Britain’s GMG Order Illustrates 2 Key Trends
The infantry soldier sits at the center of gravity of current wars. While institutional infatuation with larger projects often makes defense departments slow to adapt to this reality, improvements to the individual soldier’s equipment and firepower overmatch are generally where countries will find the most bang for their buck if they wish to make a difference on the ground.
While countries like the USA have been using 40mm grenade launchers as standard equipment for some time, and are even introducing new options like the terminator-style Milkor M-32, Britain has lagged behind. As the MoD article noted, “views coming back from the front line were that [.50 cal machine guns] needed some high explosive back-up to provide full force protection and security to airfields and forward operating bases.” To fix this problem, in November 2006 Britain bought 40 Heckler & Koch 40mm grenade machine guns for use in Afghanistan by the Royal Marines. The weapon is exactly what its name implies, firing up to 340 grenades per minute to burst around enemies up to 1.5 km away. Although the ammunition can be used against light armour, its main role is infantry suppression and overmatch against enemies with AK-type weapons, RPGs, etc. These are true crew-served weapons with a weight of at least 30kg/ 70 pounds, however, so many will be mounted on “Wimik” (weapons mount installation kit) Land Rovers.
Key Trends (November 2006)
One trend is the infantry enhancement imperative, visible in new additions to Britain’s infantry kit that have included the belt-fed FN Minimi 5.56 light machine gun, the Javelin anti-armor missile, an under-slung grenade launcher for the SA80 rifle, and a head-mounted night vision system with laser aimer (vid. USA’s MFALS). The experience Britain has gained in theater with its BvS10 viking all-terrain armored vehicles, whose greatest strength is their infantry enhancement role, illustrates another aspect of this same trend.
Further “L134-A1” GMG orders are expected in future, and may become especially necessary given the second trend. It includes previous complaints from the British commander that Quetta, Pakistan is the Taliban’s operational headquarters, while the Musharraf government has surrendered control over the “lawless frontier” border areas of Waziristan et. al., and released 2,500 individuals linked to the Taliban and/or al-Qaeda in September 2006. Despite local Pashtun protests over these moves, one can expect a stepped-up influx of larger Taliban/al-Qaeda formations across the border in the coming year. If so, the GMG’s firepower overmatch will be an important addition for Britain’s soldiers in the southern provinces of Afghanistan.
2007 did see offensives in Afghanistan, and heavy fighting at times. Still, the main center of gravity for al-Qaeda and the Taliban turned out to be Pakistan. A full-scale insurgency has triggered growing international awareness and concern, and still control’s large sections of that country. Meanwhile…
Feb 8/08: The UK Ministry of Defence discusses its follow-on buys of HK’s GMGs, under the The Fire Support Weapon programme. Col. Peter Rafferty, who leads UK Defence Equipment & Support’s (DES) Dismounted Close Combat project team, said:
“This contract completes our planned buy of the equipment, a large proportion of which has been delivered ahead of schedule to meet the urgent requirements of the men on the ground. Reports from the front line have been extremely favourable… The grenade machine guns were needed both to support infantry in difficult terrain, and to completely dominate the battlefield when in open terrain… It’s extremely effective – especially when teamed up with the powerful 0.5in calibre machine gun – and does the job that was intended. It’s so accurate that a well-trained user can put a grenade through the window of a building over a kilometre away.”
While this programme will deliver the system mainly for use in a tripod-mounted role from the ground, it can also be mounted on several in-service vehicles, including armoured Land Rovers and the Mastiff protected patrol vehicle.”
In addition to the 40mm GMGs themselves, the program includes a full suite of weapons optics including a telescopic day sight, image intensifying and thermal night sights, and a laser rangefinder. The total program cost is over GBP 18 million (about $36 million), including all equipment, vehicle integration, and training systems.