Dispatches: ISOF Arms & Equipment: Grenade Launchers & Anti-Armour Weapons
Whilst employed less frequently than the other types of small arms and light weapons covered in this series, grenade launchers and anti-armour weapons have still played a role in Iraqi Special Forces’ operations during the re-conquest of parts of Iraq from the Islamic State. Complementing other types of weapons used in the fighting, weapons firing high-explosive (HE) munitions were used sparingly due to the significant collateral damage they could inflict on the civilian population of Mosul, as well as the logistical burden of ammunition resupply from a limited Iraqi support infrastructure.
One of the key systems in service with ISOF is the 40x46SRmm M203 under-barrel grenade launcher (UBGL), typically coupled with an ISOF member’s M4 pattern self-loading rifle. The two primary variants in use are a 9-inch barrel version using an early type of short, ventilated, replacement handguard and the more modern and widely used 12-inch barrel M203 that is mounted underneath the barrel and Picatinny handguards of an M4 rifle. The 9-inch barrel version, in addition to its reduced length, has a distinctive shape. In the past, there have been at least five makers of this configuration: Colt, Lewis Machine & Tool (LMT), Knight’s Armament, AirTronic and RM Equipment. The examples in Iraq appear to be primarily sourced from surplus U.S. military stocks. Most of these are Colt manufactured. However, LMT examples have also been documented in use.
Of the M203 models in use, very few are mounted with the appropriate flip-up leaf sights that align with the M4 front sight post for aiming purposes. Instead, many of the ISOF grenadiers place AN/PEQ-2 aiming devices at the 12 o’clock position. This does not pose an issue when used with M203 models with 12-inch barrels but complicates mounting for the variants with 9-inch barrels that use the shorter handguards. To solve this predicament, some ISOF grenadiers have been using M16A2-type carry handle mounts which attach to the standard A2 carrying handle on an M4 pattern rifle and have a Picatinny rail extension that rests over the handguard of the rifle. This allows any Picatinny-mounted optic to be placed in a forward position.
Interestingly, images showing ISOF fighters with M203 pattern grenade launchers rarely show any spare cartridges among the soldiers’ gear. In fact, there is very little video or imagery showing ISOF members firing these weapons. Current and former members of ISOF revealed that supplies of 40x46SRmm cartridges are extremely low ISOF-wide. Grenadiers are carrying their M203 UBGLs and even have purpose-designed MOLLE pouches mounted on their plate carriers, but very few combatants have been issued more than one round. In some cases, no ammunition is carried. In order to deliver HE direct supporting fires on the battlefield, ISOF troops have instead turned to a variety of man-portable, anti-armour systems that can be hand-carried throughout the dense urban streets of Mosul. These range from 84mm AT4 recoilless weapons to the ubiquitous RPG-7.
ISOF employ both the U.S.-supplied Saab 84mm AT4 single-shot recoilless anti-armour weapon and the RPG-7 multipurpose recoilless weapon of Soviet origin. There has also been limited use of 66mm M72 LAW-type rocket launchers. Although the AT4 is single-use and somewhat bulky to carry on foot, the reliance on vehicles as a base of operations and for fire support means that ISOF teams are rarely far from a mobile firebase in combat. AT4 anti-armour weapons seem to be in good supply due to U.S. logistics support of its own forces.
Whilst the RPG-7 is generally less accurate than the AT4, it does allow a single ISOF team to sustain a reasonably high rate of fire whilst remaining foot-mobile. PG-7V and PG-7VL anti-tank projectiles are carried, as are limited numbers of OG-7V anti-personnel projectiles. Many of the projectiles appear to be of Bulgarian origin, but a wide range of manufacturers’ munitions are known to be circulating within Iraq, and ISOF are likely to have employed captured and recovered stockpiles. Either the operator or an assistant is often seen carrying purpose-designed backpack pouches for carrying spare rounds. RPG-7 pattern weapons from a variety of Eastern Bloc countries appear to be in use, and it appears that most originate from Iraqi Interior Ministry purchases, rather than supplies to ISOF via foreign military sales from the United States.
The Mk 19 AGL
In addition to man-portable systems, ISOF also make extensive use of the Mk 19 40x53SRmm automatic grenade launcher (AGL). Within the ISOF arsenal, the Mk 19 is almost entirely confined to a vehicle-mounted role, generally fitted to turrets with improvised armour mounted on M123 series HMWWVs. The majority of the HMWWVs in use carry M2-type heavy machine guns (HMGs) as a primary source of firepower. A small number are instead armed with Mk 19 AGLs, however. Unlike 40x46SRmm ammunition, 40x53SRmm cartridges for the Mk 19 appear to be readily available.
Although ISOF have this automatic HE fire support capability, it has been used relatively infrequently in recent operations due to the potential friendly-fire and collateral damage it can inflict in the confined spaces these engagements have been fought in. The Mk 19 is also considered by some ISOF members as less effective than the M2 HMG at stopping certain lightly armoured, relatively fast SVBIEDs used in ambushes in tight urban terrain. The Mk 19 AGLs in use with ISOF are largely U.S.-supplied versions made by General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, but a small number are believed to Korean Daewoo K4 models.
40x53SRmm ammunition has also been modified for use in improvised air-delivered munitions, dropped on to battlefield targets by commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In the Iraq-Syria theatre, this concept was first employed by the Islamic State, but such munitions are now employed by Iraqi security forces, including ISOF. Iraqi government forces often make use of commercially available shuttlecocks to provide some aerodynamic stabilization.
This article is reproduced courtesy of Armament Research Services (ARES). See armamentresearch.com for further original content.