Army, Special Operations Forces Eye Lighter, Cheaper Shoulder-Fired Weapons

By Sandra I. Erwin

The Army and U.S. Special Operations Command will be testing a new antitank shoulder-fired weapon that is much lighter than current models and can be used with different types of munitions.

The weapon is a more modern version of the so-called "multirole anti-armor anti-personnel weapon system,” also known as the M3 Carl Gustaf. The M3 has been in the U.S. military inventory for several years. Earlier versions have been around for 50 years and were bought by 40 countries.

Its manufacturer, Saab Defense and Security USA, recently introduced a lighter and more advanced version, the M4. The company believes there is a significant market for this weapon because soldiers for years have complained that existing shoulder-fired systems are too heavy and hard to operate at the platoon level. Saab executives said U.S. officials have been seeking alternatives to infantry weapons like the Javelin anti-tank system which can be overpowering in low-intensity combat.  

U.S. war commanders for years have asked for weapons that can be used in low-end, high-end combat and areas in between, Saab officials told National Defense during a conference call last month. Shoulder-fired antitank weapons today are too labor intensive and demand significant logistics support, they said. The other downside of current systems is that they are too lethal for urban combat or battles in areas populated by civilians where U.S. commanders face restrictive rules of engagement and would like to have a choice of less-damaging munitions. Saab said the M4 works with multiple types of ammunition, including antitank, anti-personnel, and a new high-explosive round for use in confined spaces.

Saab introduced the M4 Carl Gustaf in September. The Defense Department has agreed to evaluate the weapon under the "foreign comparative testing" program over the next two years. Saab is a Swedish arms manufacturer.

Company executives said the M4 Carl Gustaf is not marketed as a substitute for the Javelin portable antitank missile because they are completely different weapons. They see a window of opportunity, however, because they have heard U.S. military officials complain that the Javelin, at nearly 50 pounds including the firing mechanism, is too heavy for small units and its rounds are too expensive. The M4 Carl Gustaf weighs 15 pounds, according to Saab. A U.S. Army officer told Saab representatives the service routinely expends $90,000 apiece missiles to shoot a moped or a pickup truck at ranges of less than 1,000 meters. The Carl Gustaf costs $25,000 per tube, and munitions vary from $2,200 to $2,500 per shot.

Saab insists that this is not an apples-to-apples comparison because the Carl Gustaf is a reloadable rifle that fires rockets whereas the Javelin is a guided missile.

The company expects to sell the M4 to both the Army and U.S. Special Operations Command. SOCOM is buying the M3 version under an initial $14.3 million contract that has a ceiling of $187 million.

Executives said they are optimistic about their chances in the foreign comparative testing program. Under FCT, equipment made by non-U.S. firms is nominated by a sponsoring organization within the Defense Department. The Pentagon pays for the testing and evaluation, and the military services fund the procurements that might result from a successful test.

Saab did not seek any government funds for the design of the M4, officials said. The company used its own research-and-development money because it is confident that it fills a need in the U.S. military. Executives noted that Pentagon procurement chief Frank Kendall has warned defense contractors that government R&D funding will continue to slide and the Defense Department will expect companies to develop products at their own expense. The defense sector tends to be skittish about betting on technologies that may or may not have payoffs.

In the case of Saab Defense, as company officials often point out, it spends a bigger share of its revenues on internal R&D toward military products than most of its competitors. The company veered toward that business model decades ago, when its once sole customer, the Swedish government, cut way back on arms purchases. That forced the company to become more aggressive in developing products and marketing.

The Carl Gustaf got its name from the Swedish weapons production factory known as Carl Gustafs Stads Gevärsfaktori, or Rifle Factory of Carl Gustaf's town. That was a name used for the town Eskilstuna after King Karl X Gustav gave it city privileges. The weapon was first used by the Swedes in 1948.

Topics: Armaments, Gun and Missile, Small Arms, Counterinsurgency, Urban Warfare

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