Weapons: Survival Of the Quick Responder

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August 10, 2021: The U.S. Marines have finally adopted the lightweight reloadable Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle, five years after the army did. The marines, like the soldiers, had seen SOCOM (Special Operations Command) troops using the reloadable Carl Gustaf for years but the marines had a much smaller procurement budget than the army and often have to wait before adopting weapons and equipment SOCOM and regular army infantry have had a lot of success with. The marines will phase out their current SMAW (Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon), which they adopted from an Israeli design in the mid-1980s and recently updated. The updated Mk 153 SMAW Mod 2 is an 83mm 5.9 kg (13 pound) reusable launcher with a thermal sight and laser range-finder. After spending 18 years and millions of dollars to develop Mod 2, it was decided that it was cheaper and more effective to drop Mod 2 and gradually replace the older SMAWs with MAAWS (Carl Gustaf M3E1). The M3E1 is more accurate, has a longer range and a wider variety of ammunition, with most of those shells getting to the target faster than SMAW. Also important is that Saab, the developer and producer of Carl Gustaf since 1948, constantly updates the weapon and is very receptive to user complaints and requests. That saves the marines the time and expense of upgrading older weapons like the original SMAW.

In 2016 the U.S. Army finally, after years of requests from the infantry, agreed to equip all infantry units with the M3 84mm portable (shoulder fired) Carl Gustaf reloadable recoilless rifle. The army called its new weapon MAAWS (Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel Weapon Systems) and it replaced the single shot (non-reloadable) AT-4 Carl Gustaf the army had been using since the 1980s. The marines adopted the MAAWS name as well.

In late 2017 the army placed a rush order for 1,111 of the new M3E1 lightweight version of the recently adopted 84mm M3 Carl Gustaf. The new version used lightweight materials (titanium) and users requested improvements like an easier to use carrier handle and hand grips. M3E1 is shorter and does away with the optional stand as it is light enough to be used all the time as shoulder fired. M3E1 weighs 6.6 kg (14.5 pounds) and is 950mm (38 inches) long. The new barrel lasts a lot longer (up to 2,000 rounds) and fires all the ammo used in the existing M3. In effect the M3E1 is basically what the Swedish manufacturer calls the M4 Carl Gustaf, which was introduced in 2014 and is popular because of its ability to use several different snap-on sights (including thermal/night vision) with 84mm shells that can now be programmed to detonate under specific conditions.

SOCOM units have been using the standard Carl Gustaf with great success since the 1980s and army troops in Iraq and Afghanistan noticed and were impressed. For decades the army resisted adopting the standard reloadable Carl Gustaf because it was believed a one-shot Carl Gustaf built initially for the Americans, was the way to go. But SOCOM troops kept reporting otherwise. Since 2001 there has been more combat but also widespread use of the Internet by combat troops that allowed news of satisfied Carl Gustaf users to spread wider and faster. The 2016 decision equips each infantry platoon with a reloadable Carl Gustaf. There are usually nine platoons in an infantry battalion.

The Carl Gustaf has been a popular infantry weapon since it was introduced in 1948. By the 1980s troops in most NATO nations used it and that, plus seeing it in action, persuaded SOCOM to adopt it. The Carl Gustaf has undergone steady improvement since 1949 and by 1991 the M3 version entered service as what was basically a lightweight (8.5 kg/19 pound) recoilless rifle that is 1.1 meters (43 inches) long. The barrel is rifled and good for about a hundred rounds. 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 Carl Gustaf shells cost $500-3,000 each, depending on type and complexity. The launcher, with rifled barrel and sight, costs about $20,000.

The single shot version of Carl Gustaf, the AT-4 was introduced in the 1980s, and did little to hurt reloadable Carl Gustaf sales. The Americans were the largest user of the AT-4 and over a dozen other export customers ordered it. While U.S. Army leaders liked the AT-4 most troops preferred the standard reloadable Carl Gustaf because you got more shots for less weight. Each AT-4 weighs about 6.8 kg. In combat it was more effective to carry one Carl Gustaf, at 8.5 kg, and a bunch of shells at about 2.2 kg (5 pounds, with packaging) each. The M3E1 is lighter than the AT-4 and more capable.

Carl Gustaf is currently in use in 40 countries worldwide and sales went up significantly with the introduction of the M4 in 2014 and many users of the AT-4 version switched to the M4.

 


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