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Anti-tank rocket launcher


The SARPAC was the French arms industry's answer to the M72 LAW, but it was only a minor commercial success

Country of origin France
Entered service Mid 1970s
Caliber 68 mm
Weight 2.3 kg
Rocket weight 1.09 kg
Length (collapsed) 734 mm
Length (extended) 997 mm
Muzzle velocity 150 m/s
Sighting range 500 m
Range of effective fire (against tanks) 200 m
Range of effective fire (against static targets) 500 m
Armor penetration 300 mm


   The SARPAC (Super Arme de Proximité Anti-Char) is a rocket launcher developed in France by Hotchkiss-Brandt. It was developed as a private venture, and heavily-advertised for the export market. It is a single-use weapon as with many other anti-tank rocket launchers of its era, but it is exceptional in that the tube is designed to be reloaded up to 20 times, and that other ammunition is available for it besides its basic High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) round. Little is known of the SARPAC's development, save that it began in the late 1960s, it was first marketed in the early 1970s, and its first sales appear to have been achieved by the mid-1970s.

   All of the definitive features of the SARPAC's layout are unusual. Like many single-use anti-tank rocket launchers, the SARPAC has a telescoped tube, with an inner tube slid into the outer tube until the weapon is ready to fire. However, the SARPAC has an interesting twist in this pattern; the inner tube extends *forward* from the outer tube, not backward as in the usual setup. The most obvious deviation from the norm is that the front and rear sights are joined by a fluted metal strip with four hollow spaces, which allows both sights to be raised in one motion, and transparent plastic sight panes, each protected on one side by a lens cap. Completing this strange configuration are sling swivels located on the right side of the tube (not on top or below), and a swiveling plastic "aftergrip".

   The remainder of the SARPAC's launch tube design is fairly ordinary. The outer tube has four brackets; one each at the muzzle and venturi, one in the forward midsection bearing the hinge for the rear sight and the trigger mechanism, and one in the aft midsection bearing the aftergrip. The venturi is gently flared into a conical shape, and is visibly reinforced. A rectangular cheekpad is located on the top half of the central outer tube, as the weapon may be fired from either shoulder. The SARPAC is typically painted olive drab, with a white band around the forward outer tube, and white stenciling.

   The construction of the SARPAC is fairly typical for a weapon of its type, with a reinforced fiberglass launch tube, sheet steel brackets, and stamped steel sights. The metal strip that joins the front and rear sight is likely aluminum, while the muzzle and venturi caps are plastic. As the SARPAC is advertised as being reloadable for a limited number of rounds, the bore probably has a reinforced metal liner.

   The sights used on the SARPAC have a peculiar trapezoidal shape, as the tops of the front and rear sights are joined by a fluted metal strip; this enables one motion by the operator to simultaneously raise both sights. The type of sights used and the range of their stadia lines are also unpublished, but presumably similar to those of the M72 LAW.

   Three types of rockets are launched from the SARPAC, with data for the ROCHAR (anti-tank HEAT) variant for use against armored vehicles presented in the introduction of this article. The other two are described below. While the weight of the launcher varies with the rocket loaded into it, the external dimensions are unchanging.

   The ROCHAP variant is loaded with an HEDP warhead (described by some sources as a HEAP round), with the complete weapon weighing 3.7 kg. It fires a 0.83 kg projectile at 92 m/sec, with an effective range of 650 m. In addition to a shaped charge that has some armor penetration capability (though less than that of the HEAT variant), the HEDP round also has a frangible casing that sprays the surrounding area with hundreds of shell splinters when the warhead detonates.

   The ROCLAIR variant has an illumination warhead. This weapon weighs 3.2 kg, and launches a 1.3 kg munition with a muzzle velocity of 138 m/sec and an effective range of 700 m. At the top of its arc, this projectile releases a parachute flare that illuminates a broad area at 180 000 candela for 30 seconds.

   A key operational aspect of the SARPAC is its weight. Weight of a single launcher is broadly similar to that of the M72 LAW (2.3 kg versus 2.36 kg), but the inclusion of additional rounds for the SARPAC makes it lighter as more ammunition piles-up. For example, while 2 M72s weigh 4.7 kg, a SARPAC launcher and 2 rockets weigh 4.3 kg; 3 M72s weigh 7.1 kg, while a SARPAC tube and 3 rockets weigh 5.6 kg; 4 M72s weigh 9.4 kg, while a SARPAC tube and 4 rockets weigh 6.5 kg. It goes without saying, but when large shipments of SARPAC rounds with a smaller number of launch tubes are considered (for example, an airdropped crate containing several launchers and 100 rockets), the advantages of the SARPAC's weight savings quickly become clear.

   Information on the backblast of the SARPAC does not appear to have been published, but it is presumably similar to that of the M72 LAW.

   The SARPAC may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but its timing was quite poor. By the time it reached the market, combat lessons in Southeast Asia and the Middle East had graphically demonstrated that an anti-tank rocket launcher capable of penetrating only 300 mm of armor was no longer adequate against contemporary heavy armor. The M20 Super Bazooka and M72 LAW had proven wanting against the T-54 and T-55, and had little effect against the T-62, and by the mid-1970s the main concern of most nations was the proliferation of even more heavily-armored tanks, such as the Chieftain and the T-72. As the SARPAC was for defense against main battle tanks first and foremost, and offered no other capabilities that weren't available in more versatile weapons already on the market (such as the LRAC F1 rocket launcher, and the Carl Gustav M2 recoilless rifle), it accumulated very few orders.

   Known operators of the SARPAC include Finland, Malaysia, and Nicaragua, with the manufacturer claiming that several African, Asian, and Middle Eastern nations purchased some as well. It has since been retired from Finland and Malaysia, and its status in Nicaragua and its other users (assuming there are any) is unknown. However, due to the age of the ammunition, it is questionable whether any surviving munitions can still be launched.

   Production ended at some point in the 1980s, and even the number of SARPACs produced does not appear to have been published. It is no longer marketed by the would-be manufacturer, Nexter. The unit cost is similarly unknown, but as the SARPAC was intended to compete with the M72 LAW, it was probably about $500.


Similar weapons


   M72 LAW: This US weapon was the first single-use infantry anti-tank weapon fielded since the Panzerfaust of World War 2. It has a strikingly similar design to the SARPAC, but a different 66 mm bore, and it preceded the SARPAC's development by almost a decade.

   FGR-17 Viper: This US 70 mm single-use anti-tank weapon developed to replace the M72 LAW, but ironically ended up being a much worse design. Very few were produced, and they were used solely for training purposes.

   RPG-18 Mukha: Soviet 64 mm single-use anti-tank rocket launcher. It is a clone of the US M72 LAW. It is similar in design to the SARPAC.

   M80 Zolja: Yugoslavian 64 mm single-use anti-tank rocket launcher. It closely resembles the RPG-18, and may be a related design.

   Miniman: This Swedish system is a single-use anti-tank weapon like the SARPAC, but has a more unusual 74 mm bore, and is a recoilless gun rather than a rocket launcher.



   Article by BLACKTAIL

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