One of the most fascinating anti-tank weapons to ever grace our beloved infantry’s hands is the RAW, or Rifleman’s Assault Weapon. I’m not a tanker by trade, but I was an infantryman who was part of a mechanized company during my second deployment. We had tanks and tracks attached to us, and we worked with them fairly often. One universal truth that was drilled into our heads is that the infantry loves having tanks, but the tanks need the infantry, especially in the urban world.
Without the infantry spotting guys with RPGs, tanks are inherently vulnerable. When a tank kills an infantryman, it’s a tremendous use of resources for very little payoff. When an infantryman kills a tank, it’s a very conservative use of resources to make a major kill. The Army and Marine Corps viewed the RAW as a way to make an infantryman an absolute tank killer in urban environments.
Anti-tank weapons have gotten lighter and more powerful.
Understanding the RAW
The RAW was designed to complement the anti-tank weapons of the late 1970s, namely the M72 LAW. American forces had learned plenty of lessons from Vietnam and were still fearful of a Soviet invasion of Europe.
The M72 LAW is great. It’s lightweight, easy to use, disposable, and powerful. Its major flaw came from its backblast. A backblast area is comprised of hot gases expelled as the rocket propels itself from the tube. The gases can be significant and could seriously harm anyone behind the weapon when it was fired. It also made firing the weapon in close quarters dangerous.
However, the RAW could be fired without the risk of backblast and thus be usable in close-quarter environments, for example in urban areas.
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The RAW was developed to be a spherical rocket, so it has the unique appearance of a bowling ball. This turned out to be fairly effective design choice.
The RAW used a 140mm high explosive squash head and could penetrate almost eight inches through concrete and produce a hole over a foot wide. Its effective range was 300 meters making it a close-range anti-armor tool. It wouldn’t delete a tank from the battlefield but could potentially score a mobility kill and would be quite effective against Armored Personnel Carriers and other armored vehicles.
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The RAW in living color
The goal was to make the RAW as simple and easy to use as the M72 LAW was.
RAW’s engineers clearly took some influence from rifle grenades of old and used the M16 as the base launcher.
The RAW and its attachment device mounted to the M16’s bayonet, and when the user fired a round, the rocket motor inside the RAW came to life and propelled the explosive. The weapon weighed six pounds and of that, three were explosives making the RAW efficient for its weight. Larger versions were also considered.
At first glance, you may think it fired like a grenade, but you would be wrong. It was a fairly flat shooting device that was easy to aim and score hits with.
Further, unlike other rocket systems, the weapon didn’t have a huge signature that instantly gave away a soldier’s position.
It seemed like a great idea, so why isn’t the RAW part of our loadout in 2022?
Enter the Viper and M203
The advent of two weapons killed the RAW. First was the Viper. The Viper was a General Dynamics rocket launcher designed to bust tanks at long range, but it ended up being a colossal mess that ended in a Congressional inquiry and tons of money lost. The second was the M203, which is a 40mm under-mounted grenade launcher. The M203 was good but nowhere near as capable as the RAW.
After this setback, the RAW could never make a serious comeback and was sidelined for more powerful anti-armor launchers. The manufacturer folded and was sold to another larger corporation. The RAW became known as the deadliest bowling ball ever created.
Feature Image: The Marines and Army tested the idea. (Brunswick)
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