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Carl Gustaf: The US Marines Super ‘Rifle’ (Or Cannon)?

Carl Gustaf
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Hunter Cross, a native of Midlands, Mich., and a combat engineer with 2d Combat Engineer Battalion, 2d Marine Division, fires an M3E1 multipurpose anti-armor anti-personnel weapon system (MAAWS) on Camp Lejeune, N.C., Dec. 9, 2021. The MAAWS, also known as the Carl Gustaf, is a man-portable, reusable, breech-loading, 84 mm recoilless rifle capable of destroying armored targets. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brian Bolin Jr.)

Carl Gustaf: A 3 Minute Explainer? Infantry soldiers and marines need more than small arms and machine guns to survive on the battlefield. That’s where the Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle comes in. This bad boy is shoulder-fired and can destroy enemy vehicles, bunkers, and buildings. It’s been in special operations forces units for years, now soldiers and marines will rely on it for better force protection. The weapon is re-usable, unlike its predecessor the AT-4. The AT-4 was “use once and discard.” Now the Gustaf can shoot different types of ammunition that can be fired repeatedly depending on the need.

What is the Gustaf?

Dubbed the Multi-Role Anti-Armor/Anti-Personnel Weapon System (MAAWS), this thing is handy. It’s nicknamed the “broomstick,” and it has an effective range of 1,300 meters with a high-explosive round. The 84mm Gustaf costs $20,000 each. Weighing around 15 pounds at nearly three feet long, the Gustaf can eventually fire rocket-boosted laser-guided munitions too. The models that are made of titanium are even lighter and more portable.

The Army and Marines Believe the Gustaf Is Worth the Money

The Army announced last year that it would spend $87 million with Swedish defense firm Saab to supply it for the coming years. The Army plans to buy around 2,400 Gustafs by 2023. The marines said this July that it would give it to rifle platoons as well. The Gustaf makes sense because it enables a cost-effective system that has many options on the battlefield. It can be fired from the standing, sitting, or prone position. The Gustaf engages a target quickly and it has a laser-enabled range-finder. It can shoot six rounds per minute, and more with another person to load it.

The Gustaf Could Change the Way Infantry Fights

If you pair the Gustaf with a machine gun, you can lay down a high level of suppressing fire and allow maneuver units to flank and overwhelm the enemy. It changes the decision-making calculus on the battlefield and gives soldiers and marines more attacking and defensive choices. This will be helpful in cities when the enemy is taking up positions behind walls and doors.

Now there are plans for Raytheon to hook up with Saab to create the Laser-Guided Carl Gustaf Munition. This will be even deadlier due to its high accuracy. It is already being tested with excellent results. The laser-guided system will likely be fielded first with Special Ops units. Then it will trickle down to infantry platoons if it is successful.

The broomstick packs a wallop and gives commanders more options in combat. The laser-guided munitions would be a welcome addition to an already lethal weapons system. It is not clear how the high-explosive warhead from the Gustaf would perform against enemy tanks and armored personnel carriers. But the broomstick has many looking past the days when they just had one shot to kill enemy vehicles with AT-4s. The Gustaf appears to have a promising future.

1945’s 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.

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.