It was an evening of watching Future Weapons and reading Wikipedia. It wasn’t an entirely unproductive evening though and I walked away with a theory, or an opinion, that the standard anti-tank weapon used by infantry here is nothing but a glorified wall smasher.
The MATADOR was developed jointly by DSTA (Singapore) and Rafael (Israel). However, different variants of the weapon are employed by the Singapore and Israeli army, with more options for export purposes. It seems however, we chose poorly.
Singapore operates the MATADOR MP in which the warhead can be fired either in HEAT or HESH mode. The selection between the two is done by extending the probe in the front of the weapon for HEAT mode, and leaving it in it’s original configuration for HESH.
HEAT is a high explosive shaped charged, which simply means that its explosive is shaped – guided and concentrated in a certain direction, in order to allow it to breach armor. HESH operates by splattering a layer of plastic explosives (think throwing an egg and its contents sticking to the wall) and then detonating the explosive. HEAT destroys by penetrating armor itself and blowing up, HESH destroys by sending a shock wave through the armor.
Israel operates the MATADOR AS, which is a HEAT only warhead but has two charges, and delay between the first charge and second charge can be set by turning the knob in the front on the weapon. This is called a tandem charge. Simply put, the two charges in the warhead explode at a different timing.
Most modern tank defend themselves against rocket attacks by employing reactive armor. Reactive armor contains a layer of explosives in the form of shaped charges that, upon contact with an incoming rocket, explodes in a certain fashion and destroys the warhead before it can sufficiently penetrate the hull of the tank. Reactor armor are usually placed on tanks in ‘slabs’, as pictured below. Those ugly rectangular slabs all over the tank are pieces of reactive armor. Although not the original intention, the spacing between the slabs of reactive armor also serves to reduce the effect of a HESH round as the plastic explosives cannot be applied uniformly and are scattered due to the spacing, resulting in a less effective explosion. In addition, most modern tanks line their interior with shock absorbers making HESH rounds even less effective.
So, I’ve made a tank sound indestructible. Here is where the tandem-charge on the MATADOR AS comes into play. When the rocket hits the target initially, the first charge on it’s warhead goes off, and so does the reactive armor in response. The reactive armor plate is now gone, and a split second later, the second charge on the warhead explodes, piercing through the unprotected hull.
The MATADOR MP which Singapore operates does not have such a capability. Not to discredit the weapon fully, plastic explosives are effective against concrete and thus HESH is therein lies the only usefulness of the weapon in HESH mode – breaching and entering. As an infantryman, I’ll be real upset about lugging a 11.3kg piece of equipment around just to watch it do nothing against a modern tank, and the T72 isn’t even modern.
Before anyone thinks of charging me for anything ridiculous, all of the information obtained in reaching my conclusion were from freely published and unclassified sources.