The Tatmadaw’s “Thumper”, Burmese Standalone 40mm Grenade Launcher

    There is extremely little to nothing written about the Tatmadaw’s 40mm Low-Velocity standalone Grenade Launcher. Even when it comes to the name, we are actually unsure of it’s official nomenclature within the Burmese Army and Police Forces. For argument’s sake, we’ll be calling it the MA-Launcher, similar to the designation used by the Burmese Army to name small arms within it’s current arsenal, MA standing for Myanmar Army, replacing the former BA, or Burma Army designation for small arms in use before the 1990s when the name of the country was changed by the SPDC junta.

    These images are from the September 2007 protests.

    The MA-Launcher first came on the public scene in the September 2007 demonstrations that later became to be known as the “Saffron Revolution” due to the dark red color of the robes of the Burmese monks that began the protest. Initially, it was seen in heavy use by the Burmese National Police Forces (light gray uniforms) that contended with protesters throughout the scene, but then it was also seen in heavy use by actual Tatmadaw soldiers that also responded (dark green uniforms) to the throngs of protesters. Since then we’ve only actually seen the launcher in use during the confrontation of other protests throughout the country, in use by both the Police and the Tatmadaw. An important note here is that the Police Forces actually depend on the Tatmadaw (which ultimately has always held power in the country) for small arms issue in times of need. The Police Forces actually have a substantial armory but this mostly consists of surplus armament that has been handed down from the Tatmadaw, captured from ethnic forces, or bought at low prices elsewhere. So when the Police need modern small arms such as when the September demonstrations occurred or currently in the crisis against the Rohingya in Arakan State.

    Notice the M79-like ladder rear sight.

    Although we don’t know much about the technical characteristics of the MA-Launcher, we do have a body of photographic evidence, in addition to some hands-on experience. During the protests 4 MA-Launcher serial numbers were recorded. These were “D-196X”, “D-197X”, “B-089X”, and “B-091X” (X added to protect identities). Some of them had “Defense Industries” stamped on them, which is the Burmese state-owned defense armaments production company. With this information, we know that the launcher was a serialized launcher produced internally but has so far not appeared anywhere outside of Burma, whether by legal export or criminal enterprise (as we know). The proximity of the serial numbers indicate that the launcher might have been of recent manufacture within several years of appearing in September 2007. In addition, from first-hand sources we also know that the launchers did appear barely used and fully-serviceable in 2007. From such a source

    The Burmese 40mm grenade launcher is simply called “40mm” by those in the service. It is an M79 design copy but employs many Burmese features. The pistol grip and stock are both brown polymer, not one being seen in black although there is mention of it. The barrel swings out to the right (This is incorrect, it unlocks to the left) about 40 degrees, enough to slide in one 40mm grenade. The pistol grip is hollow with a screw up the middle to attach it to the receiver. It has no slant or curve whatsoever and is perpendicular to the barrel. The stock has a butt trap door for cleaning supplies. The open “U” sights are graduated to 300 meters with 50 (Also incorrect, increments are in 100 not 50) meter increments. The sight must be raised up in order to fire. There are a number of metal rings surrounding the barrel in between the front and rear sights, that serve as a handguard or gripping surface. The barrel can be opened by a catch that is pulled to the rear. The selector is a switch on the left side that points forward for “safe” and up for “fire” and the operations are indicated by F or S. The front sight is protected by two very large ears that hold the front sight blade down the center and this can be flipped up. The rifling is very prominent, and there is some crowning at the muzzle. The only markings on it are on the right in bright white letters with three lines stamped “40MM”, “Grenade Launcher”, and a serial number. The author has collected four examples which are in blocks “B” and “D” showing that the launcher has just started serial production. Some examples observed have “Defense” stamped on them.

    Two types of 40mm rounds have been seen in use: an all white round and an olive drab round with yellow lettering on it.

    Brightly colored Burma Army camouflage soldier on far right has MA-Launcher, along with standard uniformed soldier on far left with MA-2 light machine gun.

    The 40mm shells on the patrolman’s belt sitting on the bed of the truck are destined for the MA-Launcher. These match shells found that shot out rubber balls for riot control, green siding above metalic base is made from thick cardboard.

    40mm HE grenades fired from Burmese troops in the ethnic areas. Note that the green shell appears to be very similar to the riot control shells pictured in Yangon.

    Through examining resources on the Tatmadaw’s combat activity in the ethnic areas, there is little question that the MA-Launcher is not in service at the front. It doesn’t exist in any media from the Tatmadaw side, nor in any media of the Tatmadaw taken by outside sources. In addition, it doesn’t exist in the form of service with any of the ethnic armies (that we know of), or in captured examples by the ethnic armies. Many of these groups are desperate for arms and use Tatmadaw equipment whenever they are able to capture or purchase it illegally. However, we have seen the launcher reappear in the Rohingya crisis when dealing with large crowds. Similar to the deployment during September 2007, this reinforces the use of this launcher as a crowd control launcher, firing rubber bullets, smoke, and tear gas grenades. An image of the MA-Launcher appearing in Rakhine State can be viewed here.

    Miles

    Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

    Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at [email protected]


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