M203 grenade launcher: Wikis


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Launcher, Grenade, 40mm,
Type Grenade launcher
Place of origin  United States
Service history
In service 1969-present
Used by See Users
Wars Vietnam War and later
Production history
Designer AAI
Designed 1967-68
Manufacturer Colt Defense, Airtronic USA, RM Equipment
Unit cost US$601[1]
Variants See Variants
Weight 3 lb (1.36 kg) (unloaded)
Length 15 in (380mm)
Barrel length 12 in (305mm)

Cartridge 40x46mm SR
Action Single shot
Rate of fire 5 to 7 round/min
Muzzle velocity 250 ft/s (76 m/s)
Effective range 160 yd (150 m)
Maximum range 1,312 ft (400 m)
Sights Quadrant sight or ladder sight on rifle

The M203 is a single shot 40 mm grenade launcher that fires the same rounds as the older M79 "shotgun" type grenade launcher that uses High-Low Propulsion System to keep recoil forces low, that attaches to many rifles, but was originally designed for the U.S. M16 and its variant, the M4 Carbine. In the U.S. military, when a rifle or carbine is equipped with the launcher, both weapons are collectively referred to as an M203. The launcher can also be mounted onto a C7, a Canadian version of the M16 that uses an optical scope instead of an iron sight, and requires the bottom handguard on the rifle to be removed in order to mount the launcher. Stand-alone variants exist as do versions capable of being used on many other rifles. The device attaches under the barrel and forward of the magazine, the trigger being just forward of the rifle magazine. The rifle magazine functions as a hand grip when firing the M203. A separate sighting system is added to rifles fitted with the M203, as the rifle's standard sights are not matched to the launcher. The version fitted to the Canadian C7 has a sight attached to the side of the launcher, either on the left or right depending on the user's needs.



The M203 was the only part of the army's flechette rifle project to go into production. The M203 has been in service since 1969[2] and was introduced to U.S. military forces during the early 1970s, replacing the older M79 grenade launcher and conceptually similar Colt XM148 design. However, while the M79 was a stand-alone weapon (and usually the primary weapon of troops who carried it), the M203 was designed as an under-barrel system attached to an existing rifle. Because the size and weight of 40mm ammunition limits the quantities that can be carried on patrol, and because a grenade is often not an appropriate weapon for a given engagement (i.e. when the target is at close range or near friendly troops), an under-barrel system has the advantage of allowing its user to also carry a rifle and to easily switch between weapons.

It is sometimes argued that the M203 was a poor replacement for the M79, as while the M79 was quick to reload and more or less accurate under adverse conditions, such as in the Vietnam War, the M203 was more difficult and awkward to operate.[citation needed].

A new grenade launcher, the M320, will likely replace the M203 in United States service eventually. The M320 features an advanced day/night sight, a double action firing mechanism (as opposed to the M203's single action) as well as other benefits such as an unobstructed side-loading breech.[3]


The M203 grenade launcher was intended to be used as close fire support for point and group area targets. The round is designed to be effective at penetrating windows, blowing up doors, producing casualties in groups of enemies, destroying bunkers, and damaging or disabling non-armored vehicles. Its primary purpose is to engage enemies in dead space that cannot be reached by grazing fire. A well-trained M203 gunner can also use his weapon to suppress the enemy, both from movement and sight. In addition, the M203 can be used as a crowd control weapon when equipped with the M651 Tactical CS grenade. The M203 is not intended to be used against armored or heavy vehicles.


A U.S. Marine takes aim with an M16A2 fitted with the M203 40 mm grenade launcher.
An HE grenade for the M203.

The M203 is able to fire a variety of different rounds for many purposes. There are 10 different rounds for the M203:

  • M406 High-Explosive round. Often called the 'H-E' round, this round is intended to produce kills and casualties on point and group targets, as well as destroying bunkers and doors. This round has a 5 meter 'kill zone' and a 15 meter 'casualty zone'.
  • M433 High-Explosive Dual Purpose round. Able to penetrate 2 inches of steel when fired straight at the target, it is designed to produce casualties and kills. This round has a 5 meter 'kill zone' and a 15 meter 'casualty zone'.
  • M585 White Star Cluster. Used for signaling and illumination.
  • M651 Tactical CS Grenade. Used for crowd and riot control, the round releases large amounts of CS gas to disable and scatter crowds.
  • M781 Practice round. Used for zeroing and qualifying on the M203. The tip is filled with orange chalk that creates a cloud on impact, allowing the spotter and scorer to see where the round hit, and can be used to zero the M203 sights.
  • Star Parachute. The White (M583A1), Green (M661), and Red (M662). Used to the same effect as the Star Cluster round for signaling and illumination purposes.
  • Ground Marker. The Red (M713), Green (M715), and Yellow (M716). Used as a signaling smoke grenade round to mark soldiers and targets.
  • M576 Buckshot ("Beehive") Contains 20 pellets of #4 buckshot. Used for room clearing and point blank firing. Essentially a 1.2-gauge shotgun shell.
  • M1006 Sponge Grenade. Used in crowd control situations where direct, non-lethal engagement of individuals is necessary. Manufacturer states that this round can be fatal within 10 meters.
  • M1029 Crowd Dispersal round. Somewhat like the M576 round except the projectiles are .48 caliber rubber balls weighing about 1.3g each. Manufacturer states that this round can be fatal within 10 meters and is ineffective outside of 30 meters.

Except for the Star Cluster, Star Parachute, Sponge Grenade, Crowd Dispersal round, and buckshot, all 40MM Grenade rounds are impact detonated. In addition the rounds have a minimum arming distance of 14 to 27 meters (though still capable of producing a causality with a direct hit at close range) and firers are advised to fire at targets more than 50 meters, the minimum safe stand off distance from an explosion.


The M203 Grenade launcher system comes with a variety of components, usually including the launcher, adaptors for attachment to assault rifles, and leaf sights (which can be used with the rifle's front sight post). M203s can also come with quadrant sights, mounting to a MIL-STD 1913 Rail, or to the carrying handle of an M16 rifle.


Loading an M203 attached to an M16A1 with a practice round.
United States Army soldier ejects a spent M203 cartridge.

There are numerous variants of the M203 manufactured in the U.S., and throughout the world, for various applications. These vary chiefly in the length of the barrel, attachment type, and quick detach (QD) capability.

The standard M203 is intended for permanent (armorer level) attachment to the M16A1, M16A2 and M16A3 rifles, and utilizes a 12" rifled barrel. These can also be attached to M4 and M4A1 carbines, using a different front attachment point forward of the front sight block, but the SOPMOD kit uses M203A1 grenade launchers.

The American M203A1 is intended for use with the M4 and M4A1 Carbine. The barrel is shortened to 9", and principally the M203A1 QD is able to quickly detach from the rifle, and be replaced by a Knight's Armament Company M4 RAS lower handguard. An advantage of using a 40 mm grenade launcher on an assault rifle equipped with MIL-STD 1913 Rails is the attachment of various range-finding optics.

The Canadian M203A1 by Diemaco (now Colt Canada) is a similar design with a different mounting system that does not require mounting points of the same profile as the M16A1 rifle's.[4] The weapon's 9" barrel slides forward further than the standard American models to allow longer rounds to be loaded.[4] This model is identifiable by the increased distance between the grenade launcher's barrel axis and the rifle's.[4] This weapon may no longer be in production, but is still in use.

The M203A2 is intended for use with the M16A4 MWS (Modular weapon system). Using standard 12" barrels, the grenade launcher is intended for use in concert with the Knight's Armament Company M5 RAS. Again, an advantage of this system is the attachment of range-finding optics makes precision targeting easier.

The M203PI system is used for attachment of the M203 to other rifles, including but not limited to the Steyr AUG, H&K G3 and other rifles, and even the MP5 submachine gun. Most of these other companies have since devised 40 mm grenade launchers custom integrated with the weapon.

The M203 and M203A1 are currently manufactured by Airtronic USA, Inc. of Elk Grove Village, Illinois for the U.S. Department of Defense under contract numbers W52H09-06-D-0200 and W52H09-06-D-0225. Each contract is for up to 12,000 units. Each unit is shipped with hand guard, leaf sight and quadrant range sight. The contracts unit prices vary from $840 to $1,050 each. The production rate is 1,500 units per month. The M203PI is manufactured for both U.S. Department of Defense and for commercial sales (to Law Enforcement agencies both in the USA and abroad, and for foreign military sales) by RM-Equipment Inc. of Miami, Florida.


M4A1 with an M203
U.S. Marines practice with the M203.
M16A2 with an M203
An Australian F88 Austeyr rifle with a M203 grenade launcher.

Civilian ownership in the United States

In the United States, M203 grenade launcher attachments are classified as "Destructive Devices" under the National Firearms Act part 26 U.S.C. 5845, 27 CFR 479.11,[7] because they are a "non-sporting" firearm with a bore greater than one-half inch in diameter. M203s are relatively common on the civilian NFA market. New M203s sell for approximately $1,750 to $2,000 USD plus $200 transfer tax, and new manufacture 40mm training ammunition is available for $8 to $10 USD per cartridge, as of March 2008. High explosive 40mm grenades, however, are exceedingly rare on the civilian market, as each grenade must be individually registered with the Federal government with a $200 tax.

Several companies have also produced 37mm flare guns resembling the M203, which may be purchased without paperwork in most U.S. states. Legally, such devices are neither Destructive Devices nor even firearms, but are signaling devices which may legally be used with 37mm flare and smoke munitions. If a 37mm flare gun were to be used with anti-personnel munitions, it would be illegal unless registered as a Destructive Device.[8]


Range qualification with a M203.
  • Launcher: 3 pounds (1.36 kilograms)
  • Rifle (M16A2): 8.79 pounds (3.99 kg)
  • Total weight (including 30 rounds): 11.79 pounds (5.35 kg)
  • Bore diameter: 40 mm
  • Maximum effective range:
    • Area target: 1,148 feet (350 meters)
    • Point target: 492 feet (150 meters)
  • Maximum range: 1312 feet (400 meters)
  • Minimum safe range:
    • Non-Direct Fire: 115 feet (35 meters)
    • Training: 427 feet (130 meters)
    • Combat: 102 feet (31 meters)
  • Unit Replacement Cost: $601 (USD) (2005)

Note: some data differs for versions that attach to the M4 Carbine.

The 40 mm grenades used in the M203 (40 x 46 mm) are not the same as in the Mk 19 grenade launcher (40 x 53 mm), which are fired at a higher velocity. While the M203 can fire the Mk 19 grenades, the increased pressure is likely to blow the barrel off the M203, and is highly discouraged[citation needed].

See also


External links



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