Country of origin
Practical rate of fire
Range of effective fire (grenade, point target)
Range of effective fire (grenade, area target)
Range of effective fire (buckshot)
The Springfield Armory
M79 grenade launcher was the first weapon of its type. It was not
only the first weapon of this type, but by all accounts, it was one
of the greatest ever fielded.
In World War 2 and the Korean War that was still ongoing at
the time, the US Army decided regular rifle grenades were inadequate
for general-purpose fire support, these munitions being very slow
and cumbersome to launch. This left a wide and very dangerous gap
between the longest range at which the average infantryman was
expected to throw a grenade, and the minimum effective range of the
smallest mortars. To close that gap, the Army initiated "Project
Niblick" to develop a replacement. By 1952, Project Niblick had
determined that a spherical 40 mm projectile with an explosive
charge was suitable for the task. Testing, however, eventually
showed that a cylindrical 40 mm projectile with a rounded nose was
the better choice; it had much better ballistics, and could hold a
larger volume of explosives. It was also further determined that to
launch the 40 mm grenades, they needed to be fired from a unitary
cartridge, using a relatively low-pressure charge. A low-velocity
casing 46 mm in length was developed for man-portable launchers,
while a 52 mm long casing was developed for launching grenades from
Now they had the 40x46 mm low-velocity grenade, the US Army
needed a weapon to launch it. The Army asked Springfield Armory to
devise such a weapon in 1953, who initially presented the T148
grenade launcher (not to be confused with the XM148, a later weapon
of a very different design). The T148 employed a "harmonica" style
magazine with a three-round capacity, but proved problematic in
testing, leading to its rejection. Springfield then presented the
S-3, which was derived from the T148 itself, but employed a
break-action loading system, not unlike that used in many shotguns.
The S-3 proved effective, and was further refined into the S-5,
which finally impressed the Army. After the addition of a new
sighting system, the Army acquired several S-5s in the late 1950s
for testing and evaluation, and type-classified it as the "XM79".
Satisfied with the performance of the weapon, it was formally
adopted by the Army on December 15th 1960 as the M79, and
large-scale deliveries began in the following year.
The M79 in appearance resembles a sawed-off shotgun, thanks
to its break-action operation, inverted rifle-style buttstock and
foregrip, and wooden furniture. Not including a sling, the M79
consists of 4 subassemblies; the barrel, foregrip, receiver, and
To fire the M79, the operator must first safe the weapon,
then press the barrel-locking latch all the way to the right side;
this will "break" the weapon, allowing it to open, so that the
chamber may be accessed. Opening the barrel automatically cocks the
weapon. If there is a spent casing (or an unfired round; perhaps a
dud) in the chamber, the user must physically pull it out with their
hand, as the M79 does not have an automatic extraction mechanism.
After loading a new cartridge as far in as it will go, the barrel
must be returned to its firing position, which not only completes
the chambering process, but also locks the barrel into place. The
weapon in this state is now loaded and ready to fire, and when the
operator is ready to do so, the fire selector must reset the fire
selector from "safe" to "fire".
The weapon may be fired from any position in which a rifle or
shotgun would be fired. From kneeling or prone positions, it may
also be fired at high elevations with the buttplate set on the
ground, much like a mortar. However, the operator must also be
mindful when firing on flat trajectories of the fact that the
grenades drop extremely fast on a flat trajectory compared to a
regular bullet; aiming on a flat trajectory against a target which
is relatively low and close could drop a grenade short into the
ground far enough that it will detonate, but close enough that the
operator is probably inside the casualty radius!
It is also possible to fire the M79 one-handed like a pistol
(in fact, their stocks have sometimes been sawed-off to make them
faster to draw), thanks to their light weight and relatively soft
recoil. However, this also makes the weapon more difficult to aim.
All 40x46 mm grenades have fuses that activate at or past 30
m, as a safety precaution; as such, a grenadier armed with an M79
and fighting closer targets will either have to use a buckshot or
canister round, directly hit an enemy soldier with a grenade, or
switch to a different weapon. When fired, the M79 has a distinct
muzzle report similar in sound to a cork being pulled out of a
bottle; for this reason, it became widely-known the nicknamed of
"Blooper" and "Thumper".
The sights consist of a front blade and a rear leaf, when the
ladder sight is lowered. The ladder sight is required for accurate
medium or long range shooting, and when raised, it effectively
becomes the weapon's rear sight. The sight ladder is effective for
ranges from 75 m to 375 m, in 25 m increments. However, experienced
users often don't bother to use the ladder sight, as the time
required to raise it and take aim "by the book" often isn't
available in the heat of a fire fight.
There are countless different types of 40 mm grenades that
can be launched from the M79. Below is a partial listing.
The M381 is an HE (High Exlosive) round, weighing 0.23 kg and
containing 32 g of Composition B. It has a maximum range of 400 m,
arms at a range of 8 m, has a lethal radius of 5 m, and a casualty
radius of 130 m. Early M381s sometimes armed much sooner in flight
than designed, leading to serious casualties by the user and their
comrades during accidental discharges, or if the grenade struck
vegetation in flight.
The M382 is a TP (Training Practice) round, which is a
stand-in for the M381 HE round. Its size, weight, shape, balance,
and ballistics are identical to the M381, but it contains only a
tiny pellet of RDX explosive, and 4.54 g of inert yellow dye. It
creates a bright yellow cloud of smoke on impact. Though the charge
is very weak, it is rated as having a danger radius of 20 m, for
range safety reasons.
The M406 is another HE round, with basically the same
explosives, weight, and ballistic performance as the M381, but also
having a much more effective arming mechanism that activates in
mid-air at ranges of between 14 m and 27 m.
The M433 HEDP (High Explosvie Dual Purpose) round is a shaped
charge munition with an armor penetration capability, and added
fragmentation effects, allowing it to be used more effectively
against vehicles and structures. It arms mid-air at ranges of
between 14 m and 27 m, and has an effective range of 400 m. The M433
has a 0.23 kg projectile containing 45 g Composition A, and has a
lethal radius of 5 m, an incapacitation radius of 15 m, and a
casualty radius of 130 m. The penetrator formed by the shaped charge
will penetrate 50 mm of steel plate, 300 mm of pine, 400 mm of
concrete, or 500 mm of sandbags. It will also readily blast a
loophole large enough for a rifle through the walls of most
The M576 Buckshot round is an interesting one, because
loading it will turn the shotgun-like M79 into an *actual* shotgun.
It is a direct-fire-only round that must be aimed on a flat
trajectory. It fires twenty 24 g metal buckshot pellets at a muzzle
velocity of 269 m/sec, out to an effective range of 30 m. The effect
is the same as a very large buckshot shell, so this round is best
used in closed terrain and confined areas. Field manuals advise that
the M576 must be aimed at the foot of the target; likely because the
M79's sights don't work like those on a genuine shotgun.
The M662 is an Illumination round, which is visible for a
distance of nearly 5 km, and from an altitude of nearly 1 km. It
consists of a 0.22 kg projectile containing an 85 g illumination
candle. At the top of the projectile's arc, a parachute opens and
slows its descent, as the candle ignites and burns brightly with a
red hue. The candle burns for up to 40 seconds, with an intensity of
20 000 candlepower.
The M992 Infrared Illumination round works much like the
M662, but it emits infrared light. It weighs 0.22 kg, and the
projectile carries a 50 g illumination candle. It functions the same
as the M662, but appears very dim to the naked eye, like an ember or
a lit cigarette; but through night vision optics with infrared
imaging capabilities, the area below appears to light-up almost as
bright as day. Needless to say, this is an extremely valuable
capability when used against foes with little or no night vision
The M531 is a less-lethal crowd control round that disperses
tear gas. It weighs 0.29 kg and the projectile carries a 57 g of
Agent CS, including a pyrotechnic mixture. Upon impact, the
projectile emits a billowing cloud of CS gas for up to 25 seconds,
and is able to saturate an area of 120 square meters. CS is an
extremely powerful irritant against eyes and lungs, but is normally
The M1006 is also a less-lethal round, which fires a foam
rubber projectile. The impact force is heavy enough to stun or repel
an offender, but usually not enough to cause serious injury or
death. It is effective at up to 50 m; however, training manuals
forbid the operator from firing this round at persons within 10 m,
because even with such a soft projectile, fatal injuries are
possible at this range.
The M1029 is another less-lethal round, loaded with 48 hard
rubber .48 caliber balls. It can be used against single offenders
like the M1006, but it is also effective against crowds. It is most
effective at 15 m to 30 m, but has a maximum range of 100 m. Though
as with the M1006, training manuals forbid the operator from firing
the M1029 at people within 10 m, or the projectiles could well mimic
more of the effects of buckshot than just their dispersion.
The first combat use of the M79 was during the Vietnam War.
While so many other new US weapons proved wanting during this
particular), the M79 proved extremely reliable, lethal, and
effective. It also gave US and South Vietnamese (ARVN) soldiers
overmatching firepower against an enemy who relied on commando
mortars, rifle grenades, recoilless riles, and rocket launchers for
their organic fire support assets, all of which proved cumbersome at
best in the dense jungles and forests of Vietnam. This made the M79
one of the most valuable and effective weapons for the ARVN and its
allies, and it was highly regarded. It was this success more than
anything else that validated the modern grenade launcher, making it
a weapon coveted by almost every military force in the world.
The M79 was manufactured from 1961 to 1971, with over 350 000
produced; this also does not include production of the M79 abroad,
where it continued to be manufactured much longer.
Possibly the most prolific grenade launcher in history, the
M79 has been used by many nations. These are known to include
Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Chad, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican
Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Greece, Guatemala,
Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Jordan,
Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Oman, Paraguay,
Philippines, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi
Arabia, Somalia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, the
United States, Vietnam, and Yemen. It is also used by many non-state
groups, such as the Kurdish Peshmerga.
Few M79s remain in the US inventory, having been largely
phased-out in favor of the
but they are still occasionally issued. Notably, many situations
which arose in recent wars, where United States have been evolved,
have forced the return of many M79s back into front-line service,
which had previously been gathering dust in armories and warehouses.
Even after the introduction of repeating grenade launchers such as
the MGL, the M79 seems to have a habit of finding its way into
firefights across the world.
It is therefore likely that despite its age, the M79 will
remain in service well into the foreseeable future.
attempt at a 40mm grenade launcher, and predecessor of the S-3/5.
Was a repeating weapon that fired from a 3-round cassette.
S-3 and S-5: Prototypes of the M79, derived from the T148.
Daewoo KM79: South Korean license-built copy of the M79.
M79-VN: Vietnamese copy of the M79, distinguished by having
an optical sight.
HK69A1: A German equivalent of the M79, made by Heckler &
Koch. It has a much less eclectic appearance, thanks to its skeleton
buttstock and angular composite furniture.
MILKOR M79: A South African reconstruction of the M79, with
the stock, pistol grip, and foregrip of the
Vektor R-4 assault rifle, and a 3.5x telescopic sight.
MILKOR Stopper: This South African grenade launcher was made
primarily for crowd control purposes, and fires a variety of
proprietary less-lethal 37 mm grenades. However, it can also be
fitted with a 40-mm barrel, which can fire any 40x46 mm grenade.
Pallad: This Polish 40 mm grenade launcher is not only
employed as a "standalone" weapon like the M79, but can also be
fitted to a weapon as an under-barrel launcher like the
It fires a unique 40x47 mm low-velocity grenade.
40 GL: This Singaporean grenade launcher may be used as a
standalone weapon, or as an under-barrel weapon. It should not be
confused with the 40 AGL, which is a completely unrelated automatic
grenade launcher (though it is made by the same company).
B&T GL-06: This Swiss-made grenade launcher is similar to the
MILKOR M79, and has a dedicated crowd control variant, the LL-06.
FN FN40GL EGL: A Belgian "standalone" grenade launcher
developed from the grenade launcher used in the F2000 assault rifle.
Its furniture may also be removed or omitted, allowing it to be used
as an under-barrel weapon.
RGS-50: This large Russian 50 mm single-shot weapon was
designed primarily for crowd control, but lethal 50 mm ammunition
was developed for it as well.
There are also many repeating grenade launchers that fire
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