Weapons: Semi-Automatic Grenade Launchers

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November 8, 2016: A Ukrainian firm has developed the RGSh30, a handheld version of the Russian AGS-17 automatic grenade launcher. Introduced in 1974, AGS-17 was grenade launcher weighing 34 kg (75 pounds) but firing a 30mm 285 gram (ten ounce) shell (“grenade”) instead of the 458 gm (16 ounce) 40mm shell used in the first (American) weapons of this type.

With the semi-automatic RGSh30 Ukraine is entering a market currently dominated by several similar Chinese designs. These have been showing up since the 1980s. One of the latest ones (2015) is the LG5 40mm grenade launcher with a computerized sight and computer controlled 40mm rounds that the weapon could program to explode over a specific target. LG5 looks like a large (40mm) rifle with a round magazine allowing for multiple shots and an impressive looking computerized sight, complete with laser range finder. LG5 was touted as an anti-sniper system for police. Closer examination of the system indicated that the LG5 was actually designed for long range (over 500 meters) targets, especially structures or vehicles that had to be hit on the first shot. There have been no reports yet of the LG5 in action but it shows you how far Chinese weapons development has come since the 1990s. As with many high tech weapons the LG5 is being offered worldwide to police agencies as well as the military customers.

Chinese weapons manufacturers have been developing more and more 20mm-40mm grenade launchers for infantry and mechanized units since 2000. The market is there and that’s why the Ukrainians entered it. These systems are offered for export, to military and police units as well as, unofficially, anyone with the money to pay for the weapons and extra for “special delivery.” There are multiple manufacturers of these weapons and for most weapons in China and the competition is pretty intense.

China began by producing cheaper versions of existing grenade launchers. One example of this was the QLB06. Introduced in 2006, by 2012 the QLB06 35mm semi-automatic grenade launcher had apparently become a standard weapon for many Chinese infantry units. It weighs 9.1 kg (20 pounds) empty and is 1046mm (41 inches) long. A drum magazine can hold 4-6 rounds, giving the weapon a maximum weight of 9.6 kg (27 pounds). It's semi-automatic and effective up to 1,000 meters. Not a lot of details were released about the RGSh30, which was pitched towards special operations troops. The RGSh30 appears to be a little lighter and with slightly less range than the QLB06.

All these portable grenade launchers have an interesting past. The U.S. developed (in the 1960s) a 40mm grenade, launched from a single shot (resembling a shotgun) hand held weapon and later a heavier vehicle mounted machine-gun type weapon. Sensing an untapped market China developed something unique in its line of 35mm grenade launcher weapons. In the 1980s the QLB87 has a magazine system that can hold 6, 9, or 12 35mm rounds. It weighs 12 kg (26.5 pounds). It looks, and is used like a light machine-gun. This weapon has not been used in combat yet and Western armies have stayed away from this design because it's easier to mount automatic 40mm machine-guns (weighing over a 50 kg/110 pounds) on armored vehicles or light trucks.

 


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