Procurement: Carl The Trusted Commodity

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July 3, 2020: In early 2020, the Baltic States of Latvia and Estonia jointly ordered $1.5 million worth of Carl-Gustaf M4 recoilless rifles. Deliveries of this order (about 60 M4s) will take place between 2021 and 2024. This order was placed as part of a ten-year purchasing agreement Sweden, Latvia and Estonia worked out with the manufacturer in 2019 that makes it easier to order M4s without negotiating prices and other terms. Ammunition was not included because the Baltic States still have stocks from earlier purchases. The new M4s will replace some older Carl-Gustaf M2s which are at the end of their lifespan. Many new East European NATO members have been using the Carl-Gustaf recoilless rifles since the 1990s. While Sweden is not a NATO member Sweden produces a lot of weapons that are widely used by NATO members and considered NATO standards.

This latest, M4, version of the Carl Gustav entered service in 2014 and was a major improvement over M2 and M3 models still in use. There were many individual improvements. The M4 is 30 percent lighter (at 7 kg/15 pounds) and seven percent shorter (at just under a meter, or 38 inches) than the M3. There is a new electronic sight that is designed to automatically make adjustments to improve accuracy, especially for shots at up to 1,000 meters. This is sometimes done by having the sight transfer data to some of the new rounds that can use it. This new high explosive round has a 1,000-meter range and is lethal out to more than ten meters from the exploding shell. The new sight also counts the rounds fired, making it easier to know when maintenance is necessary. The barrel will now last for ten times as many fired rounds (about a thousand).

The overall design of the Carl Gustav has been modified and improved based on extensive user experience in combat. This includes things like enabling the operator to carry the M4 into combat with a shell already loaded. Other improvements make it possible for the M4 to accurately fire that loaded round faster and more accurately than in the past. There are new ammo types available as well and more new ones in the works.

A major customer for the Carl Gustav has been U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) which has been using the 84mm weapon since the 1990s. Back in 2012 the U.S. Army noted the success of the Carl Gustav with SOCOM and adopted it for all their infantry. The Carl Gustav was first adopted by SOCOM for their Ranger Regiment in 1990. While part of the army, the Ranger Regiment is controlled by SOCOM. Ranger NCOs originally came from non-SOCOM infantry units and had been telling their buddies back there about what a handy weapon Carl Gustav was. As a result, regular army troops have been demanding the Carl Gustav since the 1990s. Infantry like this weapon mainly because it is a more accurate than rocket launchers and has a longer range than competing weapons, like the Russian RPG. The M1 version of the Carl Gustav was introduced in 1948 and its reputation spread as more countries adopted it.

The Carl Gustav is the first multiple-shot portable large projective weapon U.S. Army infantry have used since the smooth bore 3.5-inch (88mm) bazooka was phased out in the 1960s. Most American troops got to use the Carl Gustav when the M3 was standard. The M3 was basically a lightweight 8.5 kg (19 pound) recoilless rifle. It was 1.1 meters (3.6 feet) long. The barrel is rifled and good for about a hundred rounds.

The U.S. Army got rid of its recoilless rifles in the 1970s, replacing them with anti-tank guided missiles. What made the Carl Gustav unique was that it had the long range of a recoilless rifle, which use rifled barrels, but had a short barrel and was much more portable. The most popular American designed recoilless rifle was the 52 kg (114.5 pound) 75mm M20. With its long barrel (2.1 meters/6.9 feet) the M20 had a range of 6,400 meters. That was fine for use against tanks but the army brass never appreciated the fact that the recoilless rifle was most frequently used against enemy infantry in bunkers or buildings. The Carl Gustav took all this into account and has been very popular with the infantry because of its portability, long range, accuracy and availability.

The 84mm projectiles weigh about 2 kg (4.4 pounds) each and come in several different types (anti-armor, combined anti-armor/high explosive, illumination, and smoke). The anti-armor round is very useful in urban areas and against bunkers. Range is 500-700 meters, depending on type of round fired, but an experienced gunner can hit a large target at up to 1,000 meters.

The Americans had earlier adopted the single-shot version of the Carl Gustav as the AT4 but the Special Forces showed that the Carl Gustav was better because you get more shots for less weight. The AT4 weighed about 6.8 kg each. It's easier to carry one Carl Gustav M3, at 8.5 kg, and a bunch of rocket-propelled shells at about 2.2 kg (5 pounds, with packaging) each.

What new users of the Carl Gustav have to be most careful with is the backblast, which is more intense than that of the AT4. Army rangers also found that the best way to use the Carl Gustav is with a two-man team. One carries and operates the Carl Gustav and is usually armed only with a 9mm pistol as a personal weapon. The other man carried 5-6 rounds of 84mm ammo and operates as a spotter for the Carl Gustav gunner. Depending on the situation, a squad might carry a Carl Gustav instead of a M240 light machine-gun. If you expect to encounter enemy troops some distance away, like over 500 meters, the Carl Gustav is the way to go. The Carl Gustav has been very useful in Afghanistan and any place with wide-open spaces. One thing users had to constantly keep in mind was that the 84mm shell did not arm until it was at least 100 meters out. The Carl Gustav shells cost $500-3,000 each, depending on the type (and complexity). The launcher (with rifled barrel and sight) costs about $25,000 each.

The Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle has been a popular (adopted in over 50 countries) anti-tank/structures infantry weapon since it was introduced in 1948. It has undergone steady improvement since 1949 in order to remain relevant to the present. Most upgrades were focused on weight reduction, new features and ammunition. Since the first variant, the diameter remained unchanged (84mm) but form comparison the M2 weighed 14.2 kg, the M3 about 8,5 kg and the newest M4 presented in 2014 is only 7 kg. The weight reduction was possible due to many composite inserts and titanium launch tube compared to steel one from M2/3 variants.

The 84mm projectiles come in a growing number of special types; anti-armor, confined space anti-armor, combined anti-armor/high explosive, illumination, and smoke). Such a large selection of munitions gives tactical flexibility. Moreover, an experienced gunner can hit a large target at up to 1,000 meters. However, the laser-guided munition (a joint effort between SAAB and Raytheon) with a range up to 2 kilometers is in the works as well. Test firings since 2019 have been very promising.

In recent years the Baltic States closely cooperated with Nordic countries and the recent procurement effort is a continuation of this trend and in another year we might see more long-term contracts for these multifunctional systems. -- Przemyslaw Juraszek

 


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