Handheld Thunder

U.S. Marines have a new weapon to deal with the…

U.S. Marines have a new weapon to deal with the insurgency in Iraq. It’s a multi-shot grenade launcher. The M32 MSGL, as it’s called by the USMC, is manufactured by Milkor USA in Tucson, AZ.  The launcher can fire all DOIC, NLAC and NATO standard 40mm low-velocity rounds, both less-lethal and lethal, commonly known as “203” rounds, not to be confused by the high-velocity 40mm rounds fired by the MK-19 heavy machine gun that is mounted on Humvees and other assault vehicles.

marine.gifAs the second and final Battle of Fallujah was winding down in December 2004, Marines sent out an urgent call for such a weapon. Commanders who issued the “UUNS,” or Universal Urgent Needs Statement, said their men needed the capability to fire multiple grenades at multiple targets without having to take their eyes off the impact area  to load and unload after each shot fired like they have to do with their single shot grenade launcher [M203] that is attached to the receiver and barrel of the current-issue M16A4 service rifle.

“The weapon had to be man-portable,” said Major Bamidele Abogunrin, the weapon’s project team leader at the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, VA. During a “live fire” demonstration, Major General Stephen T. Johnson, commander of the Second Marine Division, was so impressed with the MSGL’s capabilities and performance, he signed the UUNS, pronounced “UNZ,” to ensure his infantry battalions would have MSGLs in Iraq.

Within six months of the signing the universal urgent needs statement, Marcor Syscom, the Marine Corps Systems Command issued an open solicitation to bid, in which companies were required to each deliver five “COTS,” Commercial Off The Shelf, weapons systems, in less than 60 days. But Maj. Abogunrin would not comment on the source of those “bid samples.”

It only took the USMC 120 days to award Milkor USA Inc. the contract to produce the MSGL in August 2005, (A process that normally takes 3 to 5 years.)  The rest of the order [an undisclosed amount] was filled by February 2006,” said  marketing manager Richard J. Solberg Jr. who added the M32 is “beyond user friendly.” With minimal instruction [less than 5 minutes] and practical application [no more than 24 rounds of 40mm ammo] operators can and have become more effective with an M32 than with the M203 they are issued. “We had held many shooting demonstrations at Blackwater’s training facility used by DOD, State Department and local LE agencies to train their forces, and it was not uncommon for shooters to put multiple rounds through a car door at 200 meters their first time shooting the M32,” Solberg said.

The beauty of the beast is its simplicity. Just flip open the weapon, charge the cylinder, pop in six grenades and you’re good to go.

Blast From The Past
The original five weapons Milkor delivered to USMC in May of 2005 were named MGL-140 for being multi-shot grenade launchers with a cylinder length of 140mm, allowing the use of all 40x46mm low velocity munitions, including high explosive, training, illumination, smoke, flare and various non-lethal rounds such as flash bang.

The concept of multiple launchers is not new. The basic design is that of a super-sized revolver firing super-sized munitions from 12ga, 37mm and 40mm. Eat your heart out Dirty Harry. Starting back in 1977, Enfield/RSAF [British Royal Small Arms Factory] designed a five-round less-lethal launcher which fired 37mm foam, wooden or tear gas payloads. The British Army requested the ERWIN 37  for riot control. In 1981, Armscor of South Afirca made Y2, its version of a 40mm Multiple Grenade Launcher that was fielded by the South African National Defense Force. In the mid-1980s, both the American-made Street Sweeper, a 12-shot, 12ga shotgun and Striker Twelve, a 12-shot, 12 ga shotgun arrived on the scene. In the early 1990s, Croatia made RGB6, a 40mm multiple launcher. Russia added RG6 to its arsenal. However with Milkor USA Inc.’s first world technology, advanced metallurgy, the use of space age polymers, precise tolerances made possible by state of the art production on CNC machines, providing ISO 9001:2000 and AS 9100:2007 quality assurance, being capable of firing both Lethal and Non-Lethal 40mm Munitions and being made in the USA no wonder the USMC has designated the M32 (NSN# 1010-01-535-0989) as its 40mm MSGL (Multi-Shot Grenade Launcher) of choice.

Trained operators using a M32s can effectively cover a 20×60 meter area in 3 seconds accurately at distances up to 400 meters with six rounds of M433, high explosive ammo that has a 5-meter impact radius. The MSGL is ideal for pinpoint targets in an urban setting; windows, IEDs and moving personnel up to 250 meters.

Maj. Abogrunin says the M32 has recently become a “program of record” in the Marine Corps. That simply means the M32 (multi-shot grenade launchers) will be fielded in greater numbers and not just to units in combat. Fielding is scheduled to begin later on in Fiscal Year 2008. Milkor USA has already delivered small batches of the new weapons to Camp Lejuene, NC where “East Coast” Marines attend boot camp and Camp Pendleton, California where “West Coast” Marines are trained. M32s have also been sent to the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, the USMC Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, CA and Marines in HI and Okinawa. Solberg says U.S. Army SFs, Special Operations Command, U.S. Navy SEALs and the DoE all have limited numbers of MSGLs each. DoE uses them as force protection for their bases. The INIWIC (Interservice Non-Lethal Individual Weapons Instructor Course) located at Fort Leonard Wood, MO has also incorporated the M32 MSGL into its lesson plan. Students from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces are being qualified on the weapon at INIWIC.

More Firepower
The M32 features a stainless steel frame and a Picitanny rail. An M2A1 reflex sight with quadrant reticle provides rapid range adjustment, quick elevation adjustments and compensates automatically for the natural drift of 40mm grenades. The reflex sight with red reticle is fully compatible with night vision optics.

The multiple-shot grenade launcher also features a MIL-STD-1913 quad rail system on the foregrip that can accommodate accessories such as grips, laser illuminator/designators, and flashlights. The modular butt-stock can be adjusted for length of pull and is padded for a controlled shoulder weld when the weapon is elevated for longer shots.

The M32 also has an ambidextrous safety selector as well as a firing pin lock so the weapon will only fire when the trigger is pulled and a cylinder alignment pin ensures the cylinder is in line with the barrel and the breach is closed before the weapon is fired. The cylinder will not advance unless a round is fired, not just when the trigger is pulled. It’s a heavy piece of hardware.  The current issue M16A4/M203 w/optics weighs 15 lbs. Unloaded the M249 SAW weighs 16.6 lbs. The M24 Sniper Weapon System weighs 14.2 lbs. Fully loaded, the M32 weighs 18.2 pounds, with significantly more firepower.

New Weapon  Requires New Ammo
The next generation of 40mm grenade rounds is more powerful and lethal than the standard HEDP (High Explosive Dual Purpose) being fired in the M32, but the Marine Corps and Army have not drawn up requirements for the new Hellhound rounds, so for the time being, Marines are firing standard NATO 40mm grenades in their new weapons.

Hellhound, “High Order Unbelievably Nasty Destructive” 40mm low velocity MMGs, are made by Martin-Electronics, Inc., the firm that helped Milkor USA fabricate the first 200 multi-shot grenade launchers.

Hellhound packs twice the explosive power and has larger fragments than the M433 NATO round. The casualty radius is also twice as large, 10 meters versus 5 meters. With a muzzle velocity of 262 fps, Hellhounds can penetrate 90mm of mild steel with antipersonnel fragmentation. It also works well against concrete. Marines no longer have to breach walled compounds with shaped charges. They just back off, fire a Hellhound into the wall and burst through the breach. The new HE round is much safer, because the fragmentation is front-loaded in a pre-fragment sleeve rather than packed at the rear of the current round. The patented cartridge also allows MEI to better manage energy, reducing recoil and allowing the shooter to get back on a target quickly.

Matt Eckel, Director of Business Development at MEI, says there are people in the process who want to evaluate new technologies, but the Army’s procurement process is preventing users from getting the upgraded ammunition they need.

“The Army has had two years to evaluate the Hellhound,” said Eckel, “but they have yet to write a requirement for the new family of grenades which also includes MERCURY, a 40mm round that can travel twice as far as standard grenades [800 versus 400 meters], and HUNTIR, a grenade that is designed to give infantry forces enhanced battlefield awareness by popping out a tiny TV camera 700 feet above enemy positions that provides up to five minutes of real-time video streaming as it floats to the ground on a parachute.”

The CMOS camera can provide detailed video of up to 1 mile line-of-sight. Knowing where the enemy is, can mean the difference between life and death.

Eckel says he has recently gotten to the right people in the Marine Corps. They appear to be moving faster than the Army in fielding M32 MGLs. SysCom says it is not aware of anyone in the USMC who is testing the upgraded munitions offered by MEI.

Progress is reported in the Army’s 40mm procurement program, mostly in the production of IR illumination and signaling rds. Eckel says  inquiries from the Army elude to interest in the upgraded ammo, “but without a written requirement, it could be years before the average soldier sees any performance improvements to the current mix of high explosive 40mm ammo Eckel said.

Tres Deuce: After Action Reports
That’s what Marines in Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment call their newest weapon. In a firefight, it’s their trump card. Tres Deuce is French for “three two.” And to Marine’s it’s their M32 multiple-shot grenade launcher. “It really is an ass kicker,” said Corporal Michael T. Virgilio, a team leader in Second Platoon’s foot patrol squad in Ramadi, the capital of volatile Anbar Province in Iraq. Virgilio carried ammo for the M32 in a 5-round pouch slung over his left shoulder. He had 3 more rounds on the outside of his magazine pouch and a full drum of 6 rounds; 14 in all. Virgilio says the weight of the weapon is a bit much, but it’s worth it when bullets start flying.

Success Stories: “Not only did the weapon lay down a serious wall of firepower, but it also had a sheer intimidation factor. I took out enemy forward observers hidden in dead space. Onother occasion it destroyed a VBIED (vehicle borne improvised explosive device, when it broke our serpentine at the base,” said Virgilio  at Camp Lejeune answering e-mails about the M32’s performance in combat.

M32 Basic Training: Captain Giles D. Walger, call sign “Gunfighter 6,” is also helping the “Gunner” community get info about the M32 being deployed in Iraq. Walger commands Company C in the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion at Camp Lejuene. “It’s easier to train Marines on the M32 than the M203. It is the immediate answer for Team and Squad indirect fire,” Walger said.

Company’s 1st Engagement: Sept. 2006: The MGL or “Thumper” Company C called it, was used to suppress an enemy MMG (medium machine gun) team atop an icehouse in Ar-Rutbah which was supporting another team of insurgents in the back of a Suburban. Rutbah, a town of  25,000, was a beehive of insurgent activity due to it’s  Syrian border proximity. More than 150 miles west of Ramadi along a road that stretches into the far western end of Anbar Province.  Rutbah was like Dodge City, KS in the late 1800s, with daily gunfights in the dusty streets. Corporal Taylur Shiner, hurled 12 rounds in one minute and an additional 60 rounds in the entire engagement, in all of 10 minutes. Shiner and 2nd Battalion were no strangers to Rutbah. They had fought there in 2005 when he was a PFC.

Company’s 2nd & 3rd Engagement: Shiner fired 60 rds. in 3 minutes. This allowed a machine gun and fire team to cross an open field of fire to conduct an ammo resupply. In a 3rd engagement, a Sergeant from an adjacent platoon fired 12 rds. killing an enemy sniper. He then fired 48 rds. at an enemy MMG team. The platoon commander was able to mark the position for LAV-25 gunners and Cobra gunships to destroy it with 250 rds. of HE and 2 Hellfire missiles. “In each fight, the M32 was essential,” said Capt. Walger.

Load Comments
  • ssgt ritchie

    i am appauled by this article because of its inacuracies. i was cpl shinner’s squad leader for last years deployment. both of us purchased this mag and read it and would love to set the record straight.

    • SSGT Ritchie,
      We were hoping to hear from you and your comments so we can contact the contributor and perhaps include your concern and his comment and “set the record straight” in our upcoming “LETTERS” section of TACTICAL WEAPONS. We’re working on the July 2008 issue and we might be able to get the ball rolling, but we need further information from you. You can get in touch with us by sending an email to shirley@harris-pub.com