The RPO-A "Shmel" ("Bumblebee") is a Russian man-portable rocket launcher (although it is classified as a flamethrower by the manufacturer) which first entered service in 1988. The RPO-A is a follow-on to the RPO "Rys" ("Lynx") napalm rocket launcher first deployed in 1975. The former weapon was based on Soviet observations of the American M202 FLASH. Like the FLASH, the RPO Rys was designed to replace obsolete and dangerous infantry flamethrowers (with the last such weapon in the Soviet arsenal being the LPO-50 flamethrower) with a longer-ranged weapon that had the same capabilities against dug-in positions and structures. It was copied by China as the PF-97.
Unlike the RPO Rys, which was a crew-served reloadable launcher loaded with encased missiles from the rear like the French LRAC F1, the RPO-A is a single-shot, self-contained disposable launcher operated by a single crewman. They are either issued singly with a shoulder strap or in a two-launcher "transit pack" worn as a backpack. All models are externally similar, with three rocket variants. The basic rocket is the RPO-A, which has a thermobaric warhead, the RPO-Z is an incendiary warhead with a "pyrogel" filler that burns at around 1,500-1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (800-1,000 degrees Celsius), and the RPO-D has a slightly heavier smoke-producing warhead. Since the RPO-D is not advertised as being incendiary, this is probably either hexachloroethane-zinc (HC) or terephthalic acid (TPA) rather than phosphorous.
Strictly speaking the RPO-A launcher itself is actually a recoilless gun (albeit one that can only fire a rocket-assisted round) since the booster charge that fires the projectile from the launcher is a separate explosive propelling cartridge which visually resembles a hand grenade. This is ejected from the rear of the tube on firing, working as a counter-mass, with the projectile's sustainer rocket motor igniting a safe distance from the tube.
Since 2006 an improved version, the RPO-M "Shmel-M" or RPO PDM-A, has entered production. This is a 90mm weapon with a disposable launch tube attached to a separate fire control unit with an optical sight in the manner of Western launchers like the Dragon and Javelin, and is lighter than the original Shmel at around 19.4 lbs (8.8 kg). The improved thermobaric rocket is claimed to have an explosive force equivalent to 12 pounds of TNT, comparable to a 155mm artillery shell.
A smaller variant based on the same technology called the MGK "Bur" entered testing in 2013. This uses the same launch unit as the RPO-M, but the encased missile, with either a fuel-air explosive warhead claimed to be equivalent to about 13.2 lbs (6 kg) of TNT or a conventional HE fragmentation warhead, is only 62mm in caliber and the whole system weighs a mere 10.6 lbs (4.8 kg) loaded. It is said to have an improved propulsion system designed for confined spaces, only needing a 1,060 cubic foot (30 cubic metre) volume to avoid dangerous overpressures, equivalent to a room with a floor area of 172 square feet.
NPO Bazalt produced their own successor to the RPO-A, the MRO-A, in 2002: this is a modernized disposable launcher of 72.5mm caliber weighing only 10.4 lbs (4.7 kg), with the same warhead options as the original RPO-A (MRO-A, MRO-Z and MRO-D). It is based on Bazalt's older thermobaric RPG-26 variant, the RShG-2.
The RPO-A "Shmel" rocket launcher can be seen in the following films, video games, and television series used by the following actors:
(1988 – present)
- Type: Rocket Launcher
- Origin: Soviet Union
- Caliber: 93 mm (3.7 in)
- Weight: System: 26.5 lbs (12 kg) Warhead weights: RPO-A: 4.6 lbs (2.1 kg) thermobaric, RPO-Z: 4.6 lbs (2.1 kg) incendiary, RPO-D: 5.1 lbs (2.3 kg) smoke
- Length: 36.2 in (92 cm)
- Range: Minimum: 66 ft (20m), Effective: 660 ft (200m), Maximum: 3,280 ft (1,000m)
- Feed System: Preloaded single shot
- Fire Modes: Single shot
|Python II||Chechen Terrorists||2002|
|Moscow Heat||Seen in the pile of weapons||2004|
|D-Day (Den'D)||Mikhail Porechenkov||Ivan||2008|
|Newsmakers (Goryachie Novosti)||Seen in arsenal||2009|
|Dead Man's Tale (Chto skazal pokoynik)||Gagnsters||2000|
|Stormgate||Chechen terrorists||Transit pack||2006|
|War Inc. Battlezone||2011|
- KBP Instrument Design Bureau - A list of all firearms manufactured by KBP Instrument Design Bureau.