Marines Fought the LAW, and the LAW Won
Older versions of Talley Defense Systems’ M-72 light antitank weapon (LAW) were used extensively during the Vietnam War, where their performance showed that only larger, shoulder-fired rockets would stop a Soviet tank. Post war, the bigger and longer-range AT-4 missile and the Shoulder-launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon (SMAW) became the Marine Corps’ rockets of choice. Now a modernized M-72A7 LAW is making a comeback, to positive reviews from Marines headed for urban combat in Iraq.
Four factors account for the LAW’s renewed popularity:
# Low mass & bulk.
# Reduced backblast and hence secure firing.
# An explosion of lightly armored targets on the battlefield.
At only about 30″ long and about 7.7 lbs., the M72a7 LAW is 10″ shorter and far lighter than a 15 lb. AT-4/M136, and very much lighter than a 17 lb. SMAW. Improvements in the LAW’s rocket propulsion have also reduced the back-blast, so it can be fired from a concealed window in urban house-to-house street fighting. As Chief Warrant Officer 5 Pat Woellhof noted:
“The weight and size allow any Marine to strap it to an assault pack… (It’s) better for moving down an Iraqi alley to seek cover. It’s as wide as your shoulders, and you can get in a window or doorway… With the AT-4 or the SMAW, you have to expose yourself to fire… The LAW is designed to augment the AT-4 against the technical Toyota (pickup truck) with a machinegun on board or against [lightly-fortified] urban positions.”
With respect to the last item, cost, the LAW is substantially cheaper than the $75,000 Javelin missiles that might be used in its place, or the $13,000 SMAW. At under $2,500 per weapon, it is slightly cheaper than the M136/AT-4, more compact, and weighs only half as much. Which means that it’s far more likely to be available on the battlefield when needed. The M72a7 LAW may pack less punch than other options, but its 66mm rocket is more than enough to destroy a pickup truck, or punch through improvised urban fortifications.
The LAW may keep on winning, too. A family of designer rounds is being developed for the new version – including a high-heat and high-pressure thermobaric warhead (i.e. fuel-air explosive) capable of killing everyone in a bunker or confined space, an antipersonnel warhead that can detonate at 100 meters or more and throw shrapnel fragments at enemy troops, and of course the traditional antitank warhead. See Marine Corps News article, also Eric Steinkopff: Marines to Use Vietnam-Era Weapon.