Makeshift Fire Extinguisher RPG Warhead

In December images of Chechen volunteers fighting with the Ukrainian Armed Forces began to feature an interesting craft-made weapon – an RPG munition made from the body of a small fire extinguisher. 

These RPG-warheads improvised from fire extinguishers have appeared in numerous videos and photographs of the Sheikh Mansur Battalion. The battalion was formed back in 2014 and is made up of exiled Chechens who reject Russian control of their region. The battalion itself is named after an 18th century Chechen military leader Sheikh Mansur. The battalion had disbanded in 2019, but reformed in March 2022 following the invasion. Since then they have reportedly seen action during the Battle of Kyiv, in the Donbas, during the Battle of Sievierodonetsk and most recently in the fighting around Bakhmut. 

There’s a long history of improvised warheads adapted for launch from the RPG-7 but I think this is the first time I’ve seen a fire extinguisher body used, at least in this phase of the fighting in Ukraine. 

A section of the Sheikh Mansur Battalion, with a craft-made fire extinguisher munition, Bahkmut, December 2022 (via Sheikh Mansur Battalion)

It appears that the fire extinguisher body has been emptied and filled with whatever explosive and shrapnel material is readily available and then adapted to fit the sustainer motor and booster assemblies. They appear to use V-429 or V-429E point detonating fuzes. These fuzes were developed for use on high explosive (HE) projectiles used by various Combloc weapon systems including the T-12 and MT-12 100mm anti-tank guns and the 115mm main gun of the T-62 and 125mm main guns of the T-64, T-72, T-80 and T-90 series tanks. Some other fuzes appear to be used too but conceivably any impact fuze would work. The inertia armed fuzes normally arm within 5-15m of the muzzle once fired from a conventional barrel. It appears that the fuzes have been epoxied into place.

Close up of a craft-made fire extinguisher munition, Bahkmut, December 2022 (via social media)

How the mass and shape of the improvised round impacts the velocity of the warhead once it is fired is unclear. But Bild correspondent Bjorn Stritzel, who recently met with members of the Battalion while writing an article about them, told me that the range of the warheads is about 100m. He noted that the Chechen’s have found them to be ‘very effective in Bakhmut’ and that ‘apparently its firepower surprised RF entrenched in houses’ according to radio chatter picked up by the Battalion. 

While we don’t have a perfect close up of them the extinguishers themselves appear to be small 2kg (or 5lbs) units which contain powder. From a quick survey of some Ukrainian websites which sell the extinguishers, the price of these ranges between 300 and 500 Hryvnias (or $8 & $14).

A member of the Sheik Mansur Battalion demonstrates a craft-made fire extinguisher munition, Bahkmut, December 2022 (via Sky News)

The fire extinguisher rounds are probably being used as anti-personnel weapons which would be fitting for the sort of fighting occurring around Bakhmut where the majority of the imagery is said to be coming from. The thin steel body of the extinguisher may provide suitable fragmentation or depending on the metallurgy it may just rupture. According to Stritzel the filling of the warheads is around 50% explosive and 50% shrapnel material. He also noted that the Chechen’s described the warhead as being “three times more powerful than a normal OG-7V [fragmentation RPG-7 round]”. 

Two craft-made fire extinguisher munitions, Bahkmut, December 2022 (via Bjorn Stritzel)

The first video featuring the improvised warheads was published by the Sheikh Mansur Battalion on their social media in around mid December. In a Sky News report from the 22 December, a member of the Battalion demonstrates how one of the extinguisher warheads is loaded. A video posted to the Battalion’s social media on the 27 December showed a number, perhaps four, of the improvised rounds stacked ready for use with booster assemblies attached. 

On the 31 December, the Battalion shared a photograph of a group of eight Battalion members, one of which can be seen holding an RPG-7 with one of the improvised extinguisher rounds loaded. During the second week of January, a short, undated, video of an individual in a fighting position firing one of the craft-made warheads was shared. We get some idea of the weight of the round in this clip.

The most recent video (see stills above), posted on TikTok, on the 12 January, shows two of the improvised munitions being fired. These warheads follow the same design but differ slightly in that the fire extinguisher body appears to have been cut open at the centre and then welded back together. Perhaps this is done to easier fill the munition or perhaps to shorten a longer extinguisher body. For the first time we also get to see the explosion of the rounds down range. This video again gives us a good indication of the weight of the round from the movement of the shooter. It also illustrates the distances the rounds can travel. Notably it appears to be used here against a Russian field work rather than against a building.

With fighting continuing in Bakhmut we are likely to see more of these improvised fire extinguisher rounds in use, especially if they are as effective as the Sheikh Mansur Battalion suggest.


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Bibliography:

V429 Fuze, CAT UXO, (source)

V429E Fuze, CAT UXO, (source)

‘They prefer death to Russian torture’, Bild, (source)

The Chechens fighting Putin in Ukraine, Sky News, (source)

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