Hamas' Mysterious Anti-Tank Weapon

Today the newsletter covers a weapon you have likely never read about, ever. Let’s discuss the Tandem 85.

Whilst the indigenous capability of groups on the Gaza Strip (in particular in the form of crude rockets, balloon IEDs/IIDs and an improved RPG-2 copy known as the Yasin) are comparatively well known to outside observers, there is another development that has barely been covered in the public domain. This development can, in my opinion, be seen as a successor to the Yasin, which is a Gazan RPG-2 copy that includes some design improvements from the later RPG-7.

The Yasin was developed by Adnan al-Ghoul around 2004 to provide the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades with a semblence of indigenous anti-vehicle production ability, although from the outset it was unlikely to be effective against IDF Main Battle Tanks. However, the Yasin did see use against Israeli personnel in 2005, and internally against Palestinian Police in the same year, as well as having the capabilty to be effective against soft-skinned vehicles and buildings. It was also used against IDF forces in 2007.

In fact, the Yasin now appears to be regarded as obsolete against IDF forces, and it’s warheads have started to be repurposed as balloon-launched IEDs- as seen below, in an image from October 2018.

However, al-Qassam brigades appear to have persued a new successor to the Yasin, designed specifically to counter IDF armour, which is increasingly equipped with continually improving armour. This doesn’t take the form of a whole RPG, but rather a warhead for the RPG-7 launcher, called the Tandem 85, using a tandem-charge warhead.

What’s the point in a “Tandem-Charge” warhead?

A tandem-charge warhead uses two charges to disrupt ERA (Explosive Reactive Armour) on Tanks and other armour. The first smaller charge disrupts the explosive blocks, allowing the second, main, charge to hit the armour of the vehicle. ERA has been increasingly used on armoured vehicles since the middle of the cold war, including on IDF examples. Not all reactive armour is explosive however- IDF APCs such as the Namer use likely non-explosive reactive armour, which Tandem-charge warheads are of lesser effectiveness against. However, some older IDF APCs, such as the Zelda series have been known to utilise ERA. A tandem charge warhead is also more effective against standard or composite armour if ERA doesn’t exist, with greater penetration.

It does not appear to have been officially “unveiled”, and can’t be seen in martyrdom images from al-Qassam brigades either, rather only in parades and operational use. Even then, it’s appearance is very uncommon, suggesting that it may still be in development.

The Tandem 85 was first shown off in a-Qassam parades around December 2014, although it’s possible it was shown off slightly earlier. As you may notice above, the early version (“Generation 1”) of the Tandem 85 resembles a PG-7V warhead with a another, smaller charge crudely added to the front, an improvised copy of factory-made tandem-charge RPG warheads, such as the Russian PG-7VR. It’s likely that the “85” refers to the 85mm calibre of the main charge- identical to the PG-7V.

The al-Qassam brigades are known to have the PG-7VR in it’s possession. The warhead of the PG-7VR is standardised with that of the PG-29V, an infamous weapon in the al-Qassam Brigades’ hands. It’s entirely likely that the designer of the Tandem 85- Muhammed al-Quqa, a field commander and weapons developer for the group- would have taken direct inspiration from the Russian design, or even directly copied the precursor charge and it’s internals. In a February 2017 video eulogising al-Quqa, al-Qassam claims that the Tandem 85 destroyed 5 Israeli Tanks. There is no evidence for this claim- however in the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict multiple RPG-7/29 and ATGM were used against IDF Armour. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to verify if the Tandem 85 was actually used, but this is entirely possible.

Multiple Tandem 85 warheads shown in an al-Qassam brigades parade- Gaza, December 2014. Source: Ruptly

Essentially, the Tandem 85 represents an ingenious attempt to use the large stocks of al-Qassam’s PG-7V projectiles- which may be increasingly ineffective against IDF armour, excepting basic M113 variants- to create an entirely more dangerous warhead, much more akin to the PG-7VR or Bulgarian PG-7VT. It's also possible the entire warhead is being manufactured locally, not just adapting PG-7V.

al-Qassam brigades with PG-7VR, plus RPG-29 and ATGM

However, the story of the Tandem 85 doesn’t end there. In 2017, an al-Qassam brigades revealed a refined design that appeared much closer to a factory product: “Generation 2”.

Tandem 85 warhead shown in an al-Qassam brigades parade- Gaza, December 2017. Source: Ruptly

As can be seen below, the precursor charge was enlarged and the body between precursor and main charge is much more refined. It’s possible that the main HEAT charge has been lengthened too. This expansion may enhance the warhead’s ability to disrupt IDF composite or spaced armour- if ERA is not present, the precursor charge will assist in the penetration of the round.

Still of Tandem 85 Gen2 in testing

The Tandem 85 is often seen accompanied by the PG-7VR, again suggesting the role that al-Qassam envisages for the warhead. The author has not yet spotted Gen1 and Gen2 Tandem 85 together, suggesting that either the former was withdrawn from service, or was upgraded to the newer type. Until recently evidence of Tandem 85 use was extremely sparse, until four Gazan militants were killed during a thwarted attack on August 10th 2019. The IDF released images of arms captured from the attacks, including a single Tandem 85 charge, complete with operating instructions on the side and with an altered paint scheme.

Below one can see the PG-7VR (Which is partially disassembled) alongside the Tandem 85 clearly showing the design influence of that warhead on the Tandem 85- the dimensions of the precursor charge are close to identical. The colour scheme of this Tandem 85 appears to be a mix between the DPRK’s dark-grey and the Russian dark-green.

The appearance of this round from an active operation determines that the Gen2 warhead can be considered an active asset of the al-Qassam brigades.

The Tandem 85 is a fascinating example of indigenous weapons development utilising existing warheads and direct inspiration from factory weapons- and it seems it’s story isn’t over yet, even with the death of its creator. It will surely be fascinating to see the evolution and use of this weapon, which could represent a real change in the amount of potent anti-armour weapons that the IDF may face.