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Light grenade launchers hotting up ...

Following the end of the Cold War, when indirect fire support was nearly always available to small infantry units as they were part of a coherent combat operation, the advent of asymmetrical scenarios totally changed the parameters. Some of the systems that became famous in Vietnam, namely underbarrel and stand-alone light grenade launchers, came back to provide basic indirect fire support at squad level. Several armies that did not have such systems in their inventory started to introduce them.

This re-equipping sparked off a proliferation of products on the market. Moreover, the access of many former Warsaw Pact countries to Nato and the increase of multinational operations forced many Eastern European manufacturers to shift from the Vog-25 ammunition to western 40 x 46 mm standard ammunition.

Underbarrel launchers

The M203, developed by AAI and mass produced by Colt, remains the most widespread system, although in US Army service it is being replaced by the M320, the American shortened version of the Heckler & Koch AG36. The system comes in two versions, the M320, which fits the Ml6 assault rifle, and the M320A1, which fits the M4 carbine. The decision to adopt a shorter barrel was mainly due to weight considerations, the shorter barrel ensures sufficient round velocity and precision while it allows a 23-gram weight savings.

Fielded for the first time in mid-2009 with the 82nd Airborne Division, the new grenade launcher showed better accuracy over the older M203 and was also easier to use. The double action mechanism allows quick firing again in case of misfire, while the side-loading system allows use of all 40-mm rounds, even the longer ones, something impossible with slide-forward launchers.

Moreover, its ladder sight is located on the side of the grenade launcher and not on the rifle, which negates the requirement to zero the system each time it is mounted. In mid-2010 some 10,000 M320 and M320A1 had been delivered to the US military. Produced by Heckler & Koch Defense of Ashburn, Virginia, a further four-year contract has been issued to include between 367 and 1800 M320s and between 3307 and 16,200 M320Als.

The AG36 gave birth to another model known as AG-C/EGLM (Enhanced Grenade Launching Module), which maintains the barrel length of the original version but is modified for a quick interface with the M16, M4, C7 and C8 rifles and carbines. Developed for British Army special forces units, it has also been adopted by the Dutch Army, while for the British Army a model with an interface for the SA80A2 rifle has been produced.

FN Herstal also developed a conformal grenade launcher for its F2000 integrated weapon system. The advantage of the integration is that the grenade launcher trigger can be operated without changing hand position. It has been adopted by Slovenia and Peru as well as by Belgian special forces and other undisclosed nations. For its Scar rifle, FN developed a new grenade launcher, the FN40GL, which not only adopts features similar to that of the M320, such as the double-action trigger and tilting barrel for reloading, but also an ambidextrous mode. The barrel is able to tilt either to the right or the left, as well as forward, which facilitates automatic case extraction and ejection.

For its new ARX160 rifle, adopted by the Italian Army and which will become part of the Soldato Futuro programme, Beretta developed the GLX160A1. The lightest in this category of systems, it features a double-action trigger, while reloading is performed via the standard slide forward mode. The GLX160A1 is equipped with a load chamber indicator that shows a red mark and can be felt by the finger when the grenade is in the chamber.

The Italian Army adopted the launcher to equip the contingent deployed to Afghanistan. These systems were equipped with an interface to allow them to be attached to the AR 70/90 issue rifle. Interfaces are also available for the G36, the M4 and the M16. A further batch of grenade launchers was acquired by Italy together with the first batch of ARX160 ordered by the Army.

Madritsch of Austria, a company founded four years ago, developed a launcher for the Austrian Army that did not protrude from the rifle barrel muzzle, as the one in service increased the length by 200 mm cancelling the advantage of the bull-pup configuration. The result is a 180-mm barrel providing a 73-metre/sec muzzle speed, only marginally less than the earlier 75 metre/sec, although a standard 230 mm remains available.

The ML40 comes in different versions with customer-defined barrel lengths and body materials (steel or aluminium). Weights of the underbarrel system range from 875 grams for the all-aluminium short barrel through 1.03 kg for the all-aluminium long barrel to 1.49 kg for the all-steel long barrel.

One of the requirements of the Austrian Army, which calls it AG77A1, was that the system could quickly be transformed into a stand-alone launcher. This is done within seconds and a safety ensures that the launcher cannot be fired if not attached to the rifle or to the stand-alone stock. The army acquired the long barrel version for conventional units and the short barrel version for its special forces - for a total of some 400 launchers. Madritsch is also involved in the Australian Land 125 Phase 3 programme, in the segment aiming at increasing the lethality of the Steyr F88 rifle.

Swiss Arms developed a grenade launcher for its SG550/551 assault rifle. Known as GL5040/5140, it is a conventional system. The 5040 is in service with the Swiss Army under the name Gewehxaufsatz 97.

Turkish MKE produces the T-40, also of conventional design, which is used on the H&K 33E rifle. Sarsilmaz produces the M203 under license for use in conjunction with the M16 and M4, while the Turkish Army also acquired some H&K AG36s to be used with the H&K 33 as well as with the MKE T-50 rifle.

South African Milkor is proposing its UBGL (Under Barrel Grenade Launcher), which is definitely one of the lightest systems of its kind, although its barrel is relatively short. In emergency it can be fired in stand-alone mode.

Eastern Europe

In Eastern Europe Vog-25 grenades are still used, although producers are increasingly turning their interest on the 40 x 46 mm standard. KBP in Russia is one of the few to still manufacture for the former Warsaw Pact systems; its muzzle-loaded GP-30 has the aiming sight fixed to the assembly itself.

In 2001 Bumar developed a Pallad version fully compatible with 40 x 46 mm grenades. Known as the GP-40, it was not, however, adopted by Poland, as the Polish Army decided to shift to the western standard ammo in June 2010 when 180 new under-slung GPBO-40 as well as 40 GSBO-40 stand-alone systems were acquired. These newly developed grenade launchers will be deployed to Afghanistan and will use the Sbao-40 family of grenades produced by ZM Dezamet.

In Croatia, Metallic produces the RBG-1 firing western standard ammo that can be easily installed under various types of rifles thanks to suitable interfaces. Romarm in Romania has adapted its AG-40P underbarrel grenade launcher to Nato standards, thereby giving birth to the AG-40PN, which accepts 40 x 46-mm grenades. Arsenal of Bulgaria produces four models, the UBGL, UBGL-1, UBGL-M6 and UBGL-M7. The UBGL and UBGL-1 fire Vog-25 standard grenades and are aimed at Arsenal and AK assault rifles, the former being compatible also with the Galil 5.56-mm rifle. The M6 and M7 both use 40 x 46-mm standard Nato ammunition.

Bulgarian Arcus has a comprehensive array of single-shot grenade launchers, some for Warsaw Pact-type grenades, such as the Arcus 30. However, the company is now fully concentrating on the 40 x 46 mm standard, its Arcus 40 has reached the A3 version. The main difference between the Al and A2 versions lies in barrel length, respectively 305 and 229 mm, which produced different accuracy.

Stand-alone Launchers

Besides the precursor of this category, the Vietnam-era American M79, one of the most widespread systems is the H&K 69A1, which allows loading long ammunition, its barrel tilting upwards. H&K has recently developed its successor known as 169; it is equipped with an upper Picatinny rail, although side rails are available as an option, and with the same foldable butt-stock of the G36 assault rifle. All controls are ambidextrous and it can fire all types of LV grenades in any length to a range up to 350 metres. Underbarrel grenade launchers, such as the AG-C/EGLM and the M320, can be equipped with a butt-stock and become a stand-alone weapon. The same applies to the Beretta GLX160A1, which slides under the standalone frame, the latter is equipped with a Picatinny rail.

The Swiss Arms GLG 40 leverages the company's GL5140 underbarrel system. It is equipped with a folding stock, its trigger guard can swivel in order to allow easy use even with heavy winter gloves, something useful for a mountainous country such as Switzerland.

FN provides a buttstock assembly for its Scar grenade launcher. Equipped with a leaf-sight attached to the upper Picatinny rail, it allows one to quickly transform the FN40GL-S into an underbarrel launcher and vice versa.

STK from Singapore produces a single-shot grenade launcher, the 1.7-kilogram Cis 40GL, which was born to be used as a stand-alone, although if used without stock and with an interface it can be installed under assault rifles such as the Sar 21, the M16, H&K models and others.

Milkor produces its modular 40-mm Stopper, which can fire 40 x 46 mm rounds as well as 37/38-mm rounds using a different barrel and breech, and can be fired both with and without buttstock. In Brazil, Condor produces the AM-640, a stand-alone only system that can fire the whole range of 40 x 46-mm low-velocity ammo; it is equipped with a fixed stock and its barrel is second only to the H&K 69 in terms of length.

A peculiar system is the Israeli Corner Shot 40 TM, which, thanks to a screen and camera system, allows around-the-corner shooting without exposing the soldier. A single-round pump-action reload gun, it is 900 mm long with stock extended, weighs 4.4 kg and fires most of the available 40 x 46-mm ammo.

Multiple-shot Launchers

The main source for multiple-shot grenade launchers is South Africa, where two companies are operating in this field, both offering revolver type weapons in a typical rifle configuration with butt, pistol grip and fore grip. As both companies are based on former Milkor Marketing technical personnel, their products are similar.

Rippel Effect Weapon Systems (formerly Milkor Marketing) is proposing its six-shot MSGL40, which, at four kg, provides considerable firepower to the infantryman. Its six-round rotating drum can host up to 105 mm-long cartridges. It is equipped with the GNR40 reflex sight calibrated for 40 x 46 ammunition.

However, the newest weapon is the XRGL40, which is chambered not only for the 40 x 46-mm low-velocity grenades but also for the 40 x 51-mm ERLP (Extended Range Low Pressure) rounds. which provide a range of 800 metres, about the double of standard grenades. The XRGL is equipped with the GRF40 sight, which includes a laser rangefinder and provides elevation correction for both low and medium velocity rounds. A simpler sight without LRF is also available. A bipod for increasing precision when firing extended-range ammunition is available, while a muzzle-brake considerably reduces recoil.

The Milkor MGL Mk 1S is chambered for low-velocity rounds, the chamber being 105 mm long. It is equipped with a standard manual correction sight. The Mk 1L version has a longer chamber, which allows it to accept 140-mm-long rounds.

Two multiple launchers differ from those described so far as they do not rely on rotating drums. The Russian GM-94, developed by KBP, is a pump-action gun on steroids, as instead of firing 12-gauge ammo it fires purpose-made 43-mm grenades. The weapon magazine contains up to three rounds, with one more in the chamber, while it does not feature a front grip, but the underbarrel is shaped to provide optimal hand grip.

Another atypical launcher is that developed by Metal Storm of Australia; this is based upon the stacked grenade technology patented by the company, where grenades are stacked in the barrel and fired electronically. Its 3GL launcher contains three rounds and can be provided either as a stand-alone weapon or as an underbarrel attachment, the latter solution giving to the squad grenadier a semi-automatic capacity. Metal Storm is currently qualifying its HEDP stacked ammo and is already capable of accepting orders for its system for deliveries planned in 18 to 24 months' time.

Ammunition

A new brand of ammunition that is emerging is the medium-range/medium-velocity type, with such internal ballistic characteristics that they can be used by some of the grenade launchers designed for low-velocity types. Compared to the typical 72-76-metre/sec low muzzle velocities, the new 100 to 130 metre/sec speeds provide greater ranges or a flatter trajectory at shorter ranges (and thus shorter flight times and higher accuracy).

The need to cover the gap between low-velocity grenades mainly used in single-shot launchers and high-velocity types originated from the US Special Operations Command, and the first company to answer that need was MEI, part of Chemring Ordnance. Its Mercury HEDP not only allows one to reach targets at ranges of 800 metres, but its bigger warhead with a fragmentation sleeve increased fragmentation by 45%.

Rheinmetall is developing its medium-velocity range of grenades using a modular approach. It offers two types of propulsion modules (one of which is insensitive), two tracer modules (one visible with a 300 Candela lighting and one infrared for night vision goggles is currently in development), three bodies derived from its HV range weighing around 250 grams, one HE (HEDP and practice), and four different ogives, namely the Velan ABM (air burst) with ESD (electronic self-destruct) fuses for the explosive rounds, and the TP-M (Target Practice-Marker) and TP-D/N (TP Day/Night) for training rounds.

Contrary to other companies that chose to increase the speed of low-velocity rounds, Rheinmetall decided to decrease the speed of HV rounds. A sacrifice had to be made on trajectory flatness and time to target, however, the advantage is in terminal effect. The round contains 32 grams of explosive vs. 20, the projectile body weight is of 177.3 vs. 143 grams, that of the fuze plus ogive is 63.9 vs. 40, the number of fragments is 50% higher at 1200 and the penetration of the HEDP round is 80 mm vs. 40 mm.

Although the modular approach will allow the adaptation of any type of programming system to the MV rounds intended for air burst mode, Rheinmetall selected infrared optical programming, which requires only a free Picatinny rail to install the small penlight sized LED laser system that transfers the relevant data to the sensors located in the rear part of the front ogive.

When Rheinmetall acquired a 51% stake in Denel Munitions in early 2008 the South African company was already working on medium-calibre rounds in cooperation with Rippel Effect. Unsurprisingly thus, the resultant Rheinmetall-Denel is following a different path compared to Rheinmetall Weapons and Munitions. The weapon of choice for developing the new munition was the Rippel Effect XRGL40, but the first problem was to solve the lack of rifling in the chamber and in the first part of the barrel (as the strong impact when the grenade hit the initial rifling gave fuse problems). The rifling was therefore extended throughout the barrel and the last part of the chamber.

Rheinmetall-Denel went for an intermediate munition solution by adopting a 203-gram round. The dual-purpose version includes a 65-gram fragmentation cup, 33 grams of explosive and 23 grams of liner; this provides for a higher terminal effect and a 122-metre/sec initial velocity, which extends the range to 800 metres compared to the 700 metres afforded by MV rounds using HV projectiles. Recoil energy is thus kept under the 60-Joule limit and allows a man to fire up to 100 rounds a day without sustaining physical damage.

STK manufactures a family of Enhanced Blast Insensitive Explosive Ammunitions (Ebix) available as the HE-SD (Self-Destruct) and HEDP-SD (Dual-Purpose), which feature enhanced blast effects compared to standard HE rounds, and provide greater destructive effects in enclosed areas.

STK also produces a Low Velocity Air Bursting Munition System, which is made of the 40-mm round, which features a fragmentation/flash bang warhead as well as a programmable time fuse, and is programmed by a fire control system attached to the rifle that computes the ballistic trajectory after having measured the target distance with a laser rangefinder, and programmes the time of burst on the fuse at the moment of firing. A self-destruct round, it is highly effective against troops in the open, behind cover and in buildings and bunkers. STK also produces Low Velocity - Extended Range (ER) in four different versions, HE, HEDP, TPM (Target Practice Marker) and FB (Flash Bang).

To enhance the lethality of underbar-rel grenade launchers, IMI of Israel developed the Multi Purpose Rifle System (MPRS), a system made of main subsystems: the assault rifle with UBGL, the sight with embedded Fire Control System (FCS) and a 40-mm air burst grenade with a built-in programmable fuse. The Orion FCS, which weighs about 600 grams, provides all necessary data to the soldier in terms of aiming and to the grenade in terms of programming. Once the mode of operation (impact; delay or air-burst) has been selected, the grenadier aims the laser rangefinder at the target. The FCS calculates and transmits time to burst, along with the selected mode of operation, to the round through inductive coils located in the breechblock of the UBGL. This is a normal launcher modified by IMI to include the inductive coil. The ABM grenade weighs 190 grams (40 of which is explosive).

IMI has already modified some M203s and FN40GLs, the system was demonstrated in the US in early 2010. In Israel the IDF is planning to acquire a small number of systems for user trials before deciding whether or not to field it.
Specifications of Typical Examples

 Colt M203 Colt Canada H&K M320
 M203A1

Weight (unloaded) 1.36 kg 1.85 kg 1.27 kg

Length 380 mm 318 mm 285 mm

Barrel length 305 mm 228.6 mm 215 mm

Trigger single action single action double action

Feed slide fwd slide fwd tilt left

 FN40GL x Scar Beretta MKE T-40
 GLX160

Weight (unloaded) 1.4 kg + 0.13 (sight) 0.98 kg 1.60 kg

Length n/a n/a 398 mm

Barrel length 245 mm 280 mm 305 mm

Trigger double action double action single action

Feed tilt right/left slide fwd slide fwd

(1) The GP-30 fires Vog-25 40 mm grenades (2) The Pallad fires 40 x 47
mm wz. 74

 Bumar GP-40 Bumar GPBO Arcus 30 UBGL

Weight (unloaded) 1.32 kg 1.70 kg 1.30 kg

Length 335 mm 395 mm 276 mm

Barrel length 264 mm 250 mm n/a

Trigger n/a n/a n/a

Feed tilt tilt slide fwd

 Romarm AG-40 PN Arsenal UBGL Arsenal UBGL-1

Weight (unloaded) 1.3 kg 1.5 kg 2.1 kg

Length 400 mm 300 mm 325 mm

Barrel length 300 mm n/a n/a

Trigger n/a double action double action

Feed n/a muzzle load muzzle load

 Single-round Stand-alone Grenade Launchers

 Bumar Pallad-D(1) Bumar GS-40 Bumar GSBO

Weight (unloaded) 2.30 kg 2.45 kg 2.40 kg

Length 670/395 mm 670/395 mm 660 mm

Barrel length 264 mm 264 mm 250 mm

Trigger n/a n/a n/a

Feed tilt tilt tilt

(1) The Pallad fires 40 x 47 mm wz. 74 grenades

 STK 40GL H&K 169 Brugger &
 Thomet GL-06

Weight (unloaded) 2.05 kg 2.23 kg 2.15 kg

Length 655 mm 574/330 mm 590/385 mm

Barrel length 305 mm 229 mm 280 mm

Trigger n/a double action double action

Feed tilt right break action break action

 Multiple-round Grenade Launchers

 Rippel XRGL 40 Rippel MSGL Milkor MGL 1S
 40

Weight (unloaded) 4.90 kg 4 kg 5.9 kg

Length 756/676 mm 725/645 mm 740/640 mm

Barrel length 290 mm 260 mm n/a

Calibre 40 x 46 mm and 40 x 46 mm 40 x 46 mm
 40 x 51 mm ERLP

Magazine rotating drum rotating drum rotating drum

N. of rounds 6 6 6

Mode of fire semi-auto semi-auto semi-auto

 Metallic RBG-6 Arsenal Arsenal MSGL
 Avalanche

Weight (unloaded) 5.5 kg 6.3 kg 6.1 kg

Length 777/566 mm 525/388 mm 760/640 mm

Barrel length 300 mm n/a n/a

Calibre 40 x 46 mm 40 mm Vog-25 40 x 46 mm

Magazine rotating drum rotating drum rotating drum

N. of rounds 6 6 5

Mode of fire semi-auto semi-auto semi-auto

 H&K AG36 Swiss Arms 5140 FN x FN2000

Weight (unloaded) 1.50 kg 1.70 kg 1.20 kg

Length 350 mm 432 mm n/a

Barrel length 280 mm 305 mm 230 mm

Trigger double action single action double action

Feed tilt left slide fwd slide fwd

 Milkor UBGL KBP GP-30 (1) Bumar Pallad(2)

Weight (unloaded) 0.77 kg + 0.065 1.60 kg 1.25 kg

Length 240 mm 276 mm 324 mm

Barrel length n/a 205 mm 264 mm

Trigger n/a double action n/a

Feed swing to the muzzle load tilt
 side

(1) The GP-30 fires Vog-25 40 mm grenades (2) The Pallad fires 40 x 47
mm wz. 74

 Arcus 40 UBGL Arcus 40 UBGL Arcus 40 EGLM A4
 A1/A2 A3

Weight (unloaded) 1.75/1.45 kg 1.6 kg 1.55 kg

Length 394/320 mm 352 mm 363 mm

Barrel length 305/229 mm 230 mm 230 mm

Trigger n/a n/a double action

Feed slide fwd slide & tilt tilt left
 left

 Arsenal UBGL-M6 Arsenal UBGL-M7 Metallic RBG-1

Weight (unloaded) 1.60/1.65 kg 1.7 kg 1.5 kg

Length 380/435 mm 357 mm 400 mm

Barrel length 250/305 mm 250 mm 232 mm

Trigger n/a n/a single action

Feed slide fwd slide fwd tilt left

 Single-round Stand-alone Grenade Launchers

 Arcus 40 SGL Arcus 50 M3 SGL Swiss Arms GLG 40
 M1/M2

Weight (unloaded) 3.1 kg 3.5 kg 2,5 kg

Length 700/530 mm 640/550 mm 710/480 mm

Barrel length n/a n/a 305 mm

Trigger n/a n/a double action

Feed slide fwd slide & tilt slide fwd
 left

(1) The Pallad fires 40 x 47 mm wz. 74 grenades

 FN40GL-S Condor AM-640 Milkor 40 mm
 Stopper

Weight (unloaded) 2.92 kg 2,35 kg 1.6/2.4
 kg(w/stock)

Length 528 mm 700 mm 568 mm (w/stock)

Barrel length 230 mm 355 mm n/a

Trigger double action double action n/a

Feed tilt right/left break action break action

 Multiple-round Grenade Launchers

 Milkor MRGL Yugoimport Yugoimport SG-07
 MSRG-40

Weight (unloaded) 6.5 kg 4.4 kg 5.4 kg

Length 761 mm 790 mm 825/600 mm

Barrel length n/a n/a n/a

Calibre 40 x 46 mm 40 x 46 mm 40 x 46 mm

Magazine rotating drum rotating drum rotating drum

N. of rounds 6 5 6

Mode of fire semi-auto semi-auto semi-auto

 KBP GM-94 Metal Storm 3G L

Weight (unloaded) 4.8 kg n/a

Length 810/540 mm n/a

Barrel length n/a n/a

Calibre 43 mm 40 mm

Magazine tubular stacked
 grenades

N. of rounds 3 + 1 3

Mode of fire pump action semi-auto
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Title Annotation:Infantry: weapons
Author:Valpolini, Paolo
Publication:Armada International
Date:Dec 1, 2010
Words:3967
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