The New 40: HK’s M320 Grenade Launcher
Sometimes, 5.56mm just isn’t going to get the job done – and neither will any other standard rifle caliber. Shoulder fired rockets are heavy, which limits carrying capacity, and can’t fill all needs with their warheads. That’s why most militaries use reloadable 40mm grenade launchers as key supplemental firepower for their infantry squads, while leveraging the round’s array of special-purpose ammunition types.
HK’s M320 seems set to become the US Army’s new under-weapon/ hand-held 40mm grenade launcher. The M320A1 fits on the Army’s M4 or HK’s HK416, while the M320 fits M16 rifles. They appear to be the M203′s successor in the US Army and associated Reserve or Guard units, and like their predecessor, M320s attach or detach from a rifle with no special tools required. Unlike their slightly lighter predecessors, the double-action M320s include a side-loading breach for longer 40mm grenade types, instead of the M203′s slide-forward-to-load operation. An optional day/night sight, and a handheld laser rangefinder for the grenadier, make the system more accurate, as do mechanical sights that maintain their zero via direct mounting on the launcher, instead of the rifle. If required, a detachable sliding buttstock quickly converts the M320 from an under-weapon addition to a single-purpose “bloop tube.”
Contracts & Key Events
Unless otherwise noted, M320 contract are issued by US Army TACOM in Warren, MI, to Heckler and Koch Defense, Inc. in Ashburn, VA.
The current plan is for the M320 to replace the M203 in the US Army, but competitors like Airtronic are modifying the M203 to create competition within the US and foreign markets, and the older design is still being ordered by the US military.
Nov 29/10: The M320 is recognized by the US Army as one of the Top 10 inventions of 2010.
May 24/10: A $13.7 million not-to exceed firm-fixed-price contract for 5,400 M320A1 grenade launchers and 600 M320 grenade launchers. Work is to be performed in Oberndorf, Germany (50%), Columbus, GA (30%), and Ashburn, VA (20%), and the contract runs until March 31/11. One bid was solicited (W56HZV-10-C-0025).
Oct 9/10: A $14.5 million not-to-exceed firm-fixed-price contract for 5,400 M320A1 grenade launchers and 600 M320 grenade launchers. Work is to be performed in Oberndorf, Germany (50%), Columbus, GA (30%), and Ashburn, VA (20%), and the contract will run until Sept 30/10. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W56HZV-10-C-0025).
Discussions with Army PEO Soldier confirmed that the originally announced figure of $6.7 million was a provisional figure that allowed HK to begin ordering supplies and long-lead materials. The not-to-exceed authority is as stated above, and negotiations continue to ward a final contract, even as currency swings are having a (positive) effect on the final price. The work locations have firmed up to mirror the May 2010 contract’s, and the originally announced contract number of W56HZV-09-C-0616 was also changed, since it was issued in FY 2010. Other than that, the DefenseLINK announcement was accurate.
July 8/09: The HK M320 is fielded with the 82nd Airborne division, as paratroopers of the soon-to-deploy 1st Brigade Combat Team receive familiarization training and fire the weapons for the first time. The paratroopers seem relatively pleased, and back up their assessments. Squad leader Staff Sgt. Robert Eaton was able to fire 3 shots in just under 30 seconds, using a combat approach of acquire-fire-cover-reload-acquire new-engage. He also had this to say:
“In Iraq, I found the M-203 to be pretty accurate, but it was more of a weapon of intimidation… If you are getting shot at from a building, you put a round through two windows to the left. It might not kill him, but it’s definitely going to get him to put his head down. Now with the 320, you’d probably put the round within killing range, and a lot quicker.”
See: US Army News Service, via Military.com.
May 12/05: The “XM320″ 40x46mm grenade launcher module’s win as the US Army’s next 40mm accessory. This award marks the completion of a full and open competition among several companies, involving commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) shoulder-fired grenade launchers. The XM320 GLM was selected after months of rigorous bid sample testing, including a user evaluation at the US Army’s Aberdeen Test Center in Aberdeen, MD.
The total potential value of this contract is $29 million, with a potential purchase of more than 11,000 launchers, day/night sights, and assorted items (tools, parts, and accessories) over the life of the initial contract. As of May 2010, HK has delivered about 10,000 M320s to the US military HK-USA.