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US Marines begin fielding new grenade launcher

M320A1 grenade launcher
Marines practice shooting the M320A1 grenade launcher Jan. 31 aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Photo: US Marine Corps

The US Marine Corps has begun fielding the new M320A1 grenade launcher after the program reached initial operational capability earlier this year.

Delivered by Heckler & Koch, the M320A1 is a single-fire system that can be employed as a stand-alone weapon or mounted onto another, such as the M27 infantry automatic rifle. The weapon system will enable marines to engage adversaries day or night.

“The M320A1 is a 40-millimeter grenade launcher intended to replace the M203A2 currently used by the Marine Corps,” said Capt. Nick Berger, Marine Corps Systems Command’s project officer for the M320A1. “It is a weapon designed for the infantry fire team grenadier.”

Marines from II Marine Expeditionary Force aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, have already received new equipment training (NET) and are now undergoing classroom training on proper maintenance and operation of the system. Marines also participated in live-fire exercises that enabled them to configure, shoot and test various other aspects of the system.

During the NET, Gunnery Sgt. Jason Wattle, squad advisor for the Infantry Small Unit Leader course at SOI-E, raved about the advantages of the M320A1. He said the system is versatile yet simple and easy to handle.

“Reloading it and unloading it are easy compared to other systems we’ve had in the past,” said Wattle.

Users load and unload the M320A1 from the side of the weapon rather than from underneath it, as was the case with the legacy system. This is a major advantage because the breach of the weapon is clearly visible and the shooter can more easily load while in the prone—or lying down—position, said Berger.

“Additionally, if the Marine experiences a misfire and the round must be removed from the barrel, it is safer to have the barrel release from the side and retain the ammunition than to have it release and potentially fall to the ground [from underneath],” added Berger.

Berger said the M320A1 should be completely fielded to infantry Marines in fiscal year 2021. Full operational capability is slated for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2024.