M203 Grenade Launchers: Still Ordered, But Facing Competition
Airtronic USA, Inc. in Elk Grove Village, IL recently announced a 5-year, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract from US Army TACOM Rock Island Arsenal, IL. The firm will produce up to 50,000 M203 and M203A2 40mm Grenade Launchers. The contract’s initial $4.55 million order is for 5,266 weapons, which implies that the total order could be worth around $43 million, if all options are exercised (W52H09-10-D-0173).
The front-loading M203 fits under the US military’s rifles, allowing troops to fire a single 40mm grenade, while keeping their rifle ready to fire in normal mode. This is in contrast to single shot “bullet trap” systems like the SIMON/GREM door breaching grenade, which are designed to fit over the barrel of the rifle – or to multiple-round, dedicated 40mm grenade launchers like the US military’s MSGL. Airtronic has been manufacturing the M203 family of 40mm Grenade Launchers (M203s, M203A1s, and M203A2s) since 2006, and says that it has delivered 24,700 launchers without a single field failure. Even so, the M203 is facing serious competition for service within the US military.
Its primary threat is HK’s M320, whose 2005 contract led to fielding with the 82nd Airborne by July 2009. It appears to be the M203’s successor, and is expected to replace existing M203s in the US Army and associated Reserve or Guard units, at a price of about $3,500 per unit.
The M320 also attaches or detaches from a rifle with no special tools required, and includes a side-loading breach for longer 40mm grenade types. The system also includes a day/night sight, and a handheld laser rangefinder for the grenadier.
In order to counter that threat, Airtronic is taking 2 tacks. One approach is to widen their product’s market, via attachment brackets that can mount an M203 to Russian AK47/AKM weapons. That could open up opportunities with American allies who use those rifles, and see advantages in standardizing on the M203 as their 40mm grenade launcher.
The second approach involves the M230 DAX, with a double action trigger, an extended receiver to accept longer projectiles, a front grip, the ability to fire it as a stand-alone weapon, and day/night sight options. The goal of the DAX is to compete with HK’s M320, at a significantly lower price point. This could open up opportunities with other American service branches, as well as foreign M16/M4 customers.