Weapons: Chinese Variations

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September 21, 2018: Chinese arms manufacturer Norinco has been seeking export orders for another clone of a successful Western (actually South African) weapon (the MGL-130). The Chinese version is the LG6 40mm “revolver” grenade launcher that Chinese troops began receiving in 2011. LG6 is 103cm (40.5 inches) long and weighs 4.8 kg (10.6 pounds) empty. The LG6 can use a six round drum magazine or be belt fed. It can fire up to five rounds a second. The LG6 is actually the latest version of lightweight magazine fed grenade launchers that have been around for decades. In the 1990s Norinco developed such weapons using 30mm grenades (long popular with the Russians) and, when it was apparent that the export market favored 40mm, developed the LG4 (a lighter LG6 that could only fire from a six round drum magazine) and, in 2014, the LG5 (a longer barrel version of the LG4 for longer range precision shooting). The LG4 and LG5 were mainly marketed to police and paramilitary organizations for firing non-lethal (tear gas and the like) rounds. But both of these, and the LG6 can fire the lethal military rounds. One attraction of the 40mm grenade is that there are dozens of different types of grenades available, both lethal and non-lethal.

Six shot, "revolver" type 40mm grenade launchers have been around since the 1980s. But the U.S. military never adopted them until 2006 when Marines in Iraq got some. This was the original, the MGL-140 and had been used by police and military organizations since the early 1980s. This 40mm, six shot grenade launcher was renamed the Mk14 by SOCOM in 2011 and the M32 by the U.S. Marine Corps in 2006. The marine adopted the SOCOM version of their M32 as the M32a1 in 2015.

The MGL-130 is, literally, a shotgun size revolver that fires standard American 40mm grenades. Thus it has a minimum range of 30 meters and a maximum range of 400 meters. The weapon is 81.3cm (32 inches) long, and weighs six kg (13.2 pounds) empty, and 9.2 kg (20.3 pounds) loaded. The 40mm rounds weigh about .54 kg (19 ounces) each. Like any 40mm grenade launcher, it can fire lethal and non-lethal (tear gas, Etc.) rounds, and fire all six of them in a few seconds. The M32 also has a rail for mounting various types of aiming devices (day and night scopes). The M32s cost about $6,000 and both the marines and SOCOM distribute them as needed to units, depending on what kind of operations the unit was involved in.

Marines and soldiers have used their single shot, 40mm grenade launchers, a lot since 2001, and with much success. The single shot 40mm launchers have been around since the 1960s, and the Marines wanted to try something new. The U.S. Navy SEAL commandos (which are part of SOCOM) noted the M32 and by 2011 had in service a customized version called the Mk14. This was the same weight as the M32 but with a shorter (by 10cm to 20cm) barrel. The barrel was stronger, to handle high-powered (and faster) 40mm grenades used in automatic grenade launchers. The Mk14 was more compact (61.3cm/28 inches) long and that made it easier to handle in combat. In 2015 the Marines adopted this version as the M32a1. The Mk14 is made by the same firm that developed the MGL-140.

Before the MGL-130 there were other multi-shot 40mm grenade launchers. In 1967 the U.S. Navy developed a magazine equipped 40mm grenade launcher called the China Lake for the SEALs. This weapon looked like a pump shotgun and that is what it was based on. The tube magazine carried three round, plus one in the chamber. While successful it never went into production and only 22 were produced. Although the China Lake was never officially adopted it was used by SEALs, Army Special Forces and Marine Force Recon troops in Vietnam. In the 1990s work was revived on the China Lake and in 2004 it competed with the MGL-140 to become the M32. The MGL-140 won out. China Lake was lighter, weighing 3.7 kg (8.2 pounds) empty and 4.6 kg (10.2 pounds) loaded. It was 875mm (34.4 inches) long and used pump action to reload.

Norinco has a long record of copying successful Russian and Western weapons and then sometimes developing variants based on user feedback. The Norinco models are often superior to the Russian originals and in the case of Western designs, the quality is often lower but high enough to attract buyers because of the lower price and capabilities that make up for the lower quality. Moreover, the Chinese weapons are gradually closing the quality gap and creating some serious competition for some Western manufacturers.

 


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