Weapons: Carl Gustaf Recoilless Rifle in Ukraine


June 13, 2023: Britain has resumed using the Swedish Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle. Britain had used older versions of Carl Gustaf until 1990. Until recently Britain had been using the Swedish NLAW (Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon), a new system that entered service in 2008 to complement, not replace Carl Gustaf. NLAW’s projectiles are guided while Carl Gustav’s are not. Britain had sent all its NLAWs to Ukraine, where the Ukrainian found it very effective against Russian tanks.

NLAW was popular with Ukrainian troops, who used this weapon frequently and often ran out of ammunition for it. To help with that Sweden has ordered another quarter million projectiles for LLAW and its predecessor, Carl Gustaf. NLAW is a fire-and-forget system firing guided shells. All the operator has to do is find a target, track it for two or three seconds and fire the shell, which will home in on the designated target even if it is moving. Each NLAW weighs 12.5 kg (27.5 pound) and uses a shell that can be fired from enclosed spaces. NLAW can employ top-attack to penetrate the thinner top armor of any tank but has a max range of only 600 meters.

Carl Gustaf first entered service 75 years ago and has been regularly upgraded but never replaced. That’s because it is a lightweight reloadable recoilless rifle that works well in combat and its 84mm shells have also been continually upgraded. There is also a single-shot (non-reloadable) version of Carl Gustaf called the AT-4. Gustav’s projectiles are not guided and are chiefly used against fortifications and lightly armored or unarmored vehicles.

The current version of Carl Gustaf is M4. This model uses lightweight materials (titanium) and user-requested improvements like an easier to use carrier handle and hand grips. M4 is shorter and does away with the optional stand as it is light enough to be used all the time as shoulder fired. M4 weighs 6.6 kg (14.5 pounds) and is 950mm (38 inches) long. The new barrel lasts a lot longer (up to 2,000 rounds) and fires all the ammo used in the earlier (and still widely used) M3. The M4 Carl Gustaf was introduced in 2014 and is popular because of its ability to use several different Snap-On sights (including thermal/night vision) with 84mm shells that can now be programmed to detonate under specific conditions.

The Carl Gustaf has been a popular infantry weapon since it was introduced in 1948. By the 1980s troops in most NATO nations used it, including U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) and special operations troops in many other countries. Carl Gustaf has undergone steady improvement since 1949 and by 1991 the M3 version entered service as what was basically a lightweight (8.5 kg/19 pound) recoilless rifle that is 1.1 meters (43 inches) long. The barrel is rifled and good for about a hundred rounds. 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 Carl Gustaf shells cost $500-3,000 each, depending on type and complexity. The launcher, with rifled barrel and sight, costs about $20,000.

The single shot version of Carl Gustaf, the AT-4 was introduced in the 1980s, and did little to hurt reloadable Carl Gustaf sales. The Americans were the largest user of the AT-4 and over a dozen other export customers ordered it. While U.S. Army leaders liked the AT-4, most troops preferred the standard reloadable Carl Gustaf because you got more shots for less weight. Each AT-4 weighs about 6.8 kg. In combat it was more effective to carry one Carl Gustaf, at 8.5 kg, and a bunch of shells at about 2.2 kg (5 pounds, with packaging) each. The M3E1 is lighter than the AT-4 and more capable.

Carl Gustaf is currently in use in 40 countries worldwide and sales went up significantly with the introduction of the M4 in 2014 and many users of the AT-4 version switched to the M4. Because of the Ukraine War, Carl Gustaf demand is particularly high, as is the need for more ammunition. Swede is spending over $250 million to replace some of the nearly half a million 84mm Carl Gustaf ammo sent to Ukraine or NATO nations to replace what they had themselves sent to Ukraine, probably the largest European conflict Carl Gustaf, and a lot of other modern weapons, have ever been involved in. Ukraine was the first major war in Europe since World War II, which ended three years before Carl Gustaf was introduced.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close