes the rear half of the complete weapon. There are three different configurations for the launcher that have been publicized, and it is unclear what order these designs were presented in, or which of these (or perhaps all) represents the production model of the launcher. They are referred to below as the first, second, and third versions, although it isn't clear what order they were developed in.

   The first version, seen in SEP's brochure, has a launch tube with two distinct sections, with a much thicker breech section, and a short and very thin thermal sleeve extension on it, giving the launcher a stepped appearance. The muzzle is surrounded by a bracket, featuring a partial "beard"-like shock absorber on the underside, a hooded sight on the upper-left side, and a sling swivel on the right side. The breech section has a metal pistol grip with a hinged safety lever covering the back of the grip and an exposed trigger with no guard on the underside, while a simple cylindrical foregrip is fitted to the lower-left side of the breech, just in front of the trigger. A bracket for mounting a telescopic sight is fitted to the upper left side of the breech, almost at the aft end. The aft sling swivel is located on the left side of the breech section, above and to the left of the trigger. It is unclear if the muzzle or breech have covers in this version.

   The second version was, rather awkwardly in hindsight, also featured in the SEP brochure. It is extremely similar to the first, but has no iron sights or shock absorbers, a collapsible wire skeleton shoulder rest is extendable from the pistol grip in place of the foam rubber shoulder pad, and a simple rectangular foregrip molded to the underside in front of the trigger group replaces the jutting foregrip from the first model. The breech section and the thermal sleeve are now a single piece, with a new bottleneck shape.

   The seldom seen third version is clearly a later development of the second, with a more futuristic appearance, and appears to be the final draft of the DARD 120's evolution. It still has no iron sights or submachine gun-style foregrip, and a new knob-like fixture has been added to top of the breech section near the scope mount. The foregrip is now long, bulky, and rectangular, and extends along the bottom of the weapon from the trigger group all the way to the muzzle. The pistol grip and shoulder rest are now plastic, narrow, and relatively straight, and are joined as one U-shaped structure by a baseplate. Also, while the first and second versions were presented in a dull green-gray color, the third version's barrel and ammunition container were instead sand-colored.

   The ammunition container is cylindrical, with four brackets, a sling stretching between swivels on two of the farthest-apart brackets, and two simple caps covering either end. The container is issued with a shock absorber on each end, which are easily removed and must be discarded prior to loading. The container is hermetically sealed, is airtight and has limited waterproofing, and is not designed to be opened; the rocket is fired directly out of the container through the launcher, after which the empty tube is immediately discarded. On the first version of the DARD 120, a large sloped shoulder pad is also visibly included, though the container otherwise appears almost identical in all versions. All versions include a simple rocket-shaped decal, as a quick visual reference for which end to load into the launcher, and removable octagonal covers that double as shock absorbers when fitted.

   Rather appropriately, the projectile has an exceptionally threatening appearance. The nose is long, steep, and conical, ending in a sharp point, while the main body of the explosive charge behind it is cylindrical with a boat tail. The motor section has a narrower forward segment with eight blade-like folding fins that spring-out as the projectile leaves the tube, and a very large cylindrical thrust nozzle with octagonal contours.

   The first variant of the DARD 120 is the only model with iron sights. A hooded front blade sight is visible in published photos of this version, but it is unclear what type of rear sight is used. The sighting range for the iron sight is up to 300 m, though the minimum range and range increments have not been published. A variety of telescopic sights, including both day and night sights, have also been offered; these extend the effective range of the DARD 120 to between 500 m and 600 m, depending on the sight model in question.

   The launcher has a thin fiberglass outer shell, but is primarily composed of Kevlar; an all-fiberglass tube is apparently too weak to cope with the forces at work when it launches the huge 120 mm rocket. The remaining composition appears to differ between the three different variants. The pistol grip, trigger, scope mount, and brackets in the first and second version are made of metal (probably steel), as is the wire skeleton shoulder rest on the second model and the integral sights in the first model. The ammunition containers have a similar composition, with the addition of foam rubber shock absorbers. The composition of the rocket itself is unknown, but given the intense forces it operates under, it is probably made mostly of steel. The weapon is rated for operating temperatures of -31C to +51C, and the manufacturer claims it may be used reliably in both desert and arctic conditions.

   The 3.3 kg 120 mm rocket launched by the DARD 120 has a 1.9 kg shaped charge warhead rated to penetrate 850 mm of Rolled Homogenous Armor (RHA), or 2 250 mm of concrete. This is easily enough penetration to destroy any main battle tank in service or development today, even through its strongest armor. Both Explisive Reactive Armor (ERA) and Non-Explosive Reactive Armor (NERA) would offer little protection from the DARD 120 as well, if it hits the rear or flank armor of an MBT. Although the size and power of the DARD 120's rocket is superfluous, it isn't louder to launch than most of its contemporaries; according to SEP, the muzzle report is less than 180 db. Another indication of the power of the DARD 120 is the charge used to launch the projectile; most other launchers use a black-powder charge, but the DARD 120 instead uses a double-based cordite charge with a significantly more powerful and rapid gas expansion. The rocket is also exceptionally fast, especially following further acceleration after launch; it reaches a distance of 300 m (the maximum range of the first variant's iron sights) in only 1.05 seconds, and achieves a 600 m range in 2.1 seconds. The accuracy of the rocket in crosswinds and rough weather (essentially a worse case scenario) is said to be 6 square meters.

   The operating procedure and backblast area of the DARD 120 have not been published, though it is known to be a very simple weapon to operate, with design features that greatly minimize the backblast. Specifically, the DARD 120 employs a split breechblock system in its ammunition containers, which dramatically decreases the force of the backblast. This not only greatly reduces the smoke, flash, and visual signature (from dust and debris thrown into the air) of the backblast, but also reduces its force enough that the weapon may be fired from locations that are normally too dangerous for anti-tank rocket launcher. Specifically, it is safe to fire the DARD 120 in front of high vertical obstacles close to the venturi (which the shockwave from the backblast can rebound from, and potentially injure the user[s]) and from relatively confined spaces (such as from a large room in the upper floor of a building), allowing troops using this weapon to fire it from more effective cover and concealment normally available. The version used in the DARD 120 is also notable for being a type of countermass (such as those used in the Davis Gun, the Armbrust, the Wasp 58, the AT4-CS, and so on); the countermass is located inside, "split" in the breechblock, and unlike the canisters of plastic chips common in most modern countermasses, the DARD 120 uses a disintegrating container filled with powder. The composition of that powder has not been stated in any literature on this weapon.

   Although the scarcity of published information on the DARD 120 is surprising, its lack of popularity is perhaps less so. It could be said that this weapon is just too much "rocket launcher" for its own good, as it not only has the range and penetration of many man-portable anti-tank guided missiles, but also their unwieldy size and weight as well. And unlike a weapon such as the Kornet or the FGM-148 Javelin, the trajectory of the DARD 120's projectile is unchangeable after it is launched. It could thus be said that the DARD 120 is "a solution in search of a problem", although similarly-sized equivalent weapons have nonetheless achieved greater success (see below). In short, it is basically neither fish nor fowl; a weapon that lacks the range or guidance needed to be competitive with anti-tank guided missiles, and also the compactness or simplicity needed to be competitive with other anti-tank rocket launchers.

   France was the first nation to procure the DARD 120 in the early 1980s, but it is unclear in what capacity, or if any other nations have operated it. It is probable that Nigeria bought DARD 120s as well; in his 2016 autobiography ("The Peaceful Combatant: A Bloody Conflict Through the Eyes of a Peacekeeper"), Nigerian Army veteran Sanya Aina recounts the use of one during firefight in West Africa in the early 2000s.

   The current status of the DARD 120 in operational service is unknown, but it appears to have been discontinued in production and development. Likewise, the unit cost also does not appear to have been published.

 

Related weapons

 

   DARD 90: This was SEP's initial prototype for what became the DARD 120, with a smaller 95 mm bore. The DARD 120 is essentially an oversized DARD 90.

   Jupiter 300: Luchaire's submission to the competition was an improved version of the LRAC F1, chambered to fire a much larger and more powerful rocket. Unlike its competitors, the Jupiter 300 did not achieve any sales.

   APILAS: GIAT's submission was this 112 mm anti-tank rocket launcher, which unlike its competitors was a disposable weapon. The APILAS won the competition, and was overwhelmingly more successful in production and service than the DARD 120.

 

Similar weapons

 

   M90 Strsljen: Joint Serbian-Macedonian 120 mm disposable anti-tank rocket launcher, also known as the RBR-120. It is often compared to the DARD 120, and sometimes claimed to be a derivative, but the launcher and projectile are visibly dissimilar.

   PF-98: Chinese 120 mm disposable anti-tank rocket launcher, also known as the Type 98. However, it is closer in configuration to the M90 Strsljen than the DARD 120.

 

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