The Lightweight Disposable Rocket: An Outdated Tank Killer Finding a Modern Purpose

Anyone who served in the 1980s or 90s will be familiar with single-shot, disposable rockets like the M72 66mm LAW or its British equivalent, the 94mm LAW. Even at the time, most people realized that actually firing one at a tank was likely to be a spectacular way of committing suicide, but they were what we had and, to be fair, in a well-laid ambush, or as part of an urban tank-hunting team, they can be lethally effective. Technology moves on though, and the disposable rocket concept seems to be fading away from western armies. The USA is increasingly using the 84, Charlie G, which I’ve talked about before, as a general purpose explosive launcher. Meanwhile, genuinely portable guided weapons like the Javelin are far better at killing tanks before they get close enough to hose you down with the coax.

There’s still a place for a lightweight disposable rocket, though. Cost and weight mean you can’t give every infantryman a Carl Gustav, and the same goes double for the Javelin. However, the heavy weapons team might be somewhere else when you urgently need to blow something up, and that’s where a small, simple device like an M72 or AT4 comes into its own. The Russians are still churning out the throwaway RPG-22 in huge numbers and every infantry man – sometimes every soldier – is issued one. It weights six pounds and, closed, is 34 inches long – small enough to be strapped to the side of a pack or shoved under a vehicle seat. The AT4 is a lot larger and heavier, at 14.8 pounds and 40 inches, but it’s still a manageable load – and it’s ideal for guard forces in current counter-insurgency operations. Now a load of them has been sent to the Iraqi army to meet a specific threat in that theatre.

LAW FireRight now ISIS is doing pretty well against the western-trained Iraqi security forces, but that’s not because of their outstanding military skills. In fact, outside a core of hardened jihadis who’ve fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya or one of a dozen other wars, the average ISIS “soldier” is pretty pathetic – a selfie-obsessed loser who failed in his home country and settled for barbarism as a way to feel good about himself. The reason they’ve been succeeding is simply that they’re fanatical and that inspires fear. One of the most terrifying tactics they have is the suicide truck bomb; the sight of a heavy vehicle lumbering towards your position, packed with explosives and immune to the rifle you’re holding, is enough to make anyone consider a rapid move somewhere safer.

They’re not immune to an AT4 though. In May, 2,000 AT4s were delivered to the Iraqis and they’ve already been used to good effect. Trucks, SUVs, even bulldozers have been used by ISIS as suicide bombs, but an 84mm HEAT warhead will carve right through any of them. Truck bombs have been used against US forces too, most famously in the 1983 Beirut barrack bombing where 299 American and French troops died. A well-placed rocket would have stopped it dead – and, unlike a Javelin, an unguided rocket can be used at short range and around obstructions. LAW-style weapons might have been replaced as tank killers, but in the confused wars we’re fighting right now they’re a very useful tool to have around.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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1 thought on “The Lightweight Disposable Rocket: An Outdated Tank Killer Finding a Modern Purpose

  1. Surprised that the US has to ship 84mm rockets to the Iraqi Army. Do they not have ample supplies of RPG-7V reloadable rocket launchers which can dispatch a potential vehicle borne martyrdom seeker just as well?

    (And these 84mms will probably turn up in Daesh hands, just like the armoured Humvees and small arms made in America).

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