June 2, 2007:
The U.S. Marine Corps has bought
another 3,500 M136/AT4 rocket launchers. These 15 pound, disposable systems are
40 inches long and 3.3 inches in diameter. They cost about $2,100 each, and
have a four pound warhead. The AT/4 is used to deal with enemy infantry in
bunkers or buildings. The marines have been using the AT/4 for over a decade.
The AT/4 was so successful that the army revived
its similar 1970s LAW. The new LAW is more compact (20 inches long, 2.6 inches
in diameter), lighter (7.7 pounds) but not much cheaper (about $2,000 each).
It's 2.2 pound warhead can still knock out light armored vehicles (and
unarmored ones as well), but it most often used against enemy troops inside
bunkers and buildings.
Both the LAW and AT/4 warheads are often too small,
which caused the marines to buy the SMAW (Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault
Weapon). This is a 17 pound Israeli design. The SMAW launcher costs $14,000,
but is not disposable, and each launcher can fire hundreds of 14 or 15 pound
rockets, up to 500 meters, before it wears out or gets broken in action. The
marines particularly liked the thermobaric (fuel-air explosive) rocket for the
SMAW. These proved very useful during the 2004 battle of Fallujah. This rocket,
when fired into a room, first disperses a combustible mist, which is then
ignited, producing an enormous explosion, that often destroys small buildings,
and kills everyone in the room, and adjacent rooms and hallways.