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
FY 2011 – 2014
30,400 ordered; Army evaluating M320 holsters; Top 10 invention winner.
Unless otherwise noted, M320 contracts 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.
Jan 31/14: 12,400. A $19.4 million firm-fixed-price contract for 12,400 M320/M320A1 grenade launchers. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2010 and 2013 budgets.
Work will be performed Columbus, GA, Ashburn, VA, and Germany. One bid was solicited with 1 received, and the contract will run until Jan 13/16. US Army Contracting Command in Picatinny Arsenal, NJ manages this contract (W15QKN-14-C-0028).
July 25/13: Holster. The M320 won a lot of plaudits, but if it’s not on a rifle, its 1-point sling means that it bounces around a lot and get beaten up. What soldiers really wanted was an easy-draw holster. US Army PM SCIE member Darren Bean has been working on the “M320GL Holster Soldier Enhancement Program” at the Natick Soldier Systems Center since November 2012.
The SEP was a small-scale effort that let the Army buy 167 holsters each from 3 vendors, each of which manufactured a different design. The bulkiest design has pockets for the grenades, a 2nd offers very little weapon protection in a very sparse frame, and a 3rd is somewhere in between. The 2nd phase of the “buy-try-decide” began with some soldiers in the 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, GA, and has since moved on to soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division, the Vermont National Guard’s 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and “Soldiers in Afghanistan”. A report and recommendation is expected in the fall. Source: US Army, “Natick develops holster for M320 grenade launcher”.
July 5/11: 10,000. A $38.6 million firm-fixed-price contract for 18,000 M320A1 Grenade Launchers, and technical data packages for each. That’s $2,142.07 each. Work will be performed in Ashburn, VA; Columbus, GA; and Oberndorf, Germany; with an estimated completion date of May 31/15. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W56HZV-11-D-0052).
Nov 29/10: Top 10. The M320 is recognized by the US Army as one of the Top 10 inventions of 2010.
Top 10 award
FY 2005 – 2010
M320 picked; Contracts for 10,800.
May 24/10: 5,400. 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: 5,400. 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, 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.
M320 wins, base contract
* Heckler & Koch USA – M320
* US Army PEO Soldier – Equipment Piece of the Week: M320 Grenade Launcher (GL)
* US Army (July 25/13) – Natick develops holster for M320 grenade launcher
* US Army (Nov 19/10) – M320 Grenade Launcher wins excellent Soldier feedback
* Gannett’s Army Times (Nov 20/08) – Army to field new grenade launcher