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New grenade launcher may work better at night

The 82nd Airborne Division shakes out M320 grenade launcher.

US Army

Ever since the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army has been trying to field a grenade launcher that duplicates the accuracy of that mythical grenadier and his M79 so compelling portrayed in Francis Ford Coppela's movie "Apocalypse Now."

The M320 40mm Grenade Launcher Module issued to the 82nd Airborne Division recently may do the trick. Specs for the M320 called for something more reliable, more ergonomic, more accurate, and safer than the so-so M203 launcher troops have been using for more than four decades. Heckler and Koch, who was awarded the contract, delivered a parcel of clever, if heavier, improvements.

For starters, the 320 can be deployed as either a stand alone or attached under the barrel of an M16 rifle or M4 carbine. (PDF)

It comes with its own pistol grip--no more using the host weapon's clip as a hand grip. Slicker still, it's double action--if it misfires, the operator can pull the trigger again--unlike the 203, which requires a re-jacking.

The mojo, however, is expected to be delivered by the new integral day/night sighting system produced by Insight Technology Inc. It also comes with a separate infrared laser pointer that's actually supposed to make the weapon more accurate at night than daytime, project engineer Bob Phung told the Army News Service.

At the very least, the new setup interferes less with the sights of whatever it happens to be mounted on than did that of its predecessor. It also eliminates the need to re-zero every time it's reattached to a weapon.

But it's hard to image an experienced gunner pausing to fiddle with a laser pointer in the heat of battle. Army brass may suspect as much. On the range, instructors admonished paratroopers to use the weapon as it was designed to be used.

"Many times, guys get new equipment, and they second guess it," Staff Sgt. Joseph Foti of Fort Benning's 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment admitted. "But the engineers who developed this weapon have already removed the guesswork. This stuff works. Trust it."

Wonder what Roach would say.