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.”
Latest updates: BAE’s PAS-13 thermal sight to be part of the fire control system.
The infantry soldier is the center of gravity in current wars, and improvements to the individual soldier’s equipment and firepower overmatch often provide most bang for the buck to militaries wishing to make a difference on the ground. They’re not high profile purchases, however, which often creates neglect and delays. 40mm grenade weapons are an obvious choice, given their area suppression abilities and versatile ammunition. Grenade Machine Guns go beyond 1-shot rifle attachments and even beyond multi-shot weapons like the M-32/MSGL, providing medium-range, area effect firepower that decisively beats other infantry weapons within its reach.
The Americans have deployed 40mm GMGs from the outset of conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, mostly General Dynamics’ Mk19. That inventory is modernizing, as the USA has begun buying General Dynamics’ new STRIKER 40, with programmed airburst features. Others have been slower. Britain addressed this gap back in 2006, when it began ordering Heckler & Koch GMG systems to equip its Royal Marines. Canada has been much slower to react, but 8 years after its troops entered Afghanistan, the Close Area Suppression Weapon (CASW) project aims to give Canadians the same options that other militaries already enjoy…
American Rheinmetall Munitions (ARM), a Stafford, VA-based subsidiary of Germany’s Rheinmetall Defence, received a $28.8 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract from the US Navy for an improved flash-bang grenade.
ARM currently supplies the MK13 Mod 0 BTV-EL flash-bang grenade to US special ops forces and other US military customers. The MK13 is a stun grenade that produces a blinding flash and deafening noise levels sufficient to daze and disorient the target, without causing permanent injury, the company explains.
The MK13 uses a delay fuze that detonates the grenade 1.5 seconds after the fly-off lever is released.
While high-tech weapons items get a lot of billing, the Global War on Terror is very much an infantry war. Firepower overmatch matters in those situations, which explains the corresponding popularity of 40mm grenade systems on the modern battlefield. Enter, then, the US Marine Corps’ M-32 six-shot 40mm grenade launcher.
During an annual symposium several years ago, Marine gunners decided that they needed an option that was more powerful than the ubiquitous M203 one-shot launchers that mount under their M4 or M16 rifles. The M-32 won out as an experimental weapon for each marine battalion – and now a variant appears to have won a larger formal competition.
American Rheinmetall Munitions (ARM) in Stafford, VA received an $8.2 million order from the Program Manager for Ammunition, Marine Corps Systems Command, in Quantico, VA, to deliver vehicle-launched 66mm visual and infrared screening smoke grenades. The Marines chose the ARM’s red phosphorous smoke MK 1 MOD 0 grenade over the brass flakes-based M76 grenade.
Both the MK 1 MOD 0 and the M76 are armored-vehicle-launched grenades that provide masking for armored vehicles in the visible and thermal infrared wavebands, so-called bispectral obscurants. The obscurants make it difficult for the enemy to detect the vehicles by blocking the electromagnetic spectrum. However, the grenades provide masking in different ways. The MK 1 MOD 0 grenade uses red phosphorous pellets and wafers that, when burned, generate a thick smoke the blocks detection of the vehicle in the visible and infrared spectrum. The M76 grenade uses micropulverized flakes of brass that when dispersed by the grenade also block the infrared and visible spectrum.
General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products recently announced a $12 million contract from the U.S. government for production of the MK47 STRIKER40 lightweight grenade machine gun.
40mm grenade machine guns like the Mk19 are extremely effective weapons against lightly protected opponents, offering fast firepower overmatch against superior numbers. The STRIKER40 updates the standard GMG by dropping the gun’s weight from 77 pounds/ 35 kg without the tripod mount (Mk19 MOD 3) to 39.6 pounds/ 18kg (Mk47 MOD 0). That change, in and of itself, has helped spur early use by US special operations forces, and led to scrutiny of interesting new technologies like Vinghog AS’ low-recoil “soft mounts”. When assembled with its own tripod and sight for carriage on foot, however, the Mk47’s weight rises to 90 pounds/ 41 kg.
The AN/PVG-1 Lightweight Video Sight (LVS) offers Striker40 operators 3X magnification, a laser range finder and ballistic computer, and interface connectors for an optional thermal night sight attachment. LVS is installed on the right side of the weapon, and is controlled by buttons and 4-position “joystick” located at the rear of the receiver, between and above the spade grips. These additions allow the gunner to fire programmed airbursts that detonate at precise distances specified by the LVS’ laser rangefinder. Opponents hiding behind a wall or in a trench can no longer depend on their protection, which is very useful in urban fights and counterinsurgency campaigns. The flip side is an increase in the cost of each weapon, and in the associated maintenance burdens.
Many of the current conflicts are essentially infantry battles, which makes firepower overmatch a critical goal. Whether fired singly from an M203 rifle mount, used in a remote-control vehicle system like CROWS, or as an infantry platoon’s crew-served heavy weapon, the 40mm grenade brings considerable firepower to the infantry fight. It’s also lethal against unarmored or lightly armored vehicles. Some companies are even offering shotgun-style repeating launchers, like Milkor’s MG-32 – or even weapons that can be fired around corners!
As FY 2008 ticked down to a close, the US military issued over $120 million worth of contracts for its staple 40mm weapon – the Mk19 grenade machine gun. It also got set to begin testing an interesting addition to infantry firepower – a programmable 25mm air bust weapon that offers comparable lethality, but can be carried by a single soldier…
You’re a soldier, approaching a building that contain armed enemies. As the squad slips from point to point, leapfrogging to offer each other cover, the question arises: who wants to be the designated bad boy who gets to kick down the door and hope they aren’t greeted by a hail of bullets from the other side? As the saying goes: Noooobody!
The Israelis thought about this problem, and decided to let Simon do it. Simon is RAFAEL’s bullet-trap grenade with a stand-off rod, and a precisely shaped 120mm warhead. Just attach the standoff
rod at the front, slide the 1.5 pound grenade’s tail over the muzzle of your rifle, take aim from between 10-36 yards/ 9-33 meters away, and pull the trigger. The rod and specially shaped warhead ensure that the grenade’s shock wave blast blows the door right in, while creating enough noise and chaos to give the squad a few precious seconds to get inside and take the offensive.
“Let Simon do it” became popular enough to earn RAFAEL’s grenade wide Israeli use, a partnership with General Dynamics ATP, a video on US Army PEO Soldier’s web site, and a 2005 award from the US Army for the M100 GREM(Grenade Rifle Entry Munition) as one of the year’s top 10 military inventions. On Nov 4/07, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. announced another milestone: a $52 million contract from the US Army for the Simon (GREM) door breaching rifle grenade.
On Oct 29/07, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced [PDF] Israel’s formal request for a wide variety of missiles and ammunition. Previous orders have outfitted its air force for air-air and air-ground combat. While many of this order’s missiles are likely to find themselves aboard Israeli helicopters, this is not exclusively true, and the overall picture is one of rebuilding ammunition stocks for the ground forces and their supporting arms.
The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $1.329 billion. Specific items requested include:
The grenade machine gun was invented to provide area-effect infantry firepower that could decimate enemy infantry with fragmentation bursts from multiple 40mm grenades. The Saco/GD Mk19 is one of the world’s most common GMGs, and events in Afghanistan et. al. are making these weapons very popular. No weapon can be effective without proper training, however – which leads to the question of how one does live training involving a GMG? Glad you asked…
Rheinmetall Waffe Munition GmbH, doing business as Niederlassung NICO Trittau in Trittau, Germany, just received $39 million for delivery order #0003 under a previously awarded firm-fixed indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract (M67854-06-D-1027) for the production of 1,496,000 40mm MK281 Mod 0 Practice Cartridges, plus accompanying non-recurring costs. The MK 281 is a training cartridge consisting of 32 rounds linked together in a belt for use in the Mk19 Grenade Machine Gun. Upon impact with the ground, the cartridges expel a non-toxic orange dye that is visible up to a minimum of 1,200 meters in normal daylight conditions, and a chemiluminescent insert that is visible up to 500 meters in darkness (especially with night vision goggles).
That ought to remove the old “I hit you… Did not… Did too…” discussions we all remember so well. Work will be performed Trittau, Germany, is work is expected to be completed by September 2008. The Marine Corps Systems Command, Program Manager for Ammunition in Quantico, VA issued the contract.