(Very) Light Artillery: The Infantry Soldiers’ Grenade Launchers
[Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a series on grenade launchers.]
Dismounted infantry units have a variety of weapons. These are assault rifles, add-on grenade launchers, light and medium machine guns and various shoulder-fired rocket launchers. However, none is an ideal solution against enemy infantry out in the open at long range, in defilade, or in entrenched fighting positions. But the soldiers have an ace up in their sleeve–support from a long-range Automatic Grenade Launcher (AGL) firing 40x53mm High Velocity (HV) rounds.
AGLs are extremely effective weapons against lightly protected opponents, offering an overmatch with fast firepower against superior opponent numbers. This has made them an increasingly popular choice on the front lines. AGLs are usually mounted on a tripod as an infantry weapon for engaging ground targets or installed on a mount for use on land vehicles, patrol boats, integrated on a remote-operated weapon station on a vehicle or onboard a helicopter. This article will describe the following Automatic Grenade Launchers,
Fire Control System and ammunition:
- MK19 Mod 3
- MK47 MOD 0 STRIKER40
- Heckler & Koch’s GMG
- Heckler & Koch’s GMG with Rheinmetall’s Fire Control System
- Nammo’s 40x53mm HV grenades
The MK19 was originally developed to provide the U.S. Navy with an effective riverine patrol weapon in Vietnam. A Product Improvement Program was initiated in the late 1970s resulting in the MK19 Mod 3.
The U.S. Army adopted the MK19 Mod 3 in 1983 and has used the MK19 in the harsh environments encountered during world-wide operations. The MK19 Mod 3 is used within the tactical environment for defense, retrograde, patrolling, rear area security, urban warfare and special operations. It’s also used by the U.S. Navy and adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force for a variety of ground applications.
General Dynamics’ and U.S. Ordnance’s reliable MK19s are still in production and are likely to remain so for some time to come.
MK19 Mod 3
U.S. Ordnance, Inc. produces the 40x53mm MK19 Mod 3 GMG for foreign sales. The automatic fire, blow-back operated, belt-fed weapon is air cooled. It has an angle of fire between 70o elevation and 70o depression. The MK19 Mod 3 is designed to not cook off because it fires from an open bolt which enhances cooling and low barrel temperature between shot bursts and during rapid fire engagements and sustained automatic firing. The chrome bore barrel is removable. No headspace or timing adjustments are required. It is capable of firing all HV 40mm (NATO-qualified) various rounds (rds), such as the M430A1 High Explosive Dual Purpose (HEDP) 40mm grenades, at a cyclic rate of 325 to 375 rds/min. The belt pull of 28 rds gives no reduction to rate of fire. The dual spade grips give stable control. The MK19 Mod 3 can, when employed on the battlefield, engage targets at short- and long-range distances with continuous lethal firepower against a variety of targets, including lightly armored vehicles and dismounted infantry out in the open, in defilade, or in entrenched fighting positions.
The Muzzle Velocity is ~241 m/s. Maximum effective range against point targets is 1,500m and against area targets 2,000m. HEDP grenades will penetrate 75mm rolled homogenous armor (RHA) at a maximum range of 2,212m which means they can penetrate most infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers. Dismounted personnel within a radius of 15m from impact will be immobilized by blast and fragmentation. The MK19 Mod 3 is especially effective when used against enemy infantry formations. Due to its low recoil and comparatively light weight, 35kg, the MK19 Mod 3 has been adapted for use on many different platforms, including small attack boats and fast attack vehicles, such as the Humvee, Stryker, AAV, military jeeps and a large variety of naval mounts. It is crew-transportable over short distances with limited amounts of ammunition. The weapon’s high lethality and broad versatility make it the prime choice of U.S. warfighters as an essential weapon in both offensive and defensive operations. The simple design makes general maintenance easy. Mean rounds between failures exceed 20,000 rds. Weapon life is 50,000 rds. (Optional: Tripod and mounts and mounting rail for optics and accessories.) At the company’s booth at SHOT Show 2018, and at the firing range ProGun, U.S. ORDNANCE’s MK19 Mod 3 top rail mounted an IntelliOptix’s Machine Gun Sight (MGS+) and a 3x flip over magnifier sight. The IntelliOptix MGS is designed as “One Sight for all Crew Served Weapons.” With an extra wide field of view for heads-up-display, the MGS offers both-eyes-open shooting. Night fighting capability is possible using NVG. The MGS+ provides faster target acquisition and increased first burst hit probability. The MGS significantly improves weapon accuracy and increases the speed and ease of target acquisition. The MGS+ offers one-shot-one-hit capability. The MGS+ comes with a removable LED module with various Mil Dot Reticles for the actual weapon in use.
MK47 MOD 0 40mm Advanced Grenade Launcher
General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems is the system integrator of the MK47 MOD 0 lightweight 40mm Advanced Grenade Launcher. MK47 is integrated with the latest sensing, targeting and computer-programming technology. The MK47 marks the first major advancement in crew-served GMG weapon systems. The MK47 is a reliable, portable 40mm grenade launcher suited for light infantry vehicles and tripod applications. The MK47 provides the warfighter with a decisive technological advantage over enemy forces equipped with older crew-served weapons. To assist the soldiers to detect, recognize and get a first-round engagement of target threats in all weather, the MK47 has a sophisticated Lightweight Video Sight (LVS) with built-in, third-generation image intensifier with a magnification of 9x. The LVS is day/night switchable. The fire control system utilizes an eye-safe laser rangefinder with a range of 40m to 2,000m with an accuracy of 1m, a ballistic computer, azimuth reading, ammunition mode and electronic elevation mechanism.
The MK47 is ~17.2kg lighter than the MK19 Mod 3 at 18kg versus 35kg. The significant reduction in weight is achieved by an innovative design coupled with the extensive use of new lightweight materials and composites. In addition, there are the weights of the MK47’s sophisticated fire control system and the tripod. The flip side is an increase in the purchase cost of each weapon and in the associated maintenance burdens. The weapon features a quick detach barrel for ease of transport.
It has fixed headspace and timing. The MK47 is recoil-operated and fires from the closed-bolt position which is claimed to lower dispersion. It has low-peak recoil and a trigger mechanism with unique asymmetric safe and fire positions, and the weapon does not fire if the barrel or buffer is not correctly installed. The back plate cannot be removed while there is a round in the chamber. Other features include single-charge loading and last round ejects. The firing pin does not release unless the bolt is in the closed position. Ammunition is fed from the left, and the empty 40mm cartridge cases are ejected downwards; when the top cover is opened the belt stays in place. Total charge pull is 55% of the MK19, and a round counter is fitted as standard. The MK47 fires all NATO standard high velocity 40mm rounds, providing devastating firepower against soft and light armored targets (muzzle velocity 240 m/s). It has a maximum effective range of 1,500m. Maximum effectiveness is obtained when the system uses 40x53mm High Explosive Dual Purpose/High Explosive Dual Purpose-Self-Destruct fuzes (HEDP/HEDP-SD) against a variety of targets (Light Armor/Materiel/Dismounted Infantry) or 40mmx53 HE/HE/SD HV High Explosive grenades for anti-personnel/anti-materiel. The ammunition can be programmed for either air burst or point detonation. The Computing Devices Canada electronic fire-control system is mounted on the right side of the weapon and allows for rapid target acquisition and provides a head-up display on a flat screen. The display is adjustable and can be detached. Power is from the vehicle or internal NATO standard battery which has sufficient power for 8 hours. Once the operator has ranged onto the target the fire-control system automatically computes a target solution and programmes the chambered 40mm round before it is fired. There is also a back-up sight. Rate of fire is 250/300 rds/min. The MK47 fires from an advanced lightweight tripod or universal vehicle mount. MK47 achieves a 90% hit rate on the first round.
Heckler & Koch’s GMG
H&K calls their AGL for Grenade Machine Gun (GMG). HK GMG is recoil-operated, inertia bolt and fires from the open bolt, and uses all types of available 40x53mm grenades in either semi- or fully automatic firing modes. The barrel is cold hammer forged. GMG’s muzzle velocity is 241m/s. Maximum effective range is ~1,500m with a maximum range of 2,200m. Rate of fire is ~350 rds/min. Belt feed direction is operator convertible. Barrel is removable without tools. A special barrel lock prevents firing if it’s not properly installed. In order to reduce weight and manufacturing costs, the receiver is made of aluminum. Other features include a fluted chamber for equal pressure on cartridge case and positive extraction and ejection. The primer ignition is advanced. The bolt reciprocates on a massive guide rod and is stabilized by two steel rails that are bolted to the receiver. The HK GMG upper mount (gun cradle) readily mounts to standard U.S. tripods, various vehicle mounts or the lightweight adjustable HK aluminum tripod. The tripod provides low-to-high height position settings as well as provisions (retainer hooks) for the use of a ballast sack to reduce tripod movement during firing from the high standing position. The upper mount with control grips has ambidextrous firing levers and an adjustable shoulder support. This enables the shooter to quickly and accurately engage multiple and/or moving targets during free gun firing. Clearing the gun simply consists of lifting the feed tray cover and removing the belt. The position of the ambidextrous charging handle allows the shooter to cock and clear the gun without reaching near the ammunition belt and feed way. Weapon and tripod can be transported in “backpack” by a two-man team. The weapon’s weight is approximate 29kg. The other parts: upper mount 12.6kg, ammunition box holder 4.3kg, ammunition box (fully charged 32 rounds) 20.2kg, tripod 15.0kg and precision aiming device 2.5 kg. HK’s GMG is adopted by military forces of several NATO and allied countries, as well as select U.S. special operations units. HK’s GMG has been used in combat operations throughout Southwest Asia. H&K boasts that their GMG has outperformed competing models in overall durability, ease of use, precision targeting and safety, and as a series production unit it’s available below the purchase cost of competing systems.
Vingmate FCS–Advanced Sight and Fire Control System
Vingmate is a superior sight and fire control system for crew-served weapons such as 40mm automatic grenade launchers, .50 cal. machineguns and anti-tank weapons. The Vingmate FCS is mounted on soft-mount cradles, assuring top performance. The weapon system can either be mounted on a vehicle or placed on a tripod for dismounted operations. It is deployable in all types of climatic and weather conditions, including snow, desert, mountain and jungle environments, and is also suitable for operations in urban terrain. The Vingmate FCS has been used with a variety of 40mm GMGs, .50 cal. and other heavy machine guns with impressive accuracy and functionality. The FCS gives day/night operations capabilities for direct fire for point targets and improved area suppression and indirect fire. Target acquisition is out to 4500m (detection >7,000m, recognition >2000m, identification >1200). As soon as the operator has ranged onto the target, the fire-control system automatically computes a ballistic solution to the target/Airburst programming for 40mm AGLs. FCS has Battle Management (BMS) interface. The operational benefits are:
- Increased first hit probability eliminates “walk-fire” method of engagement
- Reduced ammo consumption
- Increased mission endurance
- Reduced collateral damage
- Fast target identification and engagement
- Rapid engagement of multiple targets
- Maintain element of surprise
- Utilize air burst ammunition to defeat targets in defilade
Vingmate FCS includes day camera, thermal camera (optional), digital magnetic compass, GPS, laser range finder and laser pointer (optional).
The Vingmate FCS has a built-in NATO standard battery which has sufficient power for 8 hours and an optional power pack of 20 hours. The FCS can take vehicle power from 12 to 36 volts.
Nammo 40x53mm High Velocity
Nammo has the following 40mmx53 HV Airburst programmable grenades that are designed to take out targets in defilade, with a fragment distribution sideways and rearwards.
MK285 PPHE Programmable Pre-fragmented High Explosive Airburst ammunition is specially designed for the MK47 ALGL.
The MK285 round gives excellent fragmentation and provides airburst with pinpoint accuracy.
C171 PPHE-RF Programmable Pre-fragmented Airburst–Radio Frequency ammunition is designed for use in any 40mm AGL weapons. The wireless programming unit is easily adaptable to any fire control system. The C171 round gives excellent fragmentation and provides airburst with pinpoint accuracy. The ammunition is qualified for H&K GMG weapon in service.
MK314 HEDP-AB High Explosive Dual Purpose Airburst is specially designed for the MK47 ALGL. The MK314 round provides airburst with pinpoints accuracy. The HEDP warhead provides fragmentation, penetration and is electronic self-destruct. Qualification tests for the U.S. Navy were completed in June 2012.
HEDP-RF (NM 264) High Explosive Dual Purpose Airburst–Radio Frequency is designed for use in any 40mm AGL weapon. The wireless programming unit is easily adaptable to any fire control system. The HEDP-RF round provides airburst with pinpoints accuracy, fragmentation and penetration with high reliability.
HEDP/HEDP-SD Dual Purpose HV grenade for use on AGLs against a variety of targets [Light Armor/Materiel/Dismounted Infantry]. Available with standard PD or self-destruct fuzes. It’s qualified for use in MK19 and LAG 40 (Spanish GMG). Tested in MK47 and H&K GMG. HEDP round homologated by Spanish MoD.
HE/HE/SD HV High Explosive grenade for anti-personnel/anti-materiel use on AGLs. Available with standard PD or self-destruct fuze. Tested in MK47 and H&K GMG. HE round approved by Spanish MoD.
In addition there are two training ammunitions with tracers and one with tracer and marker function and drill cartridge.
Manual Programming Unit 40mm RF Airburst ammunition is a low-cost solution that will eliminate the use of expensive fire control systems to program Nammo’s 40mm RF airburst ammunition. The MPU can be mounted on almost any grenade machine gun without significant changes to the weapon and its functionality. By using the MPU, 40mm airburst solutions are within reach without costly investments in complicated and sensitive fire control systems. The battery life lasts 72 hours of normal use. Its weight is 1,195g including battery pack. Operational temperature: -40oC to +63oC.
Programmable–Pre-fragmented Ammunition’s function
Nammo High Explosive Dual Purpose Airburst-Radio Frequency high performance programmable pre-fragmented ammunition has inside the head, an electronic variable time fuze. Airbursting fuze technology ensures that each round detonates at the intended range–even in urban combat environments onto the intended target. The concealed target here is one man inside the van, one outside and one inside the hut. Nammo’s MPU (on the rail) measures the distance, and the fire control system calculates when the detonation is to take place. Immediately when the projectile leaves the muzzle, the fuze is set wirelessly by radio signal and it starts countdown. The accuracy is 1 millisecond resolution, and over target, detonating scattering lethal fragments downward in a 360 ° cone and the size of the cone can be predicted. That knowledge reduces collateral damage.