Have you ever noticed the tube that is sometimes mounted underneath M16s and M4s? For those who might not be aware, that’s an M203 grenade launcher, and it’s a really big deal for many reasons. It gives grenadiers more power in infantry squads to destroy and suppress the enemy without having to physically throw a grenade. This is like having an extra shotgun on your weapon that could lob grenades in an accurate manner. Here is a quick primer on this fascinating weapon of was that has served the US military well throughout the years.
The M79 Grenade Launcher Started It All
The idea of a grenade launcher was a concept adopted during the jungle fighting of Vietnam. The M79 grenade launcher resembled a single-shot short-barrel shotgun that fired a 40mm grenade. After firing, soldiers and marines had to break it down and load a new grenade to shoot again. It was most popular during the Vietnam War because of its greater range and accuracy compared to physically throwing a grenade.
One drawback, though, was that grenadiers during that era carried a pistol instead of an M16, this took a rifle off the battlefield.
Let’s Get Something that Can Attach to the M16
With that said, the military held a competition for a new under-barrel grenade launcher. The XM203, the precursor to the M203, was cheaper and used the same round as the M79, hence soldiers and marines could still use their M16s in battle.
How Did the M203 Load?
The M203 works like this: load it by pushing the barrel to the front. Insert the grenade into the breech. Then just pull it back to cock the launcher, and it is now ready to fire.
Many Different Grenades for Various Tactics
The M203 has adapted well to modern combat. It has many different rounds and options for the launcher. The high-explosive round is first on the list, then the dual purpose round for armored targets and doors, and the anti-personnel buckshot grenade. Plus, there is a smoke round to mask movement and a star-cluster round for signaling purposes.
How About a Laser-guided Grenade?
New modifications to the M203 are interesting – especially the laser-guided grenade. These are called Raytheon Pike rounds and they have a significantly longer range ( two kilometers) than the M203 usually displays. Two kilometers sounds like a really long-range and I’d have to see it to believe it. But let’s just take Raytheon’s word for it for now.
Terrorist Hobby Drones Can Be Eliminated
What about drones? The M203 can also fire a drone counter-measures round. This is especially effective against terrorists who are flying small quadcopter unmanned craft.
M203: The Bottomline
Overall, the M203 should be admired for its staying power. A good grenadier can make piecemeal of the enemy. It keeps the bad guys’ heads down when the main element of friendlies moves to a better covered and concealed position. The M203 is overall versatile and effective and great for an infantry squad.
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.