- The M320 grenade launcher replaces the older, Vietnam-era M203 grenade launcher.
- The M320 is safer and can fire more types of grenades farther.
- The new weapon entered service with the U.S. Army in 2009, and the U.S. Marines in 2017.
The U.S. Marine Corps is nearly finished rolling out the service’s new grenade launcher, one that improves on a previous model in practically every way. The M320 grenade launcher can be fired as a standalone weapon or attached to the underside of a M4A1 carbine rifle.
For decades, the U.S. military has relied on the M203 launcher to lob grenades beyond throw range. The M203, fitted underneath the barrel of a M16 rifle or M4 carbine, allowed grenadiers to launch high explosive dual purpose (HEDP) grenades to a range of 150 meters against point targets, including armored vehicles or building windows, or 350 meters against area targets like advancing enemy troops. Unlike its predecessor, the M79, the M203 gave soldiers the ability to use both a grenade launcher and a rifle.
It took a long time for the Pentagon to replace the M203, but in 2009, the U.S. Army began deploying the M320, which the German small arms company Heckler and Koch developed.
The M320 can be fitted with a shoulder stock or mounted underneath the barrel of a M4A1 carbine. As Military.com explains, the older M203 launcher was loaded from the bottom of the breech, something that made loading while prone more difficult, while the newer M320 is loaded from the side. This also ensures that a dud round manually ejected doesn’t fall straight to the ground. The M320 can accept longer grenades, particularly flare and illumination types.
The M320 can launch the new Pike laser guided grenade, which is effective against personnel and enemy vehicles to ranges of up to 2 kilometers (2,187 yards). The Pike can also be set to fly through windows and doorways, exploding among enemy soldiers taking cover.
The Marines issue one grenade launcher per infantry fire team, or three grenade launchers per 13-person infantry squad. The service will finish equipping all Marine infantry battalions with the new weapon by 2021, while all Marines will switch over by 2024.
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