The US Army originally bought the Carl Gustav M3 recoilless rifle for use by Special Forces and Rangers, but experience in Afghanistan means it’s now standard issue in all light infantry units. Right now there’s a program under way to make the weapon lighter and more compact without sacrificing any of its firepower. I have to smile at that, because I remember the M2 version that the British Army finally retired in the early 1990s. The M3 has a steel barrel liner surrounded by carbon fiber; the M2 was just a huge chunk of metal, weighing in at over 32 pounds compared to the M3’s 19.
The M2 was a good weapon, though. The British only used it in the anti-tank role, which was taken over by the 94mm LAW starting in the late 1980s. At the time it was still seen as primarily a tank killer, even though it was actually used against an Argentine warship in the Falklands war, and the LAW seemed like a more modern way of doing that job. Now, though, Carl Gustav is producing a whole new range of 84mm ammunition that makes the M3 into an extremely versatile weapon. The HEAT rounds won’t usually kill a modern tank but will seriously mess up lighter armored vehicles, while the HE Dual Purpose makes an excellent bunker buster. There’s also a variety of standard HE rounds, some of them with airburst capability and a range of 1,000 meters. It’s proved to be a very effective weapon against Taliban insurgents, with a lot more punch than 40mm grenades and a substantially longer range. It’s also far cheaper than using a Javelin missile.
What’s most interesting is that the current range of ammunition is nothing compared to what’s possible. The M3 is a large enough caliber that a lot can be packed into the rounds, and in the future that could include advanced programmable fuses and even guidance systems. A rocket-boosted extended range HEAT round is currently available, and applying the same technology to an HE round could push the range out well beyond current limits. Users of the M3 and earlier variants have used it as a light artillery piece for years, and with improved ammunition it could become even more effective in that role – potentially it’s a lot more effective than a light mortar, and capable of both direct and indirect fire.
The latest US Army requirements are aiming to shorten the weapon by about three inches and cut the weight to around 16 pounds, without losing either performance or barrel life. Carl Gustav’s own M4 is already pretty close to achieving that – in fact, it weighs only 15 pounds, and has a whole range of advanced features added too. The Army is considering buying the new version, which would be a lot quicker and simpler (and probably cheaper) than trying to develop an upgrade kit for the existing ones. It would definitely be worth doing because while the basic design of the 84mm is an old one, this hard-hitting recoilless gun is a massive asset to any infantry unit.
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