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Wasp 58

Single-use anti-tank rocket launcher

Wasp 58 anti-tank weapon

In a major reversal from prevailing anti-armor weapon design trends, the Wasp 58 rocket launcher was designed to defeat light armor, but not main battle tanks

 
 
Country of origin France
Entered service 1987
Caliber 58 mm
Weight ~ 3.61 kg
Rocket weight 0.62 kg
Length 800 mm
Muzzle velocity 250 m/s
Sighting range 400 m (?)
Range of effective fire 400 m
Armor penetration 250 mm RHAe
Concrete penetration 800 mm

 

   A product of Luchaire (now Nexter), the Wasp 58 is a compact and disposable 58 mm anti-tank rocket weapon. It was designed for maximum compactness and versatility, rather than for high armor penetration. While this weapon was a private venture by that company, and was aimed primarily at the export market, it found a following within NATO as well.

   This weapon was the product of a couple of observations made by Luchaire. Notably, as anti-tank munitions were becoming larger, they were also becoming increasingly less affordable, and also that very few threats in any foreseeable conflict would require something as powerful as an AT4 or an APILAS to destroy. Moreover, many troops such as special forces, frogmen, and paratroopers needed weapons that were lighter more than they needed those that were powerful, so that they could carry a single disposable anti-tank rocket launcher for the long haul, or several when more immediate contact was expected. The Developing World was a major consideration as well, since new infantry anti-tank weapons were becoming increasingly less affordable for their typically very tight budgets, and maximum armor penetration was often relatively pointless --- a soldier might need an AT4 to fight a T-72 or an M60A3 Patton, but in some regions they were more likely to fight an M41 Walker, or even just an AML. This realization was arrived-at in the mid-1980s, and ultimately inspired a program to produce such a weapon, resulting in the Wasp 58. However, little else of the Wasp 58's background is known, save that its first sales were achieved in 1987, and that even the French military purchased them.

   Large shock absorbers are fitted to either end of the relatively narrow launcher, giving it a distinctive dumbbell-like appearance. A shoulderpad is located on the underside of the launcher toward the rear, and a bulky foregrip on the underside toward the front. A simple optical sight is built into a blocky L-shaped fixture on the upper-left side of the tube, in its aft midsection. The sling swivels are located on the underside the launcher, just inside of the shock absorbers. A notch is cut into the upper-left side of the forward shock absorber, to allow the user to see the target (if not for the notch, the forward shock absorber would block it). There also seems to be two variations of the weapon's exterior; some flyers depict a weapon with no shock absorbers, while others show a weapon with additional padding on top of the tube behind the sight. The launch tubes are typically painted olive drab (some may be sand-colored, or other colors) with yellow or white stenciling, while the sling, shock absorbers, pads, and sight fixture are usually black.

   The composition of the Wasp 58 is similar to that of most other modern disposable anti-tank rocket launchers, with a reinforced fiberglass launch tube, sheet steel brackets, stamped steel sights, and foam rubber shock absorbers and pads. The projectile is made mostly of aluminum, usually with a bare metal finish, and has a steep and pointed conical nose. A recession in the aft fuselage of the missile holds six folding fins, which spring-out into a 90-degree radial formation as the projectile exits the muzzle.

   The warhead used on the Wasp 58's rocket is the same one from the AC 58 rifle grenade, which is typically launched from the FAMAS. It contains a 615 g hexogen-tolite filler and a copper charge liner, and is only rated to penetrate 250 mm of steel, but it is also capable of penetrating 800 mm of concrete. Some sources have claimed the Wasp 58 can penetrate 400 mm of steel, but this figure is implausible --- even shaped charge munitions with a 50% wider charge liner have had trouble penetrating this much steel. The propellant charge employs a Davis principle countermass, containing 900 g of shredded plastic chips. It works much like the countermass in the Armbrust anti-tank rocket launcher; in that nearly all of the force of the launch is consumed by ejecting and pulverizing the countermass. As a result, the force of the backblast is reduced to the point where the Wasp 58 may safely be launched from inside almost any structure, although it is still too dangerous for personnel to stand directly behind the venturi. Almost all of the kinetic energy from the countermass is lost within 1 m of the venturi.

   No information on the Wasp 58's sights appears to have been published, but given its reported 400 m effective range, the stadia lines definitely indicate distances out to at least that far. It appears to be a simple telescopic sight. At a range of 250 m or less, the Wasp 58 reportedly has a hit probability of over 90%.

   The operation of the WASP 58 is extremely simple. To fire it, the user simply removes the arming pin, raises the sights, shoulders the weapon and takes aim, then squeezes the trigger until the weapon fires. The tube is not designed to be reloaded, so it is discarded on the spot.

   The Wasp 58 is light enough that a single soldier is expected to easily carry several of them, and packs holding up to 4 have been demonstrated by the manufacturer. The advantage this offers a small formation of troops is significant, as it would allow a single platoon of soldiers (about 50 soldiers) to carry and launch over 100 rockets without a significant weight penalty, which in most situations more than offsets the Wasp 58's small warhead.

   Unfortunately, the best-known uses of the Wasp 58 are rather grim stories. During the Rwandan Genocide, French troops armed with the weapon looked the other way as the mass murder occurred, and in some instances virtually enabled it. The 17N terrorist group in Greece stole a number of Wasp 58s from the Hellenic Army on April 7th 1998, and used them in a number of criminal acts; these included an attack on a Citibank building in Athens later that year, and a rocket attack the US embassy in Athens in January of 2007.

   The Wasp 58 was manufactured in France and Greece, and was a substantial commercial success, with over 450 000 built. They have been used by Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, and the Netherlands, as well as an unknown number of additional confidential customers.

   It is unclear when production of the Wasp 58 ended, but it is no longer offered by Nexter. Since their acquisition of the SAAB-Bofors AT4-CS, this newer weapon is gradually overtaking the role that the Wasp 58 was once used for, though some stocks still remain. The Wasp 58 is still used by the Hellenic armed forces, but its status elsewhere is unknown.

 

Similar weapons

 

   M72 LAW: US-designed 66 mm disposable anti-tank rocket launcher, which revived the Panzerfaust concept. It was reasonably powerful for its size and was extremely expensive, making the M72 LAW tough competition even for the Wasp 58.

   RPG-18 Mukha: Soviet 64 mm disposable anti-tank rocket launcher, very similar in form and function to the M72 LAW; so much that it has often been accused of being a "knock-off" of the LAW. Generally not used in the West, the RPG-18 was nonetheless a fierce competitor to the Wasp 58 in the Developing World.

   Armbrust: This West German disposable anti-tank rocket launcher not only employs the same type of countermass as the Wasp 58, but also a self-sealing muzzle and venturi which eliminate most of the noise of the launch, and almost all of the smoke and flash. It is more expensive than the Wasp 58, but also more powerful.

   AT4-CS: Swedish 84 mm disposable anti-tank recoilless gun, which uses a saltwater countermass to similar effect of the plastic chips employed in the Wasp 58. The AT4 is generally twice as powerful as the Wasp 58, but also much larger and heavier, and many times as expensive.

   RPG-76 Komar: Polish disposable anti-tank rocket launcher, with a unique configuration. And like the Wasp 58, the RPG-76 was developed with affordability in mind.

 

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Wasp 58 anti-tank weapon

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Wasp 58 anti-tank weapon

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Wasp 58 anti-tank weapon

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Wasp 58 anti-tank weapon

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Wasp 58 anti-tank weapon

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Wasp 58 anti-tank weapon

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Wasp 58 anti-tank weapon

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