Country of origin
Rate of fire
Range of effective fire (against static targets)
~ 150 m (?)
The RPO Rys
("Lynx") is a reloadable rocket-propelled flamethrower
weapon developed in the 1970s by the Soviet Union. It was one of the
earliest weapons of its type, and also one of the largest and most
The Soviet Army's interest in an RPG-type weapon as a potential
replacement for their flamethrowers dates back to at least the early
1970s, and was no likely influenced by the performance of the
US-made XM191 in Southeast Asia. Their experience
with flamethrowers in World War 2 had been rather bleak, and it was
becoming increasingly clear that flowstream flamethrowers were
dangerously inadequate for most combat tasks. This created a dilemma
for the Soviet armed forces, as experience had also shown that flame
weapons were an extremely valuable asset on the battlefield. An
with a napalm filler potentially offered a solution to this
dilemma, as it would eliminate most of the safety, survivability,
and range shortfalls that had always plagued the conventional flowstream flamethrower.
Work on what would become the RPO began in 1972, and
development proceeded quickly, with the initial field tests taking
place in 1974. The RPO Rys was officially adopted in 1975, and by
1979, it was in widespread service throughout the Soviet armed
forces. The timing of the RPO's entry into service couldn't have
been much more serendipitous either, as it became operational just
in time to participate in the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, where
it was no doubt a weapon of choice.
The RPO Rys resembles a greatly enlarged
RPG-29 (they do in
fact share a few common components, but are otherwise unrelated),
and like the latter is a 2-piece weapon consisting of a separate
launch tube and ammunition tube. The launcher is long and
cylindrical, with a rifle-like pistol grip section forward and a
slightly flared venturi aft. The trigger mechanism with a wooden
pistol grip and foregrip is the same as used on the
A collapsible bipod is fitted to the underside of the muzzle, and
both the launch tube and ammunition tube each have their own sling.
There are 5 brackets on the barrel; the first holds the bipod and
the launch tube's forward swing swivel; the second fastens the front
of the trigger mechanism to the launcher tube; the third fastens the
trigger mechanism to the launcher tube, and also carries the aft
sling swivel for that tube, and the sights; the fourth joins the
launcher and ammunition tubes together when the weapon is loaded,
and holds the forward sling swivel for the ammunition tube; and the
fifth secures the ammunition tube's main barrel and venturi
together, and also hold the aft sling swivel for that tube. A simple
black rubber shock absorber is mounted on the muzzle, while the aft
shock absorber is painted metal. Both the launch tube and ammunition
tube are typically painted a yellow-green color.
Sources on the RPO are unclear about the weapon's
composition, but it appears to have a lightweight steel or aluminum
launch tube, while the sights and grips are made of plastic. The
rocket containers are likely made of reinforced fiberglass. The RPO
Rys reportedly has a tube life of 100 rounds fired.
The caliber of the RPO Rys has been quoted by some sources as
122 mm, but the rocket itself has a diameter of 93 mm; the confusion
might stem from the diameter of the entire launcher itself, which is
closer to the greater figure.
Rockets for the RPO Rys are issued in launch containers,
which are attached to the chamber of the launch unit to form the
complete weapon. The container is not designed to be opened by hand,
and the rocket inside is not meant to be removed. The rocket is
launched directly from a loaded launch container, which is then
discarded. The container is hermetically sealed, waterproof, and
shock-resistant, but is not designed to be left submerged in water
or handled roughly.
The projectile itself is highly unusual in shape, with a
ventilated cylindrical body, a flat nose, and four "wraparound"
conformal fins that spring into position when the projectile leaves
the launcher. A bell-shaped rocket motor trails the projectile body
itself, and the two are joined by four struts.
The warhead contains 4 liters of napalm, weighing about 4 kg.
The area affected by the detonation and resulting spatter of
napalm filler is conical in shape, 4 m wide at the base, and
approximately 30 m long. The resulting fire continuously burns for up
to 2 minutes, at temperatures of up to 1 200 degrees Celsius. The viscous and
jelly-like state of napalm causes this incendiary agent to easily
adhere to objects, people, and terrain as it burns, making it useful
for a wide range of combat scenarios. Just as when napalm is
projected by flow-stream flamethrowers, it is most effective when
fired into confined areas, such as pillboxes, trenches, and small
structures. The warhead can also be used to set fire to vegetation
from a distance, either to deny concealment to the enemy, or to
flush them out.
The RPO Rys is most effective against structures, softskin
vehicles, heavy foliage, and personnel in the open. It can also be
employed against armored vehicles, particularly wheeled vehicles
with rubber tires, though defeating a full-track vehicle usually
requires a direct hit on the engine grille (causing burning napalm
to spray into the engine compartment), or close to an open hatch. As
the drivers and commanders of armored fighting vehicle crews generally stand in open
hatches for maximum all-round visibility, they are especially
vulnerable. However, a buttoned-up main battle tank charging in an
attack profile is unlikely to be affected by the RPO, and attacking
a formation of them with such a weapon is inadvisable for obvious
The RPO may be fired from standing, kneeling, or prone
positions. When firing from a prone position, the operator must be
aim the weapon 60 degrees off-axis, to avoid being wounded by the
backblast. The launcher is typically issued to a specialist operator
along with 2 rounds of ammunition, often with additional rounds
carried by other accompanying soldiers.
The backblast of the RPO is apparently quite spectacular,
likely owing to its large caliber. The "danger area" (within which
personnel will suffer serious injury) extends directly behind the
launcher out to 45 m, but it is unclear how wide an angle this area
is (probably 45 degrees, given the angle the launcher much be turned
to for a safe launch from a prone position), or how far the "caution
area" behind it extends.
Russian Army literature further indicate that the RPO Rys
should not be fired when unsecured objects are within 3 m of the venturi, if a vertical terrain feature is within 6 m behind the venturi, or if a vertical terrain feature is within 1 m to either
side of the weapon. Further prohibited are firing from an unprepared
position on flat ground' at targets within 20m of the firing
position; from a prone position out to a range of beyond 200 m; or
from a kneeling position at targets beyond 400 m. Only personnel
qualified on the weapon are to manipulate or operate it, the weapon
is only to be transported when all the mandated covers and seals are
in place, and the RPO and its ammunition are not to be stored in
civilian structures, administrative buildings, barracks, or
warehouses for artillery ammunition. It is strictly forbidden for
personnel to field-strip the weapon (maintenance is presumably
carried-out by workshop staff), to remove the projectiles from their
launch container under any circumstances, to immerse launch
containers into water or allow them to sustain any structural
damage, to use the weapon or its launch containers as cover from
enemy fire, fire the weapon without ensuring that all parts are
secure and in working order, or firing the projectile at a target in
such a manner as to prevent its ignition fuse from activating.
The advantages of the RPO Rys over backpack-style flowstream
flamethrowers are significant. Compared to the LPO-50 flamethrower,
the RPO Rys has 10 times the range, allows the user to potentially fire
from behind cover, and even its large backblast isn't as strong a
visual indicator as the huge jet of fire emitted by a flowstream
weapon. Moreover, the RPO Rys is much smaller and lighter, significantly
safer to handle and operate, and isn't as likely to attract as much
fire as a flowstream flamethrower is spotted by the enemy, as the
RPO looks like an ordinary anti-tank RPG (an important
consideration, as flame soldiers historically suffer the highest and
most severe casualties of any infantrymen). The RPO Rys is not a
perfect replacement however, as a conventional flamethrower can burn
a vastly larger area much more quickly, they can deliver a
considerably greater volume of fire before running out of fuel, and
they can be used at much shorter ranges and in more confined terrain
than the RPO.
The RPO Rys was first used in combat during the Soviet-Afghan
War, where it was successfully and frequently employed to attack
Mujahedeen fighting positions, fortifications, and obstacles.
However, the weight, bulk, and length of the RPO Rys proved awkward
in operational conditions, prompting development of a smaller
Further development of the RPO Rys led to a significantly
lighter, more compact, and disposable version, the
RPO-A Shmel. This
new launcher fires a rocket with a thermobaric filler rather than a
napalm one, but there is also an incendiary version (the RPO-Z)
and a smoke-laying version (the RPO-D). Production of the RPO Rys
and its ammunition ended in the late 1980s, as the RPO-A Shmel
entered service, but the RPO remained in Soviet service until the
end of the Cold War, and with Russia since the dissolution of the
Literature on this weapon is unclear as to its proliferation
beyond the former Soviet states. A US publication
named "The Iraqi Threat and Saddam Hussein's Weapons of Mass
Destruction" listed the RPO as being used by the Iraqi armed forces,
but as with many such publications that sprang-up during seemingly
from nowhere during the crisis leading up to the Persian Gulf War,
much of the information within still cannot be verified.
At present, the only confirmed operator is Russia, who will
likely retain the RPO Rys until its ammunition has been expended in
training or combat, or until the remaining rockets exceed their
Basic production model, as described above.
RPO-A Shmel: New disposable weapon based on the RPO Rys. The launcher is
a shortened version of that on the Rys, while the rocket has been
converted to carry a thermobaric filler rather than a napalm one.
The RPO-A is significantly lighter and more compact. By the late 1980s it completely replaced the original RPO Rys.
There is also an incendiary version (the RPO-Z)
and a smoke-laying version (the RPO-D).
RPO-Z: Incendiary version of the RPO-A. Uses a very different
filler than that in the RPO Rys, consisting of "Pyrogel" that burns
at 800-1 000 degrees Celsius.
RPO-D: Smoke-laying version of the RPO-A, with twice the
compact version of the RPO-A, with a reloadable launch tube.
Varna: Incendiary version of the Bur. Has a similar warhead
to that of the RPO-Z.
4-barrel rocket-propelled flamethrower, with napalm-filled warheads.
Prototypes were used in combat with great success, but production
was forfeited in favor of the M202 FLASH.
M202 FLASH: US 4-barrel rocket-propelled flamethrower developed
from the XM191, but with a much more potent TEA (Triethylaluminum)
Chinese rocket-propelled flamethrower weapon similar to the RPO-A Shmel, with a smaller 80 mm
bore. There are also smoke-laying and incendiary versions.
MRO-A Borodach: Soviet rocket launcher that fires
a 72.5 mm projectile based on that of the RPG-22, but with a thermobaric warhead. There are also smoke-laying and incendiary
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