There’s a relatively unsexy class of weapons out there that are critical, but don’t get any of the cool press of ATGMs. Behold, the humble rocket launcher/recoilless rifle. The HE Projector. They’re super useful, because there are plenty of targets on the battlefield that need a healthy dose of prescription HE, but don’t necessarily warrant the trouble of a guided round. Bunkers, for example, have a habit of not moving out of the way in time. These weapons are unsexy because there’s not a lot of room for whiz-bang gadgets. It’s a bazooka. Plain and simple.
A bunch of the use cases are conveniently used by disposable rocket launchers, like the AT4 or the M72 LAW. These tend to be lighter than the traditional recoilless rifle/unguided rocket launcher designs, and a lot less trouble. But they’re not reloadable. And you’re stuck with whatever round is in there; usually it’s a HEAT round. Which would be fine, except that these weapons aren’t going to punch through the front armor of a vanilla T-72, let alone a modern T-90 with ERA on the front. Other rounds might be more desirable. And here, the old recoilless rifles and rocket launchers still shine. Let’s look at one you might not be too familiar with: the French LRAC F1.1
The LRAC F1 is a reusable 89mm rocket launcher. The tube is mostly fiberglass, which keeps the weight down. It’s a 1970s-vintage design, but the launcher and sight weighs only 5 kg. This is very good, even compared to the modern versions of the venerable Carl Gustav recoilless rifle. The sight is a pretty simple fixed 3x optic with a stadiametric reticle. Gunner does his range estimation and chooses the point of aim by himself and fires. Pretty typical for this class of weapon. Rockets weigh 2.2 kg.
Available warhead types include a HEAT round, rated for 400mm of RHA penetration, which scares exactly no one these days. Oh well. We have Javelins for tank-killing. There’s also a HEAT-Frag Dual Purpose round, a smoke round, and an illumination round. These days, the most useful are the smoke round and the dual purpose round. The major use cases for this are first as a portable, short-range assault gun for infantry support, and second as a way of quickly throwing obscuring smoke a reasonable distance to break contact or hide an attack.
Rocket technology really hasn’t changed since the 70s, so the LRAC F1 is still a competitive system. Or it would be, if the French still used it.2 What changes would we want to make to update it?
Honestly, not many. Mostly produce new rockets, maybe integrate night sighting options. The launcher is plenty light already. The existing rockets aren’t very reliable anymore because of age, of course. Production should focus on the dual purpose rocket and the smoke rocket. Reformulating the smoke round to be infrared screening as well isn’t very hard, and would be very useful. Also, a thermobaric rocket would be an excellent idea. I’m a huge fan of the type. The tubes are rated for 130 launches, so they’d need to be made too. Pretty simple, and we can easily keep the cost down. No guidance system, no exotic materials. No gold plating.
There’s no good reason why the LRAC F1 can’t be successful on the arms market with good marketing. There’s plenty of demand for these systems, and not a lot of types that are still in production. Weight is a constant complaint, especially with the closest western competitor, the Carl Gustav. This does the same thing for about half the weight.
Verdict: Approved for production by the Borgundy Ordnance Procurement Board
1.) Also known as the LRAC 89 or the ACL STRIM.
2.) It’s been replaced by the AT4, a good (though somewhat limited) single-use rocket launcher, and the Eryx, which I’m not a fan of.