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The RPO-A Shmel (bumblebee) was developed in response to the Russian army's experiences in Afghanistan. It is a disposable, shoulder-fired rocket launcher with a powerful thermobaric (fuel-air explosive) warhead. The Russians compare its destructive effects to a 122 mm howitzer shell.

Development began in 1984 and the weapon was accepted for service in 1988. It has been used in combat in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Assault engineers, paratroops and Spetsnaz are among its users.

The single-tube launchers are normally issued in pairs. To operate the launcher, the two tubes are separated and the optical sight is flipped up. The launcher can be fired from within structures having a volume of over 60 cubic meters. Once fired, the empty launcher tube is discarded.

The Shmel currently employs three types of rounds:

  • RPO-A (thermobaric)
    This is the basic round. It is designed to defeat weapons and living force firing from shelter in built-up areas. It is also reasonably efficient against lightly-armored vehicles. The warhead contains 2.1 kg of thermobaric flammable mixture.

  • RPO-Z (incendiary)
    This round is intended to ignite terrain, buildings, installations and fuel-oil deposits. The warhead contains 20 incendiary pellets which are scattered on impact.

  • RPO-D (smoke)
    This round is used to lay smoke screens. The warhead contains 2.3 kg of an incendiary-smoke mixture.

The rockets are fin-stabilized. The lethal effect of the round is greatly intensified if the round is detonated inside an enclosed space. Thus the RPO-A is particularly effective against bunkers and caves. In the Afghanistan and Chechnya campaigns, entire buildings were often destroyed by a single RPO-A warhead.

Specifications:
Caliber: 93 mm
Length: 920 mm
Weight: 11 kg
Firing range:
   maximum: 1000 m
   sighting: 600 m
   minimum: 20 m
Initial velocity: 125 m/s
Operational temperature range: -50 to 50°C

The RPO-A Shmel is manufactured by KPB Instrument Design Bureau of Tula, Russia. Should you desire to purchase this weapon, contact Rosoboronexport, 27/3 Stromynka Street, Moscow, Russian Federation or call (7-095) 964-61-40 or one of their representative offices around the world.

This weapon is offered for export sales; the Sri Lankan government, for example, has bought lots of these, much to the dismay of the Tamils, who objected, saying it is a chemical weapon banned under international law. (This is incorrect, as thermobaric warheads are quite legal, although devastatingly brutal - the RPO-A kills by causing massive damage to the lungs and other soft tissue.)

Sources:
http://www.rusarm.ru/products/army/shmel.htm
http://www.milparade.com/1998/26/040.htm
http://www.indianarmedforces.com/arms/armyweapons.htm
http://www.tamilnet.com/reports/2001/08/1702.html

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