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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Meet the M72 LAW: The Anti-Tank Missile That Is Destroying Russia’s Tanks

M72 LAW. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Thousands of M72 Anti-tank Launchers Ready for Action in Ukraine – The M72 light anti-tank weapon (LAW) is seeing the battlefield in high numbers in Ukraine after a donation by the Canadian military. The LAW is nothing new, but it is combat-proven. Canada announced it was sending 4,500 M72 rocket launchers to Ukraine earlier this month. These weapons should be in the hands of Ukrainian fighters by now. Norway (2,000 units) and Denmark (2,700) have also provided the M72 LAW to Ukraine.

The M72 LAW Has Its Advantages

The LAW is similar to the AT4 tank killer. It is a single-use disposable tube-shaped weapon fired from the shoulder. With a range of up to 656-feet, the LAW can punch through 12-inches of armor with a formidable shaped charge. The LAW is a version of the portable, lightweight 66mm rocket launcher from 1956. The improved LAW has a velocity of 650-feet per second.

M72 LAW: History of the Weapon

The LAW has been around since the early-1960s for use against Soviet light tanks in Europe. The one-shot one-kill disposable rocket system was considered innovative.

Soldiers and Marines in Vietnam used it to penetrate and destroy enemy bunkers. But this early version was not effective against North Vietnamese Army tanks. Some rockers fizzled out or did not detonate on impact in certain battles.

Since then, the LAW has been improved with about a dozen variants beyond the original launcher. It has seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and has garnered better reviews.

M72 Still Highly-Regarded in the Modern Era

Users in Ukraine can deploy the weapon against not only tanks (with the high-explosive anti-tank round) but buildings and lighter-armored vehicles such as Russian armored personnel carriers. American soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division gave the trusty old weapon a solid evaluation in an after-action report from 2010.

“The M72s provided the best balance of weight and bulk to combat effectiveness. It was considered an excellent munition to be used against insurgents firing from close and medium range. It was fast and easy to bring into operation, and it was considered to be both a good suppressive weapon and quite accurate and lethal at the same time,” according to the lessons-learned paper.

M72 Is Easy to Use

Firing is straightforward making it perfect for training inexperienced fighters in Ukraine such as members of the reserve territorial defense forces. Just pull out the arming pin, take off the rear cover and sling, grasp the rear cover to extend the tube fully, pull the trigger handle to the armed position, aim and fire. The gas pressure for the 66mm rocket does the rest.

The M72 Is Light and Lethal

The great thing about the M72 LAW is its portability. It only weighs 5.5 pounds. Soldiers can carry it with a sling while also keeping their rifle at the ready. However, there is a danger from the backblast, and operators are trained to look behind the weapon tube to make sure friendlies are not in the caution or danger zone.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly called for anti-tank munitions, although he would prefer modern guided weapons such as the Javelin fire-and-forget system. But the LAW is cheaper, easier to carry, and simple to train on. As long as soldiers are in range and have adequate line-of-sight, the LAW can be lethal against enemy tanks and armored vehicles. The Kremlin has clearly underestimated what a motivated Ukrainian fighter can do with an anti-tank weapon.

The LAW will continue to make the Russians pay for this oversight.

Now serving as 1945’s 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. 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.