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Carl Gustav Rules In America
by James Dunnigan
September 22, 2014

U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) recently ordered several thousand more shells for the 84mm Carl Gustav portable recoilless rifle they have been using for over two decades. Back in 2012 the U.S. Army noted the continued success of the Carl Gustav with SOCOM and adopted it for all their infantry. The Carl Gustav was adopted by SOCOM for the Ranger Regiment in 1990. While part of the army, the Ranger Regiment is controlled by SOCOM. Regular army troops have been demanding the Carl Gustav ever since their ranger buddies got it. Infantry like this weapon mainly because it is a more accurate rocket launcher with a longer range than competing weapons (like the Russian RPG) and because the Ranger NCOs originally came from non-SOCOM infantry units and had been telling their buddies back there about what a handy weapon Carl Gustav was.

The Carl Gustav is the first multiple-shot rocket launcher U.S. Army infantry have used since the smooth bore 3.5 inch (88mm) bazooka was phased out in the 1960s. The Carl Gustav is basically a lightweight 8.5 kg (19 pound) recoilless rifle. It is 1.1 meters (3.6 feet) long. The barrel is rifled and good for about a hundred rounds.

The army also got rid of its recoilless rifles in the 1970s, replacing them with anti-tank guided missiles. What made the Carl Gustav unique was that it had the long range of a recoilless rifle (which used rifled barrels) but had a short barrel and was much more portable. The most popular American designed recoilless rifle was the 52 kg (114.5 pound) 75mm M20. With its long barrel (2.1 meters/6.9 feet) the M20 had a range of 6,400 meters. That was fine for use against tanks but the army brass never appreciated the fact that the recoilless rifle was most frequently used against infantry in bunkers or buildings. The Carl Gustav took all this into account and has been very popular with the infantry because of its portability, long range, accuracy and availability.

The 84mm projectiles weigh about 2 kg (4.4 pounds) each and come in several different types (anti-armor, combined anti-armor/high explosive, illumination, and smoke). The anti-armor round is very useful in urban areas and against bunkers. Range is 500-700 meters (depending on type of round fired), but an experienced gunner can hit a large target at up to 1,000 meters.

The army had earlier adopted the single shot version of the Carl Gustav (as the AT4) but the Special Forces showed that the Carl Gustav was better because you get more shots for less weight (the AT4 weighs about 6.8 kg each). It's easier to carry one Carl Gustav, at 8.5 kg, and a bunch of rocket propelled shells at about 2.2 kg (5 pounds, with packaging) each.

What new users of the Carl Gustav have to be most careful with is the back blast, which is more intense than that of the AT4. Army rangers also found that the best way to use the Carl Gustav is with a two man team. One carries and operates the Carl Gustav (and is best armed only with a 9mm pistol as a personal weapon). The other man carried 5-6 rounds of 84mm ammo and operates as a spotter for the Carl Gustav gunner. Depending on the situation, a squad might carry a Carl Gustav instead of a M240 light machine-gun. If you expect to encounter enemy troops some distance away, like over 500 meters, the Carl Gustav is the way to go. The Carl Gustav has been very useful in Afghanistan and any place with wide open spaces. One thing users had to constantly keep in mind was that the 84mm shell did not arm until it was at least 100 meters out. The Carl Gustav shells cost $500-3,000 each, depending on type (and complexity). The launcher (with rifled barrel and sight) costs about $20,000 each. 


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