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Automatic grenade launchers: new automatic 40 mm grenade launchers and ammunition are being produced as armies seek to bolster the firepower of infantry units deployed in the War on Terror. Much of this renewed interest results from experience gathered in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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The US Army and US Marine Corps have been equipped with a 40-mm automatic grenade launcher (AGL) since the Vietnam War and the Soviet Army introduced a 30-mm AGL in 1971. The 40-mm Mk 19 AGL was initially developed in the mid-1960s to arm US Navy patrol boats operating in the rivers of South Vietnam, but ground commanders soon came to appreciate the weapon's ability to spew up to 400 high-explosive (HE) rounds per minute out to 1500 metres. General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products has built almost 35,000 Mk 19 Mod 3 systems, the current production standard, for some 30 customers since 1984. The US Army bought 1243 weapons in fiscal year 2006 (FY06), 502 in FY07 and has requested funding to buy another 970 in FY08.

The Mk 19 Mod 3 is an air-cooled, belt-fed, blowback-operated weapon that can be turret, vehicle or ground mounted. In US Army service the weapon is routinely mounted on the AM General High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, the Textron Marine & Land Systems M1117 Guardian Armored Security Vehicle and the General Dynamics--Canada Stryker Infantry Mobility Vehicle. Such applications solve the major difficultly associated with automatic grenade launchers--the weight of the weapon and its ammunition. The Mk 19 Mod 3 weighs 35.3 kg and the standard M3 tripod another 20 kg, although a 9.1-kg lightweight tripod is also available. Standard rounds in American service are the M383 high-explosive anti-personnel round, the M430 high-explosive dual-purpose (HEDP) round, which can penetrate 50 mm of rolled homogenous armour at 2200 metres, and the M918 flash-bang practice round. Firing the M383 and M430 the Mk 19 Mod 3 has a maximum effective range of 1500 metres against point targets and 2200 metres against area targets. Since 2001 General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems has produced the 40-mm M1001 High Velocity Canister Cartridge that is designed to be used in the anti-personnel role to a maximum range of 100 metres. The round disperses 113 flechettes that are capable of penetrating body armour.

The CG-40 Striker, unveiled in 1994, is the product of an effort launched by GDATP in the late 1980s to develop a lightweight 40-mm AGL to replace the Mk 19. GDATP is responsible for overall systems integration and production of the weapon while Raytheon produces the fire control system and Norway's Nammo produces the ammunition.

The US Special Operations Command selected the Striker to meet its requirement for an advanced lightweight grenade launcher to replace the Mk 19 Mod 3. The Striker, type classified as the Mk 47 Mod 0, achieved the first-unit-equipped milestone May 2004 and that year the command awarded a production contract for up to 1000 weapons.

The performance requirements stipulated that: the complete system weigh less than 100 lb (45.36 kg) when man-packed, operators be able to prepare vehicle-mounted weapons to fire from ground mounts within three minutes and the weapon must have a maximum effective range of 1500 metres against point targets and 2000 against area targets. Furthermore, gunners had to hit 80% of targets within 300 to 1000 metres using a standard 32-round ammunition box within two minutes. The Striker team met these requirements through a systems approach. The fire control system is based on the Lightweight Video Sight developed by General Dynamics Canada which incorporates an eye-safe laser rangefinder that measures ranges out to 2000 metres with an accuracy of one metre. The sight picture is provided to the gunner on a head-up x3 magnification flat screen. When the range to the target has been measured the system calculates a fire solution and programmes the round in the chamber before it is fired. The sight also includes a Gen III image intensifier.

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Nammo developed a prefragmented, pre-programmable high-explosive air--burst munition (ABM), since designated the Mk 285 Mod 0 by the US Department of Defense. These rounds can be programmed for point detonation or to explode above or beside a target such as infantry in trenches, on rooftops, in buildings or around corners. A prefragmented sleeve surrounds a 40-gram HE payload and 1450 steel balls. These are sprayed in a pattern five metres to the left, rear and right of the detonation point. The round also incorporates an electronic self-destruct function.

The objective 40-mm Airburst Family comprises the Mk 285 round (which was qualified in 2006), an improved M430 HEDP round and a Programmable Training Round that provides a visible airburst signature. In September 2006 the US Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division awarded Nammo an $ 8.45 million contract for 39,776 Mk 285 rounds to be delivered by November 2007. Nammo developed the Improved High-Velocity (IHV) upgrade for the American Ordnance M430A1, which features improved penetration capability, the Nico Pyrotechnik propulsion unit used in the Mk 285, insensitive munition explosive and a self-destruct function. The round is fitted with the Mk 438 electronic programmable fuze used in the Mk 285 for use with the Mk 47 Striker and is also available with a mechanical point-detonating/self-destruct fuze allowing it be fired from most 40 mm weapons.

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Under the American Foreign Comparative Test programme the Special Operation Command launched the evaluation of an Improved Crew Served Weapons Mount in FY06 intended for use with the Mk 47 and machine guns such as the M2.50 calibre heavy machine gun and M240 7.62-mm medium machine gun. In late 2006 Vinghog of Norway received an $ 8.4 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for its Softmount for an extended evaluation.

At Eurosatory 2006 Vinghog unveiled the Vingmate fire control system that can be used with crew-served weapons such as 40-mm grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and anti-tank weapons. Mounted on types such as the Mk 19, the Vingmate exceeds the design requirement of enabling the gunner to fire the first round through a one-metre-square window at a range of 400 metres. Live firing trials were completed in 2006 and Vingmate is ready for production.

The Canadian Army has recently released a request for a Close Area Suppression Weapon and service officials have indicated they hope to field a weapon by mid-2008. The army is expected to spend almost C$ 90 million to acquire at least 179 weapons, an advanced fire control system and ammunition. In order to meet the in-service date the initial batch of weapons may be fielded without the final FCS solution. Besides being fired from a tripod and vehicle mount the army wants a weapon which can be mounted on a remote weapon station such as the Kongsberg Protector M151 RWS installed on its General Dynamics Land Systems--Canada RG-31 Nyala armoured patrol vehicle recently purchased for service in Afghanistan. Canadian vehicles are fitted with the same Kongsberg Protector M151.

Raytheon Canada is proposing the Mk 47 Striker while Rheinmetall Canada is offering the Heckler & Koch 40-mm Grenade Machine Gun (GMG).

Germany's Heckler & Koch developed the GMG in the early 1990s as a private venture to produce a weapon lighter than the Mk 19 Mod 3. With a box of 32 rounds fitted, the weapon weighs 75.5 kg with the gun weighing 28.8 kg, the Vinghogs tripod 10.7 kg and the Softmount, also from Vinghogs, 8.6 kg. Folding iron sights are fitted for engaging targets out to 500 metres and the user can mount a variety of sights to achieve the maximum range of 2200 metres. A light variant weighing 51.9 kg, a reduction of 23% compared to the standard weapon, is also available. Weight reduction measures include using a simpler tripod without the soft mount, removing the bracket for mounting the ammunition box and not fitting a muzzle attachment.

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The German Army is fielding the GMG to its infantry units and it has been selected as the primary self-defence weapon for the new Krauss-Maffei Wegmann Fennek 4 x 4 reconnaissance vehicles and Artec Boxers. Export customers include the Portuguese and Greek armies with weapons being produced under license by Hellenic Arms Industry. The American Special Operations Command has also bought an unknown quantity of GMGs.

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In late 2006 the British Ministry of Defence selected H&K to meet an urgent operational requirement for a medium direct fire support weapon that could project high-explosive grenades to a range of 2000 metres. The 4.3 million [pound sterling] contract included 44 GMGs most of which are now in service with British forces deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The weapons are generally mounted on Land Rover 4 x 4 light utility vehicles that have been fitted with the Weapons Mount Installation Kit (Wmik). In late June the Ministry announced the purchase of 130 larger 4 x 4 Wmik vehicles, designed by Supacat and manufactured by DML, to bolster the firepower of British forces in Afghanistan (the new vehicle will be described in the next Armada supplement on Special Operations Equipment). The deployment of the vehicles next year should coincide with entry into service of a new Fire Support Weapon. Although a selection has yet to be announced it is likely that the GMG will be chosen if feedback is positive from units already equipped. It is anticipated that two or three weapons will be issued to each dismounted rifle company in the British Army and Royal Marines.

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Another European successor to the Mk 19 is the Lag 40 SB 40-mm developed by General Dynamics Santana Barbara Sistemas of Spain. The weapon on its tripod with cradle mount weighs 86 kg including a box of 32 grenades (19 kg). The user is able to shift the feed to the right or left side as required. The company has produced more than 200 weapons for the Spanish armed forces and has exported weapons to Portugal.

The South African National Defence Force is the launch customer for the locally developed 40-mm Y3 AGL produced by Vektor, a division of Denel. Vektor's electronic sight enables the Y3 to be used in the indirect-fire role out to a range of 2000 metres, thus assuming the role of a light mortar. An observer passes the co-ordinates of the target to the Y3 gunner who enters the information into the weapon's ballistic computer, which calculates the range and bearing to the target. The Y3 weighs 35 kg, the tripod with cradle mass 18 kg and a 20-round box of ammunition 7.3 kg. South Africa's Swartklip Products produces a family of 40-mm high-velocity grenades, including high-explosive, HEDP and training rounds.

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Singapore Technologies Kinetics (STK) launched its 40-mm 40 AGL on the market place in 1990 and followed this in 2001 with the 40-mm Super Light Weight Automatic Grenade Launcher (SLWAGL). More than 2000 40 AGLs have been built for the Singapore Armed Forces and more than 20 export customers. The 40AGL is mounted in combination with the 12.7-mm 50MG in the STK 40/50 cupola weapon system which is installed on some M113 and STK 40/50 armoured personnel carriers in SAF service. The 40AGL weighs 33 kg without mount or ammunition. The objective of ST Kinetics in designing the SLWAGL was to keep the weapon's weight to about 19 kg, or about half the weight of conventional AGLs; prototype weapons weigh about 14 kg. Small quantities have been sold to a few countries, including Sweden, for evaluation purposes.

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To add to its family of high velocity grenades STK developed the 40-mm Air Bursting Munition System, which consists of the $418 40-mm Air Bursting Munition, a muzzle mounted ammunition programmer and a fire control system, which can be used with its own weapons and also as an upgrade for the Mk 19 Mod 3 and other AGLs. The ammunition was developed in collaboration with Oerlikon Contraves of Switzerland, which produces the Programmable Time-Based Fuse using technology derived from its 35-mm Ahead air-defence round. Upon detonation the $418 disperses 400 prefragmented pellets in a forward arc. The FCS consists of an optical module, a laser rangefinder and a ballistic computer that determines the optimum point of detonation. A night sight can also be added to the FCS.

A unique 40-mm grenade launcher is the Redback Lightweight Remotely Operated Weapon System being developed by Metal Storm, Electro Optic Systems (EOS) and STK. The Redback uses Metal Storm's electronically initiated, stacked projectile system, which removes the mechanisms required to fire a conventional weapon. Four barrels, each with four projectiles, are grouped on a mount with a sensor and fire control system similar to that EOS had developed for the US Army's Common Remotely Operated Weapons System. The Redback is able to track targets and slew at speeds of up to 700 degrees/second and can fire individual rounds, controlled bursts or all 16 rounds in a fraction of a second. Metal Storm and STK are collaborating in the development of a 40-mm family, which includes HE, enhanced blast and airburst rounds as well as less-than-lethal munitions. Possible applications include mounting in a fixed location as an area-denial weapon or on vehicles as a convoy defence weapon. The Redback is capable of further development to enable it to autonomously intercept multiple rocket-propelled grenades. Test firings of the complete Redback system were successfully conducted in Singapore in June 2007.

The US Army plans to replace its Mk 19 Mod 3 AGLs in the next decade with the 25-mm XM307 Advanced CrewServed Weapon being developed by General Dynamics. A modular design enables the XM307 to be converted to the XM312 .50-calibre machine gun that is intended to replace the M2 series.

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The US Army has decided that increased lethality is the first priority for enhancing the seven brigades being equipped with General Dynamics Land Systems--Canada 8 x 8 Stryker. In May 2006 the XM307 was integrated on the Stryker's Kongsberg M151 RWS and conducted successful firings while static and on the move. The XM307 has also been selected as the Common Close Support Weapon to serve as the primary or secondary armament on six manned Future Combat Systems vehicles and the primary armament on two unmanned vehicles.
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Title Annotation:Grenade launchers
Author:Kemp, Ian
Publication:Armada International
Date:Oct 1, 2007
Words:2340
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