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Grenade launchers are firing a lot more than grenades these days

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40mm grenade launchers are some of the more versatile tools in the armory of the United States military. That versatility really comes as a result of all the different types of ammo you can shove into it. In fact, you may be surprised by just how many different types of stuff you can fire from the old bloop gun. Today, grenade launchers are firing some of the most advanced munitions you’ll find anywhere on the battlefield, and as technology continues to miniaturize, the legendary 40mm grenade will only find more uses.

To be clear, I’m specifically addressing the handheld grenade launchers used in the hands of infantrymen; this includes the M203 and the M320, as well as the M79 variations that keep kicking around.

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Normal Munitions for 40mm Grenade Launchers

The term normal munition is relative. As you’d expect, these 40mm grenade launchers can fire both high explosive grenades and high explosive dual-purpose grenades for armored targets.

Additionally, most people know that these launchers can fire smoke grenades, which can provide concealment for troop movements, mark targets, and really step up the spooky vibe for your seasonal Halloween parties.

Additionally, these guns can fire flares that parachute to the ground, illuminating a decent-sized area for a short period of time.

All of these are pretty standard fare for anyone with a grenade launcher, but when we got beyond normal, we begin to see some fascinating 40mm grenade launcher options.

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40mm grenade launchers end fights, and the more accurate your grenadier, the quicker he or she can do so. In an effort to make grenadiers more lethal and more accurate, the Army and Marine Corps are testing Raytheon’s Pike ammunition.

The Pike (no relation) utilizes a laser designator and still requires the user to aim as close to the target as possible, but then the laser can guide the grenade in for maximum accuracy.

This system also extends the range of the 40mm grenade launcher from 300 yards to a jaw-dropping 2 kilometers. It’s effective against infantry, light-skinned vehicles, and similar targets. It’s substantially larger than a normal 40mm round, but offers much more capability.

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Less Lethal

Sometimes responding to the situation does not require lethal force, butfor the safety of personnel and security, less-lethal munitions may be used. Shotguns are a common choice, but 40mm grenade launchers can also be effective less-lethal platforms.

This includes the ability to fire bean bags, rubber pellets, rubber slugs, and ever CS and smoke grenades for crowd dispersal. These munitions allow military forces to respond to civil events with a lighter touch.

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Door Breaching Munitions

Oh, you’ve got a door in your way? Well, doors don’t often stand up to 40mm grenades. Without a doubt, an HEDP can destroy a door, but sometimes you need a lighter touch for close-range use or for when you don’t know what’s on the other side of the door.

The result of a breaching test with a 40mm Chemring grenade. (US Army photo)

With that in mind, ST Engineering makes a 40mm Door Breaching load that uses a low-velocity grenade that smashes doors opened with blast pressure. These allow the user to breach the door without getting too close to the door. Door’s are called fatal funnels for a reason, and distance between the breacher and door can save lives.

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Counter Drone Munitions

The rapid rise of unmanned aerial devices, aka quadcopters and drones, pose a real risk to military members deployed overseas. It’s becoming increasingly common to see simple commercial drones packaged with homemade explosive loads to target at troops. So as you’d imagine, a push for anti-drone weapon systems have been developed, and 40mm grenade launchers are an excellent means to fire them.

A patent drawing for a ‘Scalable Effects Net Warhead’ (U.S. Patent Office)

The big 40mm tube gives plenty of room to pack a countermeasure into the system. The US Army developed their own counter-drone munitions that launches a massive net complete with weights to capture the drone in the air and bring it down safely.

The C-UAS is designed for both individual devices and to deal with swarming systems. This C-UAS Grenade promises to make quick work of quadcopters and similar drones.

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Actual Drones

Yep, they make mini drones that can be crammed into a grenade launcher and launched from the ground level. There are two types of 40mm drones.


The first is the more traditional quadcopter-style drone called the DefendTex Drone 40. When launched, the drone opens and deploys four rotors to maintain flight. It has a 20 minute flight time and a 15-kilometer range. The drone can act as an immediate source of intel for troops on the ground via its ISR mode.

Additionally, this drone can carry a munition package and can even work as part of a swarm. That sounds absolutely terrifying to be on the wrong side of. A small swarm of drones could easily take out a hardened target without risking any friendly casualties. They can also be hand-launched for a stealthier option.

The other type comes from ST Engineering and is known as the SPARCS. SPARCS stands for Soldier Parachute Aerial Reconnaissance Camera System, and it’s a camera attached to a parachute. Troops can shoot these from their 40mm grenade launchers over a target and have a bird’s eye view as the camera slowly descends.

It’s a simple and disposable option for combat in an urban environment. This system allows for a connection with a PDA-type unit, and I’m betting it could be easily adapted to the Marine’s common tablet.

40mm Grenade Launchers Rule

Grenades are game-changers in a fight. Small arms and machine guns are great, but a 40mm grenade launcher puts warheads on foreheads. It’s also an extremely versatile tool that provides your standard squad with a capable weapon for a wide variety of tasks. Due to the munitions available, the 40mm grenade launcher might be the most versatile tool in an infantry squad.

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Travis Pike

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.