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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Carl Gustaf: The Recoilless Rifle The US Military Loves in a Fight

Carl Gustaf. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Carl Gustaf Firing: Sky Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment engaged targets with the Carl Gustaf 84mm weapon system in Grafenwoehr, Germany September 8, 2018 during Saber Junction 18. Exercise Saber Junction 18 is a U.S. Army Europe-directed exercise designed to assess the readiness of the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade to execute unified land operations in a joint, combined environment and to promote interoperability with participating allies and partner nations.

Carl Gustaf, Explained in 2 Minutes: No, he’s not your long-lost uncle who just left you an inheritance. Carl Gustaf is the name of a supergun for the U.S. military that is part recoilless rifle and part rocket launcher. And it has a rich, 70-year legacy. This Swedish-made brute fires a powerful 84mm round. It can take out light enemy tanks, thinly-armored personnel carriers, or bunkers. Popular in special operations forces units, it has matriculated over to regular Army and Marine infantry units.

Let’s take a look at why the weapon is becoming so ingrained with warriors around the globe.

Carl Gustaf: Remember the Name  

The official name is a mouthful. In the technical manual, it’s called the M3E1 Carl Gustaf Multi-Role Anti-Armor/Anti-Personnel Weapon System (MAAWS). The Gustaf was originally based on the well-known bazooka from World War Two fame.

Quick Rate of Fire Has Advantages

It’s shoulder-fired and re-usable with a laser range finder. This beats the one-shot AT4 rocket launcher.

It takes a two-person crew, one to fire, and the other to spot and carry ammunition.

The sustained fire of the Gustaf is six-rounds per minute. But a single user can also fire it, although this slows down the operation. Personnel can shoot while standing or kneeling, or they can get down into the prone position for deadly strikes.

Many Different Rounds Can Light Up the Enemy

The ammunition is diverse. It can launch High Explosive, High Explosive Anti-Tank, and High Explosive Dual Purpose rounds, as well plus smoke and illumination projectiles. There is even a laser-guided munition in the works. The large 84mm round is helped by the recoilless design that is necessitated by sending a counter-recoil blast of propellant to keep the launcher steady.

It Can Reach Out and Touch Something from 1300-meters Away

The Gustaf can engage targets from 200 to 1300 meters. The titanium barrel helps with range and accuracy. It weighs 15 pounds and is nearly three feet long.

The Military Thinks It’s Worth the Money

It costs $20,000 each, but the Army has placed several orders – the most recent being one for $87 million last year and a future slate of 2,400 launchers by 2023.

The Carl Gustaf is a good weapon to suppress the enemy. If they are fortunate to live through the blast, their heads are going to be down for a while as the main element of attack from friendlies moves forward to complete the mission. It’s good the testing went to special ops units first, so they could judge it in battle and then let it filter down to regular line units. This is a lesson that could have made the choice to cancel the XM-25 Punisher bullpup grenade launcher much easier to save the military time, money, and resources. But the Gustaf passed the combat smell test and looks like it will have a long life in the U.S. military.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, Ph.D., is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.