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The United States Marine Corps’ New Rocket Launcher Has One Mission

Marine Corps’ New Rocket Launcher
Carl Gustaf Recoilless Rifle in action with Canadian forces.

The United States Marine Corps has begun fielding a new rocket launcher, specially tailored for urban operations.

The rocket launcher, called M3A1 MAAWS or Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel Weapons System, is, in essence, a portable, reloadable, shoulder-fired recoilless rocket system that will supplement similar systems that are currently in the Corps’ inventories.

Old But Gold

The MAAWS is the latest iteration of the iconic and incredibly long-lived Carl Gustaf Recoilless Rifle. The original Carl Gustaf, a Swedish design, made its debut in the aftermath of World War II. Today, the rocket system is particularly valued by Soldiers and Marines for both its lightweight as well as the wide variety of 84mm ammunition it can fire.

“It [MAAWS] has the ability to fire [illumination], smoke and airburst-style rounds,” explained Chief Warrant Officer 4 David Tomlinson, the MCSC’s infantry weapons officer in a recent USMC statement outlining the weapon’s acquisition. “The capability will allow the warfighter to engage the enemy in defilade, reinforced bunkers and buildings.”

The Carl Gustaf has gone through several iterations since 1948, but compared to its immediate predecessor, the M3A1 is a whopping 7.5 pounds lighter. Thanks to new light-weight carbon fibre and titanium components, the M3A1 tips the scales at a scant 15 pounds, a boon to dismounted transport.

Out with the Old, and In with the New

The Corps already operates several similar systems. One of these, the Mk153 Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon has been primarily used as a bunker-buster and anti-armor weapon, though it has a significantly shorter range than the MAAWS, which is also more accurate against armored targets. Additionally, the USMC fields the single-shot M72 LAW, an anti-tank weapon. While much lighter than the M3A1, the LAW is a single-shot, disposable weapon that has a significantly shorter range, and lack of accuracy compared to the M3A1.

“When we do urban operations, we carry a rocket because you don’t know what kind of enemy we’ll have, what capabilities they’ll have,” A Marine Sergeant involved with the M3A1 evaluation explained. “This gives us a wide range of opportunities and assets that we can use to destroy a vehicle or take out [the enemy].”

Just Around the Corner

The Corps began transitioning to the MAAWS in 2017 when evaluations at the squad level validated the concept of giving significantly more firepower to Marines at the squad level. By 2023, all Fleet Marines will have received their M3A1s, the USMC Reserve by 2024, and every Marine Corps battalion by 2025.

“The MAAWS is important because it gives the squad an enhanced capability with increased lethality and will bring a greater combined-arms solution to the enemy,” Tomlinson reiterated. “The rocket system will change the way the infantry squad fights.”

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.



  1. Tony K

    July 19, 2021 at 11:41 pm

    Whoever calls this a rocket launcher doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It’s a recoilless rifle, a cannon, that fires a projectile.

  2. T008

    July 20, 2021 at 12:23 am

    Most clickbait article ever it’s not new it’s a carl gustav been around for decades

  3. Greg Wiegel

    July 20, 2021 at 2:18 pm

    “System will change the way the squad fights”is confusing me since I carried Or lead a squad of 3.5 rocket teams to support gunt squads during the mid 60’s. Used against personal or reinforced positions with HE & WP rounds. How is that different from now?

  4. Neco

    July 21, 2021 at 6:22 am

    We had a 90 mm Recoilless Rifle in each platoon in our Airborne Engineer Battalion in the 1980s in direct support to 82nd Airborne Infantry Brigade operations.

  5. John Hinman

    July 21, 2021 at 9:01 am

    It has been woke friendly tested by the Embarrassment of the U.S. Military, the I’d like to know about my “white rage”, Gen. Mike Miley himself.
    The biggest joke and liar to dangerously lead our military when China is making threats to nuclear bomb Japan off the map if they assist Taiwan in any way. Which we stand behind Japan, well at least we do as far as the people know and understand. The Biden, China, Communist administration anything could happen. Especially with woke snowflakes worrying more about fake racism than the readiness of our men.

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