MESA, Ariz. — When a shoulder-fired rocket is shot from inside an enclosure, typically there’s not much of a chance the wall or anything behind it will go undamaged as the result of the backblast.
But Norwegian ammunition company Nammo’s M72 launcher is now capable of being safely fired from inside an enclosure.
The M72 is a weapon designed to go up against light-armored vehicles, and it has been around since the Vietnam War, but Nammo’s fire-from-enclosure capability is its newest improvement to the system.
And it’s anticipated soldiers in the field will see it as a game-changer for a number of reasons.
The launcher was put to the test inside of a small 12-by-15-by-7-foot shed in an exclusive first demonstration on June 5 in the Arizona desert. Aside from a spray of viscous liquid on the floor, back wall and ceiling, there was no other evidence the M72 was used in the room.
The system includes a chamber of liquid at the backend of the rocket that mitigates the effects of a blast. Nammo currently has a patent pending on the formula for the inert organic liquid.
The company has been developing the system in response to a U.S. Marine Corps requirement, using mostly internal research funds, over the last 12 years, according to Chad Parkhill, Nammo’s executive vice president for shoulder-fired systems.
Nammo was awarded a contract to qualify its system for Marines in June 2016 and delivered 500 rounds to the service in December 2017. The rounds will go through rigorous testing through the Joint Ordnance Test Procedure, an extremely aggressive test profile that no other shoulder-fired weapon system has gone through or would likely pass, according to Dominic Jezierski, the technical director for shoulder-fired systems at Nammo.
The fire-from-enclosure, or FFE, requirement originated within the Marine Corps because during urban operations in the Middle East, Marines were having to expose themselves to shoot rockets from shoulder-fired systems. Several died as a result of having to take a shot with an M72 because the shot couldn’t be taken from inside a structure or from behind cover, Ben Carpenter, a Nammo representative in charge of field marketing, told Defense News.
Carpenter was one of two to first fire the M72 FFE during the June demonstration.
Nammo set to work to address the shortfall and came up with a 13-pound version of its M72 ― one of the game-changers, Carpenter said. With the weight of some existing shoulder-fired systems, troops must assess whether it’s possible to carry them into the field.
The system also exceeds U.S. Marine Corps and Army standards with its capability to fire seven to eight shots per day using single hearing protection inside an enclosure, Jezierski said. The M72 It can be shot without hearing protection in the open air, and the Marine Corps standard is the ability to fire five rounds from an enclosure.
But even more important is its low signature, which drastically increases the survivability of the shooter and nearby troops, according to Pat Woellhof, who does Marine Corps-focused field marketing for Nammo.
Woelhof was the first to fire the M72 FFE in the June 5 demonstration.
The system’s muzzle flash is equivalent to a 9mm pistol at night, according to Tim Clawitter, who is in business development for shoulder-fired systems at Nammo.
The backblast is also so minimal, it eliminates the need to have to move furniture from a room, according to Woellhof. Typically, training would include doing so because furniture can redirect the backblast toward the gunner.
The munitions used in the M72 FFE are designed to go up against light-armored vehicles. The energetics in the warhead of the munition are improved to provide better effects on target and is more accurate, Carpenter said.
While a bigger launcher might limit the number of weapon systems provided to a squad — typically just one — the M72 is small and light enough to potentially have three to six within a squad. “You could say it gives them overmatch,” Carpenter said.
Improvements to the launcher include a redesigned trigger as well as “shoot through” bumpers. In previous versions of the M72, the bumpers could fall of when the launcher was fired, according to Jezierski.
Nammo has also demonstrated at its launcher assembly in Mesa that it has the capability to reliably produce rounds. The company built roughly 40 rounds a day and only scrapped two out of the entire first 600 rounds produced, according to Clawitter.
The Marine Corps is expected to wrap up its own rigorous testing of the system by the end of the year followed by a production decision.
There is also potential for Army interest, particularly for subterranean operational needs, Carpenter said.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.