US Army Approves Lightweight 84mm M3E1 Carl Gustaf Recoilless Rifle for Procurement

The M3E1 Multi-Role Anti-Armor/Anti-Personnel Weapon System (MAAWS) is a lightweight variant of the M3 formally integrated into US Army platoons last year. US Army photo, public domain.

Good things come in lightweight, 84mm packages: Following its fielding of the M3 MAAWS last year, the US Army has announced its decision to sole-source 1,111 improved lightweight M3E1 MAAWS recoilless rifles from Saab Dynamics, in a listing at FBO.gov. The new weapon is based on the Saab Dynamics M4 variant of the venerable Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle, which improves over the previous M3 by reducing weight by 30% (22 pounds down to 15.4 pounds) and length by 14% (1,100mm down to 950mm). The M3E1 is expected to be type classified as the M3A1 Multi-Role Anti-Armor/Anti-Personnel Weapon System (MAAWS).

Lightweight high explosive projector weapons like the M3E1 will be important force multipliers in future conflicts. The ability for light infantry units to attack armored targets, buildings, and personnel at both short and long ranges with high explosive firepower gives these units disproportionate striking ability, equal to units equipped with much larger and heavier artillery. This fact was recognized as early as WWII, which led to the development of the 57mm M18 and 75mm M20 recoilless rifle systems. These weapons were so effective that they virtually replaced the Army’s towed 37mm M3 and 57mm M1 anti-tank cannons in service. Beginning in the late 1970s, the US Army replaced its recoilless rifles with lighter portable guided anti-tank missiles like the M47 Dragon, which was in turn replaced by the sophisticated FGM-148 Javelin missile. However, in the 21st Century, the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq showed the need once again for lightweight, reusable recoilless rifle systems firing inexpensive direct fire munitions for multipurpose applications. As a consequence, the US Army began fielding the M3 MAAWS as part of its regular infantry platoons beginning in 2016.





Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Major Tom

    Only took 50 years to realize we needed a reloadable, man-portable, relatively lightweight light anti-armor/anti-fortification weapon like ya know, an RPG-7.

    • Rnasser Rnasser

      Only “a bit” more expensive, and in very reduced numbers.

      • Herr Wolf

        An updated Panzerfäust for $300 apiece.

    • Joshua

      Except we want ours to actually blow stuff up when we fire them more than half the time.

      • Herr Wolf

        Wayt, whut?

      • Brett baker

        Oh, Russian s*******m commencing soon. But if you’re happy, Joshua, we’re happy, since your posts always make sense. (Unlike, say, mine.)

      • Eh, ordnance quality control is a solvable problem. It isn’t like we would have been buying the rounds from Russia — both RPGs and ammo are made in the US. (And there are credible cases to made for going with either weapon – the Goose or the RPG – but I think the MAAWS is, in the end, a better fit for our needs.)

        • Some Guy

          The Problem is not buying them from Russia(or any other Warsaw Pact member state), they all knew how to build that rather simple construction. The problem is that the warheads are old and stored in places not really suitable for any explosives.
          During the cold war and after the fall of the Warsaw Pact countless of these warheads made their way from the hughe eastern stockpiles to conflict zones all over the world and now many warheads are older than 30 years.

          • XT6Wagon

            Don’t forget handled by untrained idiots for years before being used by an untrained idiot.

            Plenty of tanks and people have survived by the use of the wrong type of ammo for the RPG-7. Fragmentation doesn’t exactly punch out tanks, and HEAT isn’t exactly the best at dropping buildings.

          • jono102

            Or forgetting to pull out the safety pin before firing the things.

    • Harry Canyon

      They actually make RPG’s in the US, now…a company called China Lake?

    • Ron

      They Army who always planned to fight superior numbers of enemy armor preferred an ATGM to a unguided bunker buster because they wanted to attrite the enemy armor as far out as possible

      • EC

        Neither the Dragon or Javelin ATGMs are really “long range” weapons. The Dragon was only a 1km weapon, while the Javelin is only 2.5km. These are significantly overmatched by a 125mm tank gun that can shoot HE shells at 4km.

        Sure better than an unguided rocket, but still not nearly as nice as a heavier ATGM.

        • Ευστάθιος Παλαιολόγος

          Did’t the Javelin achieve over 4km in recent UK tests?

          • Major Tom

            I believe it was because of a new CLU upgrade that can see further. Which was the main limitation of Javelin in terms of range.

          • EC

            Still really not the accepted range in service. Until it shows that it can actually perform that under realistic conditions, it’s still a relatively short-ranged weapon.

        • Ron

          First don’t confuse data card range with real world ranges, the advertised number normally cannot be meet for line of sight systems because of a lack of line of sight or awareness of a target. More so with an attacking force, attacking into a defense.
          Even with modern sensors, we often don’t find the enemy until they start shooting at us. Second the primary concern of AT gunners from the tank was not normally the tank main gun but instead its MGs, because they often don’t have a good enough location to put a HE-FRAG or battle carried SABOT on the system but may know close enough to hose down the area with 7.62 or
          12.7mm fire. Thirds, troops had more to worry about from RAGs, DAGs and accompanying guns prepping the objectives than they did from the maneuver element until they got really close.

          You have to remember the USA’s primary concern was armor penetrating its defensive positions. To counter this, their and USMC’s TTP for anti-armor warfare was either massive barraged
          surprised fires or the preferred and how they acquired weapons to support was HAW-MAW-LAW, that heavy anti-armor weapons would begin attriting the enemy at it max engagement range, and medium weapons starting to attrite when the enemy came into range followed by light weapons at short range. The decision to not procure a medium range unguided was based on the need for a guided system to engage out to the maximum possible for a man, not team, portable weapon.

          • LineOfSight

            If you are on a hill overlooking terrain and prepare to attack an enemy base (spotting with binoculars, etc) you have verry verry good line of sight and a clear target. This ofcourse changes when being at the same altitude as the target.

          • Ron

            Basically the ability to exploit maximum range from a stand still is much lower than you often see published. In places like Ft Sill, 29 Palms and NTC, you can see and adjust fires out to sometimes 10 KMs with no problem, but other places your line of sight is severely restricted. This of course does not
            taking into account enemy actions, like camouflage, use of micro terrain,
            reverse slope defense and general competence in warfighting skills to either defend from areas of denied observation or blind the enemy through a counter-reconnaissance program, it makes it much harder to exploit the maximum range of the weapons.

          • EC

            It depends. In some ways, Russian and Israeli tanks feature technologies that surpass what we have on our own armour. This allows them to defeat and detect incoming anti-tank munitions.

            The Russians, for example, have the Shtora system. Against laser-guided weapons, Shotra can automatically track the target to about 3-5 degrees. This allows Russian tankers to quickly discover the source of threats. Additionally it can automatically launch smoke grenades, which can reduce the probability of a hit from an IR-guided weapon. While some of our tanks have been equipped with laser warning receivers, they do not have slew-to-cue functionality.

            Even though the Javelin isn’t laser-guided, active defense systems like Shtora (not to mention hard-kill systems) have a pretty good chance of not only foiling ATGM attacks, but also leaving the ATGM teams quite dead by revealing their location. I don’t think a system for detecting incoming IR missiles is out of the question to mount on a tank as they already exist for aircraft.

            New developments with tank shells also make targeting ATGM teams much easier. Our own research into the 120mm AMP round is evidence of this. The Germans made (partly at our request) a 120mm HEAT-MP round which can shower an entrenched ATGM team with airburst tungsten shot. The Russian tanks are capable of firing missiles of their own, with the 9M119F series designed specifically to deliver HE with laser-pinpoint accuracy.

            Generally speaking, the last thing that you want to attack well-equipped and trained tankers with is infantry. Sure it’s better than trying to attack a tank with hammers, but modern tank technology (ERA, NERA, APSs, etc) make such assaults difficult.

          • Ron

            Yes and HAW-MAW-LAW was developed post Vietnam and the weapons to fight it were fielded late 70s-80s.

    • gunsandrockets

      The RPG-7 is okay. But as a man portable anti-fortification weapon it’s really not a lot better than the old M20 3.5 inch rocket launcher. And at least the the M20 had a wider selection of ammunition types from the get go. Only a few sources for RPG-7 ammo which isn’t a pure HEAT round.

      The problem with both weapons is they are hand fired, smooth bore weapons firing fin-stabilized rockets. Even against fixed targets, that reduces practical accuracy and maximum engagement range quite a bit. But then they were always optimized as light weight anti-tank weapons instead of general purpose weapons, so smooth bore and fin stabilization for maximum shaped charge effect made perfect sense.

  • Ευστάθιος Παλαιολόγος

    This is basically the Carl Gustav M4, yes?

  • SP mclaughlin

    Bad Company 2!

  • Joshua

    Man the Army is on a roll updating it’s small arms.

    I may not agree with all their decisions recently, but by god they’re updating their stuff fast.

    • Rick O’Shay

      A 16-year war will do that.

      • nova3930

        Yep. Matter of “have to” in a lot of cases.

      • Joshua

        I saw more upgrades due to the rapid fielding initiative in the beginning years of the war than anything.

        This to me reads as they foresee a major conflict coming and want an entirely new fleet of weapons across the board.

        Like I said I don’t agree with all of them(ICSR), but I’ve also not seen such a rapid move to buy new everything in a while.

        • XT6Wagon

          all the current stuff is getting worn out at an incredible rate, so buying new stuff isn’t something they can avoid.

          • Rick O’Shay

            And if you’re gonna have to replace it anyways, it’s a good time to see if it can be upgraded.

  • Openmindednotangry

    SOCOM has been crushing it with Goose’s for years. USMC has had the SMAW forever. Some Big Army douche got promoted for thinking up this creative solution, I’m sure, after burning through the Javelin supply over the past 15 years or so.

    • Ron

      The Goose will probably replace the SMAW

  • Holdfast_II

    I wish Canada had had the lightweight version back in the day. I think ours were the special heavyweight edition.

    • Jules Whicker

      That’s the one. A great piece of kit, but only when someone else was carrying it!

    • gunsandrockets

      Yeah it was heavy, but as an all steel weapon it also wouldn’t wear out as fast either.

  • ActionPhysicalMan

    A weapon after my own heart. I sure am glad they have those.

  • Jason Culligan

    To be fair, the 37mm and 57mm anti-tank guns were already obsolete by the time the recoiless rifles were introduced.

    • Major Tom

      And the newest 90mm anti-tank guns then available were too heavy for anything other than defensive use or being towed by a jeep or truck as part of a mechanized battalion.

      This the need for something with firepower more resembling the 90mm but light enough for the infantry.

  • Uniform223

    If they can make a reloadable version of the LAW, that would be great too. Even smaller even lighter and just enough bang for your buck to care of most things jihad-jerry does.

    • Matt Taylor

      It’s not Jihad-Jerry that they are doing this revamping and upgrading for.

      • Uniform223

        True. Despite its age the M72 is still being produced and still being used. In the built up urban area of Iraq the M72 proved to be very useful.

        • Matt Taylor

          And then we go back to your original comment. A reloadable LAW would be awesome. I wonder if that would require a complete reworking of the LAW or if it would be a simple process. I don’t know enough about them to speculate.

          • jono102

            An issue being the inner alloy tube and outer fiberglass tube are designed to be single use and wouldn’t last very long at all. To make it re loadable, both tubes would need to be strengthened, a new firing mechanism added and the projectile redesigned to be able to be loaded and fired. It would pretty much require a full redesign and the 2 wouldn’t be compatible.

  • vwVwwVwv

    Masaltov

  • Harry Canyon

    Goose Gun.

    BTW…The M-47 “Dragon” was in the field starting in the late 60’s…

  • LazyReader

    Everything is beautiful in Titanium……….. expensive, but beautiful
    Airtronic USA makes it’s own RPG derivative with carbon fiber so it’s good for a hundred shots. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4919dd9559bc2514a086b7fd430e36cdf03f7b9bc8b1104aa5175da4cb025ced.jpg

    • Brett baker

      Didn’t Airtronic go bankrupt?

      • LazyReader

        Bankrupt and defunct are different things. You can rebuild after a bankruptcy

    • DESTRO YAKISOBA

      Haha I posted the same thing above, didn’t see this post.

  • LazyReader

    Older HEAT rounds are not particularly effective against modern tank
    armor, the weapon has found new life as a bunker-buster with an HEDP
    round. In addition, improved HEAT, high explosive (HE), smoke and
    illumination (star shell or flare) ammunition is also available. What purpose does it serve, for blowing things up we have M72 and AT4’s which are cheaper. For taking out actual tanks, we have the Javelin.

    • gunsandrockets

      I imagine tagging a bunker at 600 meters is a hell of a lot easier and expends a lot less weight of ammunition when firing an M3 than firing multiple AT4.

      • jono102

        Yup, apples and oranges. The CG craps all over the AT4 and the M72 in regards to accuracy and effect especially overlapping at intermediate ranges with other systems. Anything over 300m with an M72 or AT4 requires more skill and even more luck. A single M72A6 actually costs more than an 84mm HE bomb.
        The variety and flexibility of ammo makes a big difference too, being able to set the HE round to point detonation or air burst at what range you want it to. HEDP on point or delay for vehicles or structures. The Illum round is particularly effective especially compared with 81mm or 105mm Illum.
        We carried M3’s and M72’s in our wagons. We could fit an M3 and 6 HE bombs in the same space it would take 3 AT4’s. We would leave the AT4’s at FOB’s and use them on range days.

        • Uniform223

          The M72 and AT4s (M136) was great in urban areas. The only down part was that my unit SOP was to take the empty tubes along with us. Turns out those f-ers were picking them up and putting explosives in them.

          I ran across this picture and it always brings a smile to my face…
          https://laststandonzombieisland.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/law-m79-law-launcher.jpg

          • jono102

            That’s why I liked the M76 vs the AT4. Smaller and dependant on task pretty much anyone who didn’t have a gun, M-203 or other spec kit carried one. It was relatively easy to stomp an empty 66 tube to render it almost useless if you needed to ditch it.

  • vwVwwVwv

    Is there a difference between a RPG and the Gun in target damage?

  • Cal S.

    I want one, for situations totally unrelated to the parking lot pyrates at my apartment complex…

  • idahoguy101

    Let’s hope the Army does a better job than they have for contracting for a new pistol

  • Harry Buttle

    That is just under half the weight of the one I used to carry back in the day.
    I’d have given my best mates left nut for one of these CGs back then.

  • Steven

    So why didn’t I have this in Viet Nam? Think of all the mothers that would be crying over lost sons if I had. 🙂

    • gunsandrockets

      Well the US Army kinda did.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M67_recoilless_rifle

      That beehive round looks like all kinds of fun.

      But between the kind of war being fought, the terrain the Army usually fought in, and the deficiencies of the M67, the M67 was usually discarded.

      That may explain why you didn’t have it.

      • Steven

        We used the M67 in the 82Abn stateside but we needed something more compact for the Ranger team I was on in Viet Nam. We did carry M72’s but that is only one shot and many of them wouldn’t fire after a few weeks in the rain.

        • gunsandrockets

          I would like your opinion based upon your experience, regarding infantry support weapons.

          An M72 and the B40 have roughly similar performance in terms of warhead weight and launch velocity.

          Assuming both are made to the same quality and reliability standard for the sake of the question, which format do you think is better: the one shot throwaway M72, or the reloadable B40?

          • Steven

            I never had much experience with the B40. Most NVA units were using the RPG-7 by the time I was there. I like the reloadable feature of the RPG-7 and the fact you can use other rounds beside the HEAT. The M72 really isn’t that useful against troops in the open.

  • Dirk Diggler

    This could provide the overmatch that our infantry units need in the current fight. More accurate than a RPG and can be fired from the the prone position.

  • Warren Ellis

    So are these for general use or are they only for special forces use?

  • S O

    Guys, forget the comparison with RPG-style weapons.
    RPG munitions tend to be badly influenced by wide wind; the wind pushes the fins back, this turns the rocket, the sustainer rocket engien pushes the whole thing in a new direction. To hit anything in combat situations past 100 m is difficult, and past 200 m the attempt is a waste of munitions.

    The Carl Gustav is a very different beast. Its HE rounds are spin stabilised and thus quite accurate. Think of it (when it has a laser rangefinder sight installed) as a ~500-1000 m ranged equivalent to Second World War 75 mm light infantry guns in direct fire.
    It’s fine as a platoon-level direct fire support asset.
    It’s not a good idea as a squad-level asset because the rounds are really heavy and much of the time smaller rounds would suffice.

    Also, forget thinking about Carl Gustav or M136 as anti-MBT equipment. Even a side hit on a modern MBT will likely disappoint. Shaped charges of 105 mm calibre and bigger can be considered anti-MBT munitions. 84 mm is fine against the typical BMP, BTR & BMD type vehicles.