Thursday, 24 January 2013

Grenades grenades grenades!

Alright, back to some military themed posts. There have been a profusion of new hardware gimmicks making their debut on the market, which are aimed towards improving the effectiveness of grenade launchers. Some of these are major leaps forward in capability over what previous designs have been able to provide. Before we embark on studying all the specifics of this, it is worth deliberating over exactly what the true purpose of these weapons are in combat. While the role of traditional hand grenades has been portrayed as that of an area denial weapon, defining a space in which no human being would venture into (which has the useful ability to be safely thrown from behind cover), the handling of a grenade launcher clearly has different elements involved. For example, in order for the operator to acquire a target, he must partially expose himself and become vulnerable to counterfire. Additionally, the added size and weight of the grenade launcher entails a shift in weapon status for its wielder, from secondary to primary. While the greatly increased range and accuracy is a definite plus, the grenade launcher has moved away from its previous status as a risk free weapon of convenience.
Now, with that observation out of the way, lets have a look at all the innovative designs at our disposal. There is the milkor M32, metal storm 3GL, QLZ-87B, PAW-20, F2000, and XM-25. The latter two examples introduce remarkable new employment options. The GL1 grenade launcher (mounted composite with the F2000 rifle) features an integrated laser sight, which verifys the range to target. The user only needs to paint the 'object of interest' to activate the ballistic computer, which will provide him with an effortless firing solution: Elevating the grenade launcher in the direction of the target, he will be informed of whether or not it is at the correct firing angle by LED lights mounted on the sight. When considering the curved trajectory of the 40x46mm round, this will allow shooters to easily place shells into enemy dead space. The XM-25, on the other hand, provides the same ability through a considerably different process. Again using a laser rangefinder to determine the distance to the target, this time, the weapons ballistic computer will provide detonation commands to the fuze of a grenade in the chamber. It does this by calculating the number of rotations the round will make on its way to the target! Clever, eh? By virtue of the weapons flat arc, any grenades it spits out will explode at a distance that was pre-set by the user and computer (which, in most cases, would be directly above an enemys head). This allows the saturation of targets in foxoles and trenchs, even without the use of plunging fire (as the F2000 system does).

The QLZ-87B, PAW-20, and XM-25 are all multi-shot weapons, being fed from a stacked magazine in a conventional manner. The fact that they do not need to be reloaded after each discharge is a highly desirable feature. Unfortunately, the latter two examples make use of proprietary grenade calibers, which are small and limited in their potency. The former example, while using full sized rounds, is also quite heavy and inconvenient for a single soldier to carry around. This marginalises their applicability as a grenadier weapon, with the attributes to replace the workhouse M320. What is needed is a system that is fairly lightweight, can fire multiple shots, has an affinity for counter defilade shooting, and also fields the standard 40x46mm grenade rounds. These requirements rule out everything except for the milkor M32, and metal storm 3GL! The imposing EX-41 china lake model (which won so much acclaim in ralph zumbros book) would also be a prime candidate, were it not for the fact that it had a tiny production run, and has been out of service for decades. The question we now have to ask ourselves is, which model has the best characteristics for its role as a primary weapon? Lets go through all the specifics. For size and weight, the M32 is 32 inchs long, and 11.7 lbs in weight. The 3GL, meanwhile, is 30 inchs long, and 5.5 lbs in weight. This clearly gives it the edge, even though its magazine capacity is of three rounds, compared to the mikors six (the difference between three grenades and six is, after all, smaller than the difference between three grenades and one!).

 The EX-41, in all its glory. As paris
hilton would say... Thats hot.

However, the question we really need to ask ourselves now is whether or not the 3GL (in its current form) is worth the cost of acquisition? Although there would not be the difficultys with ammo incompatibility that are faced by the XM-25, it really doesn't seem worth it to go through the trouble of replacing the just recently introduced M320 system... That is, until, you take a look at the untapped potential the 3GL posses'. The metal storm technology this weapon is based on allows multiple rounds to be loaded into, and fired from, a single barrel. This is distinct from those designs which make use of revolver or magazine fed systems, which can be quite bulky when packing many full sized grenades. Additionally, the 3GL has been designed to be within the same tolerances as the M203/M320 and so achieves similar range, velocity & accuracy. It makes use of standard 40x46mm grenade warheads which are inserted into the metal storm ‘tail assembly.’ Again, this would make the system much more attractive to nations which currently use the standard 40x46mm rounds. The modern caseless propellant and gas seals developed by metal storm are clearly secure, and the electrical firing system is much simpler than the earlier efforts. The MS rounds basically use STK projectiles with a caseless propellant and gas seal unit affixed to the back, in place of the usual cartridge case.

With that being the case, there is a specific direction that this grenade launchers design could be taken in, to make it a truly worthy addition to our nations arsenal. Anthony g williams, in his article, some thoughts on metal storm, imagined a new type of grenade launcher which could take advantage of the MS propellant block and gas seal. This allows multiple rounds to be loaded and fired from a single barrel, making for a much more compact weapon than competing MGL systems. By using two barrels, with four rounds in each, it would be handier than the milkor, with a faster rate of fire, more ammunition capacity, and the opportunity to employ multiple different rounds at the same time. One option would be to keep the first barrel loaded, and leave the second free to hand load specialised rounds such as flare, smoke, or video reconnaissance types. This would obviate the need for the operator to employ a personal weapon, as they would have the capability to fire flechette rounds to neutralise point targets. Maybe this would be the opportunity to introduce those canister rounds that g2mil mentioned back in the day. You know, the ones which splinter into multiple segments so as to cover one square meter of space at a distance of 500 meters?

Actually, there are a large variety of special rounds that can be implemented with this design, which would make this double barreled grenade launcher a truly multi purpose weapons system. Even something as wacky as a HEDP round that can be guided towards a moving target through a SACLOS setup. But this is a topic best saved for another post. For now, our objective of investigating the best possible replacement for the M320 that money can buy is complete. The fire control system of the F2000 has especially interesting potential, particularly when considering it can be programmed to take into account the ballistic properties of up to six or more types of grenades... As a final note, just in case some people are still confused about what the squad mission of a grenade launcher is, it is enlightening to look at the results of the vietnam-era Infantry Rifle Unit Study (IRUS). According to it, the M79 pattern weapon was found to be most effective when employed as an area suppression weapon in the attack, but of comparatively little value in the defense. Whether a multi shot design like the EX-41 (which was in service at around that same time period) would suffer from these same weakness' is unknown. Only the future will tell!


  1. You omitted some other weapons with more than one grenade capacity, such as the Russian 43 mm GM94, Russian 40 mm 6G30, Croatian 40 mm RBG-6, Bulgarian 40 mm Arsenal Avalanche and Bulgarian 40 mm Arcus 40 MGL.

    Milkor is the grenade launcher market's equivalent of HK and FN in terms of marketing, but it's not even remotely alone in the market.
    There are also some small calibre grenade weapons which you omitted, for example Barrett's 25 mm payload rifle and the South Korean 20 mm Daewoo K11 DBW (a OICW lookalike).

    Regarding Metal Storm; in 2008 I met a Metalstorm representative in Paris and he announced live fire tests in fall 2008. I still didn't hear about them. Metalstorm has made headlines for almost a decade, yet delivered very little. My patience with them ran out.

    You discussed a wide range of multi-shot infantry grenade weapons, but somehow you mixed them all together. Some of them can be considered fire team level weapons (such as the Metalstorm UBGL and XM-25), others squad-level weapons (such as the Milkor thing) and others finally have such a huge range that it's a quite obvious idea to assign them directly to the control of a platoon leader (the Chinese 35 mm models). These weapons aren't really competing.
    They do compete with single shot weapons, anti-personnel rounds for RPGs etc. and with rifle grenades, though.

    Armies with RPG-like weapons can make use of effective ~40 mm ammunition for these; fine range, no need for a dedicated grenade weapon (most recoilless infantry anti-tank are almost exclusively being used against hostile infantry anyway - this began with the original Bazooka and Panzerfaust 30 already).

    Single shot weapons (especially those compatible with 40x46 mm MV ammo) have a powerful weight argument in their favour; you can carry a dozen rounds for the weight you saved by going with a UBGL (such as a M203PI) instead of with a clumsy revolver MGL. The common ammo loadout of grenadiers with UBGls or stand-alone GLs is about 8-12 rounds in many armies.

    Rifle grenades are even more extreme; they turn every rifle into a grenade launcher and enable thus grenade salvoes. The RGs can have large calibres (up to 60 mm, significant for HEAT), can be used with standard ball cartridges (no slower readying for action than with a secondary stand-alone GL) and weapon weight is non-existing. Flip-up ladder sights can be mounted directly on AP or AT rifle grenades, while Illum or smoke RGs need none.

  2. Ah, you are right! Those are all very good designs, too. A shame I failed to include them. But maybe they will get a chance to shine again... I'm planning to do a 2nd post on this subject in the future, which will also devote some attention to exotic munitions types (including some that only exist within my twisted imagination, like that aforementioned SACLOS grenade). The XM-109 is an arguable case, since it is far more a rifle than a grenade launcher. Speaking of which, I am really surprised their hasn't been a return to the rifle grenade as of late! There were guys from the pacific theatre of WW2 who figured out how to fire 60mm mortar rounds from their rifles, by modifying the projector adaption used to launch the old pineapples. IMHO, 50 caliber rifles that are doing ANYTHING besides dedicated counter-sniping should be equipped with these.

    But I agree with your views on heckler & koch, that company is SO over rated. I blame the legions of idiotic COD players and their perpetual tacti-cool hard on. There needs to be more respect for the tried and true kalashnikov series, which has borne the brunt of so much fighting and hardship. If it wasn't for the lack of a bolt hold open feature, and the lacklustre accuracy, I would have rated the AK-47 as one of the top three infantry rifles in existence today, even after 65 years of development... Unfortunately, it loses its spot to the SCAR-H, HK 417, and magpul masada. XM8 gets an honourable mention too for its superb ergonomics.

    Anyway, sorry to go off into a tangent about rifles. What were we talking about again? Oh right, grenade launchers. Metal storm is dragging out the implementation process for too long, my favored solution to this is the same as with the beyond-armor charge design of fosvarets fabriksverk: Invalidating the patent by appealing to the security concerns of NATO, so that it can be retrofitted to all HEAT rounds (not just their damned AT4s). To hell with intellectual copyright! And to be honest, I really don't see much role at all for the under barrel GL. The average grunt doesn't get much mileage out of them, and he would be better off shelving the extra weight, in favour of humping extra ammo belts for the sqaud machine gun. Also, rocket launchers cannot perform the counter defilade fire missions that these next-gen grenade launchers will be able to. I see them as a valid replacement for 2 inch commando mortars in that sense.