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Russian Forces Use RPO-A Shmel Destructive Man-Portable Weapons Against Ukrainian Positions

Russian forces conducted several assaults on Ukrainian army positions using one of the most destructive man-portable weapons called RPO-A Shmel, which can fire a thermobaric rocket. This type of rocket is particularly destructive because it generates a prolonged, intense blast wave and high temperatures by dispersing and then igniting a fuel-air mixture.
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Russian soldier carries an RPO-A Shmel, a man-portable thermobaric weapon, before an assault on Ukrainian positions. (Picture source Russian MoD)

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), as reported on April 10, 2024, flamethrower units from the "West" group of forces successfully targeted camouflaged strongholds of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the Kupyansk area. Utilizing RPO-A "Shmel" portable flamethrowers, assault units from the 1st Guards Tank Army covertly advanced to strategic positions, launching a decisive strike against the Ukrainian forces. The operation destroyed the Ukrainian army's fortified, camouflaged strongholds.

The RPO-A Shmel, translated as "Bumblebee" in Russian, is a man-portable, disposable rocket launcher, designed as a formidable force multiplier for infantry units. It entered service with the Soviet Armed Forces towards the end of the 1980s, serving as the advanced successor to the RPO Rys. This rocket-assisted flamethrower is capable of delivering both thermobaric and incendiary warheads, making it highly effective against enemy personnel, fortifications, and light armored vehicles.

The RPO-A Shmel is described as a single-shot, self-contained tube-shaped launcher, functioning similarly to the RPG-18 anti-tank launcher. It comes sealed in a tube, typically carried in pairs within a man-pack. A soldier can swiftly remove the tube, set it up for firing, and launch the projectile without any assistance. After its use, the tube is discarded, emphasizing its role as a disposable weapon system. Despite their external similarities across models, the RPO-A Shmel stands out for its ease of deployment and potent combat capabilities.

Designed to neutralize concealed enemy positions, incapacitate lightly armored vehicles, and eliminate enemy forces, the RPO-A Shmel boasts an impressive aiming range. With a diopter sight, it can target up to 600 meters, while the OPO optical sight reduces this range slightly to 450 meters. However, with the OPO-1 variant, the aiming range extends up to 850 meters, providing significant flexibility in combat situations.

The destructive power of the RPO-A Shmel lies in its ability to produce high-temperature explosions and subsequent blast waves, capable of devastating enclosed spaces and causing extensive damage over a wide area. This makes it particularly lethal in urban warfare scenarios and against fortified targets, where traditional small arms and grenades may falter. The combination of immediate blast effects with the incendiary capabilities of a flamethrower renders the Shmel a fearsome weapon against a myriad of battlefield targets. Its single-use design ensures soldiers can carry and deploy this weapon rapidly, allowing for precision engagement and neutralization of threats from a safe distance.

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