What makes the Carl Gustaf special? A top expert gave us some clear answers.
In late February, Swedish manufacturer Saab announced that it expected to increase its ground combat weapons portfolio dramatically in the upcoming years.
CEO Micael Johansson detailed that “In the context of how we have doubled capacity from one year to the next at our Swedish [production] sites…and by 2025 we will have doubled capacity again, then it will be possible to generate 400,000 units from our sites per year,” during a financial results media briefing.
In addition to the Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon systems (NLAW) and AT4, a shipment of Carl Gustaf recoilless rifles are included in that 400,000 figure. As a real supergun, the Gustaf can take out bunkers, thinly-armored personnel carriers and even enemy battle tanks.
This combined rifle and rocket launcher has certainly become a weapon of choice for Ukrainian forces.
Where did the Carl Gustaf “supergun” come from?
Although officially titled the M3 Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel Weapon System (MWAAS), the powerful rifle is referred to by many nicknames across the globe. Carl Gustaf is the rifle’s frequently used name in the U.S., while British troops call it Carl G.
The weapon was originally developed in the late 1940’s for the Royal Swedish Army Material Association by the Carl Gustafs Stads Gevarsfaktor (hence the nickname).
Uniquely, the Gustaf utilized a rifled barrel for spin-stabilizing its rounds, atypical at the same since its foreign counterparts all used fins. Comparably, the Gustaf could fire rounds at 950 feet per second while the U.S. Bazooka could only fire rounds at 250 feet per second.
How the Gustaf can suppress the enemy so effectively
The rifle is man-portable, shoulder-fired and even re-usable with a laser range finder. Today, the rifle possessed an airburst capability with its High Explosive (HE) round. As explained in Eurasian Times, “The HE airburst round employs a mechanical time fuse that is activated before the weapon is loaded.
Airburst rounds can be pre-programmed to explode in the air at a specific position, enhancing the weapon’s effect against hidden enemy targets.” Advanced fire control and programmable ammunition also make the rifle more accurate and quicker in its strikes. These two add-ons allow for fast reloading and adjustment while providing improved sensors for air pressure and temperature.
The most recent Gustaf M4 variant offers significant tactical advantages over its predecessors, including increased speed and maneuverability.
The Gustaf is gaining popularity in Ukraine
Although the Gustaf is pretty pricey at around $20,000 each, the U.S. Army spent more than $87 million last year on the formidable dual rifle-rocket launcher. Ukrainian forces also value the edge the Gustaf provides to their defensive efforts against Russian invaders. While the Gustaf has not gained as much notoriety as other popular weapons used in Ukraine, including the Javelin missile and NLAW, the advanced rifle should not be discounted.
The anti-tank launcher was even able to take out one of Moscow’s revered T-90M main battle tanks, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense. Other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member states have caught on to the effectiveness of the Gustaf.
Recently, the Lithuanian Defense Material Agency purchased nearly $17 million worth of ammunition from Saab, right after Estonia and Latvia signed the Carl Gustaf Framework Agreement.
Maya Carlin is a Senior Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.