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M203 40mm Grenade Launcher

Program History

The Grenade Launcher Attachment Development (GLAD) program was an evolution of a program to obtain a suitable 40mm grenade launcher attachment for use on the XM16E1 rifle (which subsequently became the M16A1). In 1964, 3 types of prototype grenade-launcher attachments were subjected to military potential tests. All launcher designs were single-shot and fired the standard family of 40x46mm grenade cartridges then being used with the M79 launcher. The M79 grenade launcher had been adopted essentially as an interim solution until suitable a grenade launcher attachment could be developed either for the M16 rifle or as part of the Special Purpose Infantry Weapon (SPIW) program. The launcher that proved to be the best design was Colt Firearm's CGL-4, which recieved the designation XM148. Further development of the design was continued and production models were manufactured.

In January 1967, a New Equipment Training Team arrived in Vietnam and trained personnel in the care and use of the XM148 grenade launcher. At the same time, the Army Concept Team in Vietnam (ACTIV) conducted an evaluation of the launcher and found it to be unsatisfactory for operational use in Vietnam. Subsequently, the GLAD program was initiated and on 1 May 1968 AAI Corporation and Philco-Ford each delivered 20 prototype grenade-launcher attachments to the Army for engineer design tests, which were conducted concurrently by the United States Army Infantry Board, Human Engineering and Ballistic Research Laboratories, and Materiel Test Directorate (formerly Development and Proof Services).

AAI also delivered 20 launchers for the Disposable Barrel Cartridge Area Target Ammunition (DBCATA) concept for concurrent evaluation with the other 2 grenade-launcher attachments. The DBCATA program was a continuing phase of the SPIW program. The original requirement in the SPIW program was for a 3-shot semiautomatic launcher concept. However, by 1968, the continuing program was concentrating on a single-shot design that could be vaunted on the M16A1 rifle or other standard weapons, as well as SPIW.

The tests concluded that with respect to functioning performance in the overall test, the design of the pump launcher was superior to that of the pivot launcher (the Philco-Ford design) and the DBCATA launcher. That being said, in the present configuration, none of the primary sights were deemed to be acceptable and the recoil of any of the launchers, irrespective of type, was detrimental to the functioning performance of the M16A1 rifle or XM177E2 submachine gun. By November 1968, the AAI design had been type classified as the XM203 and by December 1968, AAI is awarded a contract for 600 launchers for a field test in Vietnam.

The field test of the weapon in Vietnam showed it to be suitable for widespread usage, though later testing in arctic conditions show it to have defects. These were later corrected. Though AAI had designed the weapon and produced the initial test samples, Colt Firearms, was subsequently awarded the contract for series production of the system.

In 1987, a company known as R/M Equipment began marketing a derivative of the M203, known commercially as the M203 Product Improved (M203PI). The main selling point was an improved mount that could be adapted to a wide array of weapons, beyond the AR-15/M16 family the weapon had originally been designed for. In 1992, Colt marketed an adapter with a pistol grip and stock for the M203 to allow it to be used as a stand alone system, marketing the complete weapon as the M203H. Knights Armament Company later took up production of a similar setup for the M203.

Also in the 1990s, Colt began marketing a short barrel M203 variant for short barrel variants of the AR-15/M16 family. This weapon, known commercially as the M203C, was tested by the US Army as the M203E1. It was later adopted, primarily for use with the M4 carbine (which was type standardized in 1994), as the M203A1.

With the development in the late 1990s of the M16 and M4 Modular Weapon Systems and the appearance of the M4 and M5 Rail Adapter Systems for these weapons, a variant of the M203 was developed that was designed for attachment using the MIL-STD-1913 rail interface. This weapon was initially designated as the M203E2, and then type standardized as the M203A2.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:45:53 ZULU