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.