Mexican gangs importing USA-made grenades from foreign militaries

In a document, dated 6/07/2011 and sent to law enforcement agencies by the ATF Phoenix Field Division and leaked by the Anonymous-affiliated group LulzSec, states that the USA manufactured 40mm grenades in use by Mexican drug gangs were legally exported to foreign militaries, not purchased, procured or stolen from inside the United States.

From the document (emphasis added) …

most of the 40 mm grenades encountered have been US manufactured HE 40mm that have all been traced to legal foreign military sales programs or a South Korean direct copy of the US 40 mm with English markings

South Korean Grenades (Photo from the leaked document)
US manufactured grenades (Photo from the leaked document)

The launchers found in Mexico are either converted 37mm flare launchers or were traced back to legal foreign military sales

During the preceding months there have been numerous recoveries by Mexican authorities of M203 style 40 mm Grenade Launchers as well as a variety of 40mm high explosive (HE) ordnance, from criminal elements on or near the International Border with the United States. Mexican authorities have also had recoveries further into the interior of Mexico.

The M203’s that have been recovered are either military launchers that have been traced back to prior legal foreign military sales to Latin American countries that have been diverted for criminal use or improvised launchers that have been clandestinely manufactured from firearm components/parts.

M203 Grenade Launcher Mounted on stockless AK (Photo from the leaked document, readers in the comment below state that the ATF misclassified this as a M203.)
Improvised standalone launcher (Photo from the leaked document)

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • AZRon

    That can’t be right. Everybody knows that they are getting these at Phoenix gun shows.

    The Gov’t wouldn’t lie to us…would they?

  • Higgs

    Over 90%of the “M203s” captured are actually 37mm flare launchers un able to fire 40mm, including that AK M203

  • james

    The 40mm grenades pictured are for the Mark 19 semi auto launcher. You can see the area where the link attaches. I am not sure if this grenade will even fit in a m203 type launcher… and if it did, the weapon would explode. The mark 19 grenades use a high pressure system, unlike the low pressure system on the grenade designed for the m79/ 203. I have yet to see any 40mm 203 grenades seized in Mexico. However, I did notice several mark 19 launchers mounted on the panard armoured vehicle last time I went to Mexico… I sure the Mexican military is the source of these grenades.

  • Neal

    Not all that surprising.

  • Pete

    Is “foreign” the ATF??

    1984 is that you?

  • User

    This is serious business. I thought LulzSec did it all for the luls?!

  • Jeff

    Ugh, its painful to see the they’re using spikes tactical launchers

  • Byron

    Lulz has recently gotten more serious about their hacktivism, I think the AntiSec movement must have reigned them in a bit.

  • TCBA_Joe

    That M203 on the AK looks like it may actually be a 27mm flare launcher.

  • charles222

    Yeah, none of those are M203s. No leaf safety and the trigger mechanism housing isn’t a 203 either.

  • Nater

    Those sure look a bit long to be 40x46mm grenades. They look more like 40x53mm grenades. These are high pressure, high velocity grenades used on the Mk 19 and Mk 47 automatic grenade launchers. These are from the Mexican military.

  • Lcon

    Yeah photo number three is definately a Spikes tactical 9″ Havoc flare Launcher. the The charging handle over the trigger is a dead give away that it’s not a real M203 and hand guard over the tube is the wrong shape for the Cobray.

  • Lance

    They cant blame US gun laws since 40mm grenades are banned and not available to US shooters ever!! Most weapons come from Central and South America anyway.

  • Nadnerbus

    Yeah those “203s” appear to be the 37mm flare launcher available en Los Estados Unidos (Spring loaded, manually cocked trigger/hammer on the side). How does one modify those to fire an actual 40mm grenade without it exploding on them?

    Either way, I feel like everything that the drug gangs can get, we civilians should be able to get too. I want at least fire parity if not superiority against my potential enemies. Let the arms race begin!

  • Nick

    James; the two types of rounds pictured are both 40x46mm ordnance, the upper appears to be a clone of the M406 and the lower are US made M433.
    Neither of these are linked and I can tell you that the links for a MK19 are really hard to remove. As to the converted 37mm launchers, both pictures are of the Spike’s launchers, I’ve never quite figured out whats up with that. I can see boring them out to 40mm, but the fuzes on 40mm grenades don’t activate without being spun by rifling. I would love to see what the inside of those barrels looks like, maybe they’ve been sleeved?

  • El Duderino

    james is absolutely correct, the grenades pictured are for the Mk19. If memory serves (it’s been awhile) the first picture is HE while the bottom pick has the rounded nose I’d associate with the HEDP (high explosive dual purpose — can penetrate light armor).

    Did a little research. The MV of the average M203 grenade is 75 meters per second (mps). It’s about 300mps for the larger M79 grenades. Recoil force from the Mk19 grenade is in the 500+ lb range, even if an M203 could withstand the pressure you’d have to brace against hard ground or a tree to fire. Unless you enjoy a long hospital stay and plenty of physical therapy.

    For comparison, recoil force of a 120mm mortar is 20-40 tons, a .308 150gr is about 16lbs… 🙂

  • Tinkerer

    @james: those are not high impulse grenades for the mk19 AGL, which are 40 x 53 mm. The ones in the pics are the shorter cased, low impulse, M203-compliant, 40 x 46 mm grenades.


  • james

    I stand correct they are 203 grenades. Now I look like as big of a jackass as the atf! The sad thing is actually shot hepd in combat… and I still got it wrong!
    Good point about the rifling, they won’t arm without spinning. I guess they the flare launchers could be bored out, then rifled. However, at that point, maybe you are better off just using round stock?
    The point is, the aft won. How many people know a converted 37mm will not work? Maybe a few thousand guys in the country. The people will think the aft is right, and the launchers will be banned. Get one now if you want one!

  • Ajay Fahlman

    I find it funny that the ATF, capital “F” for Firearms. Can’t tell the difference between a real M203 and a Spikes Flare Launcher.

    Good job fellas.

  • Billy Oblivion

    Is there a link to the leaked document?

    • Billy, they leaked documents are on the internet, but I don’t know about the legality of linking to them, so I won’t be.

  • Big Daddy

    More misinformation from the great ATF who just sent so many weapons to Mexico in a botched and ill conceived sting operation.

    The only thing those flare guns might be used for is with some kind of multi shot cartridges I have seen. They have a bunch of 22 caliber rounds in them that go off at the same time. Or maybe they use them as super shotguns of some kind and the ATF does not have the ammo that went with those launchers. Maybe they have stuff they don’t want to show everybody because it might scare them or give them ideas. Like putting an explosive device at the end of the flare?????? who knows what they can come up with, some south American gangs are making submarines.

    The war on drugs is still going on and we are losing. Time to change tactics, how about burning the poppy and marijuana fields so there are no drugs to be sold.

  • Clodboy

    “The war on drugs is still going on and we are losing. Time to change tactics, how about burning the poppy and marijuana fields so there are no drugs to be sold.”

    I’m pretty sure the Mexicans wouldn’t be too happy about people setting large swaths of land on fire – dry country and wildfires and all.

    Now you might suggest using weedkillers – the US tried that in South America. The result? Mother Evolution produced a strain of “RoundUp Ready” (i.e. resistant to the no. 1 herbicide, glyphosate) Erythroxylum Coca which was quickly disseminated and refined among the coca farmers. Yup, Colombian coca farmers are now getting free crop dustings, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

  • 3D Logic

    How about we just legalize the damn drugs because people are going to use them if they are legal or illegal. Several countries have already legalized it and the statistics show that when they are legal their use actually decreased and so does crime. The USA has roughly 5% of the worlds population and the most people in prison than any country. Most of the people in prison are there for drug charges of some sort. The Drug War is a waste of money and resources and a huge failure. They tried to outlaw alcohol before and it had the same result, more violence and organized crime gaining great power. Legalize the damn drugs already and you will cut the cartels profits significantly as well as the violence that comes with it. Its not that hard to figure this out people.

    • JLNC

      Think of all the government jobs (mostly union) that would be lost if people had the LIBERTY to determine for themselves to use drugs. I work with a girl and told her I think they should do away with drug laws. She became irate and said, “I don’t …because my sister is a heroin addict”. I asked her ” how are the current laws against heroin was helping your sister?”> That pretty much ended that discussion.

  • haji

    say hello to my little friend!

  • JLNC

    Hmm isn’t it “ODD” these were “LEAKED”? Why are drugs illegal? Could it be the elite want a reason to lock up other wise law abiding citizens who fail to pay off the proper person? FOLLOW THE MONEY