Country of origin
HEAT, HEDP, thermobaric
Cartridge weight (HEAA)
Cartridge weight (HEDP)
Practical rate of fire
up to 1 400 m
Range of effective fire (against 1x2 m target)
Range of effective fire (against tanks)
1 800 m
Armor penetration (HEAA rocket)
600 mm of RHA
Armor penetration (HEDP rocket)
200 mm of RHA
SMAW (Shoulder-launched Multi-purpose Assault Weapon) is the primary
infantry anti-tank weapon of the US Marine Corps. It is a derivative
of the IMI
B-300 rocket launcher developed in Israel, though alterations
made to suit the requirements of the Marines have made both the
weapon and its ammunition incompatible with the B-300 system,
essentially resulting in a new and original weapon. Originally a
product of McDonnell Douglass, the SMAW is now manufactured by
Not a weapon
originally planned-for by the USMC, the SMAW's origins are rooted in
combat lessons learned the hard way during the closing years of the
Vietnam War, and the appearance of a new generation of Soviet main
battle tanks during the early 1970s. Having retired the last of
their M20 Super Bazookas in 1970, and beginning the process of
M67 recoilless rifle, the Marines had assumed that
LAW would be able to take-over the mission of these older
weapons, By 1979 however, the they finally realized that a reusable
heavy support weapon suitable for destroying enemy strongpoints was
needed, and also one that could fire a High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) round with substantially
increased armor penetration as well.
the Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle was favored for this mission, but a
significant drawback was noted; ammunition had to be issued inside
storage containers, which then had to be opened in the field before
ammunition was loaded into the weapon. As the French
LRAC F1 and
Israeli B-300 rocket launchers loaded their ammunition straight into
the launcher, container and all, these were deemed the best options.
Both had similar performance, but the B-300 was lighter and simpler,
making it the natural candidate for the mission.
of the B-300 was re-worked to suit the USMC's requirements, and the
first launchers were delivered for testing and evaluation in 1982.
of the SMAW is almost identical to that of the B-300, though with
two major modifications. First, the sight rail is tailored to accept
USMC optics; specifically the Mk.42 3.8x optical sight, and AN/PVS-4
night sight. The second is the addition of a spotting rifle, which
fires a highly-visible tracer projectile on a trajectory almost
identical to that of an 83 mm rocket. The magazines are clipped onto
the rocket containers themselves.
The SMAW may
be fired from a standing, kneeling, or prone position. It is
possibly the loudest weapon in its class, with a muzzle report of
over 187 decibels, so hearing protection is advisable for all
personnel in the general vicinity; officially, the only louder
conventional weapon in the US inventory are line charges used for
mine-clearing. The backblast is also significantly stronger than
that of the B-300, with Marine regulations requiring no personnel to
be within a 60-degree cone behind the weapon when it is fired, out
to 100 m away. Similarly, the SMAW's backblast makes it too
dangerous to fire inside any structure, let alone a confined space.
To fire the
SMAW, the A-Gunner (Assistant Gunner) must first remove the
protective cap from the top of the rocket container, then insert
this end into the muzzle of the launcher; securing the launcher into
the container and enabling it to be fired are both accomplished by
twisting the container 180 degrees, effectively screwing it in. The
Gunner must then activate the charging lever, while the A-Gunner
removes the spotting rifle ammunition from the side of the
container. The next step is for the A-Gunner to load the spotting
rifle, and for the Gunner to charge it. Next, the Gunner must set
the sights on a target; the spotting rifle may now be fired to
ensure the rocket will be on-target. When the Gunner has a shot, the
A-Gunner is to sound a backblast area warning; the Gunner then
announces, "Rocket", the A-Gunner repeats, and the Gunner depresses
the launch lever and pulls the trigger.
the SMAW can also be operated by a single soldier with little
difficulty, though it would not be readied and sustain the same rate
of fire as when a crew of 2 uses the weapon.
cannot fire the same ammunition as the B-300, and has its own range
of munitions. These include the Mk.6 HEAT, Mk.3 HEDP, Mk.4 practice
rocket, Mk.213 noise cartridge, and the Mk.80 SMAW-NE.
HEDP (High-Explosive, Dual-Purpose) round is a 4.2 kg rocket with a
shaped charge warhead. It is similar to a HEAT warhead, but carries
a larger mass of explosives and a frangible casing. This produces a
more powerful and less focused blast and greater fragmentation,
making the HEDP a more effective munition against structures,
material targets, and personnel. It is able to penetrate 200 mm of
steel Rolled Homogenous Armor (RHA), 300 mm of brick, or 2 100 mm of
wood-reinforced sandbags. The Mk.3 HEDP is thus effective against
light armor, but it doesn't have enough penetration to defeat
contemporary main battle tanks.
practice rocket is essentially a Mk.3 with an inert warhead, used
for target practice. Its ballistics are identical, but without an
explosive warhead, it is significantly safer to recover from a
commonly referred to as a "HEAA" (High-Explosive Anti-Armor) round,
the Mk.6 HEAT is a 4.5 kg rocket with a shaped charge warhead. The
charge is capable of penetrating 600 mm of steel RHA, in part due to
the addition of a stand-off probe to the nose. The Mk.6 is effective
against a 1x2m target at 250 m, and a tank-size target at 500 m.
noise cartridge is also used for training purposes. However,
literature on the Mk.213 noise cartridge is unclear as to whether it
is used to launch a projectile, or whether its simply a pyrotechnic
simulator (i.e., a "blank" cartridge).
SMAW-NE rocket is an anti-structure munition with a hardened casing
and a deep penetration capability, not unlike the HEFT round for the
B-300. But unlike the HEFT round, which carries a simple unshaped HE
charge, the "NE" in SMAW-NE denotes its "Novel Explosive" warhead;
this contains 1.8 kg of PBXIH-135, an advanced, high-energy
thermobaric filler. This round was developed in response to an
urgent requirement by the USMC that was issued in the early 2000s to
create an improved man-portable weapon for use against structures.
referred to as the FTG ("Follow-Through Grenade") has also been
developed for the SMAW, which has the designation Mk.118.
Weighing-in at 1.59 kg, the projectile carries 1.09 kg of
Composition A3 explosives, and is designed especially to destroy
structures and softskin vehicles. It seems similar in form and
function to the HEFT round fired by the B-300.
Most of the
SMAW's ammunition has a maximum range of 1 800 m, which is a
considerably farther range than most of this weapon's
contemporaries. The rockets will also arm at a minimum range of only
15 m, making the SMAW ideal for combat operations in closed terrain,
such as jungles, urban environments, and mountains.
is that all of the rockets for the SMAW have extremely powerful
boost motors, that expend their fuel very quickly. As a result, the
SMAW is one of the loudest weapons on the battlefield, with a
187-decibel muzzle report; according to US military literature, the
only louder conventional weapon in the US inventory is a
mine-clearing line charge. Marines operating the SMAW are required
by USMC regulations to wear hearing protection at all times while
using the weapon, except in emergencies. Curiously, no published
literature on the B-300 has ever noted such an issue (though there
is no doubt that the B-300 is nonetheless quite loud).
rifle is a self-loading, semi-automatic weapon fed by a 6-round
detachable box magazine, and fires the unique Mk.217 9x51 mm tracer
round. This unusual round has a 7.62x51 mm NATO rifle casing crimped
to fit a 9 mm tracer bullet, which contains an even stranger
innovation; a complete .22 Hornet cartridge, which contains the
entire propellant charge, leaving the rest of the modified 7.62x51
mm totally empty. In addition to its tracer, the 9 mm projectile
also creates a bright flash on impact, visible even in broad
daylight. This weapon may also be employed against personnel, though
its low muzzle velocity make it less than ideal for the task.
entered service just in time to see use in Operation Just Cause, the
1989 US invasion of Panama. As the Panamian Defense Forces had
relatively little armor, but employed many fortifications and
obstacles, the SMAW was exactly the type of weapon the Marines
needed, and it was used to good effect in the crowded cities,
forests, and jungles of that nation.
preparation for Operation Desert Storm, the USMC loaned 150
launchers and 5 000 rounds to the US Army, and both services used
the SMAW in combat during Operation Desert Storm. The US Army was
reportedly impressed by the performance of the SMAW in that
conflict, but after returning the remaining launchers and ammunition
over the next couple of years, no Army purchases of the SMAW
major conflict involving the SMAW was the Afghan War, where the USMC
clearly needed its capabilities more than ever before. It saw very
heavy use throughout that conflict, and also in the subsequent Iraq
War. It was also during this time that the USMC foresaw a need for a
SMAW round with greatly increased firepower against structures.
SMAW-NE's tremendous explosive power, it has actually proven wanting
in combat. Its unusually low muzzle velocity (only 150 m/sec) made
the SMAW-NE a significantly weaker penetrator than originally
anticipated, and the USMC throughout the Iraq War was forced to
adopt the tactic of first mouse-holing a structure with an HEDP
rocket, then firing a SMAW-NE round through it. In spite of this,
the USMC ordered an additional 3 000 SMAW-NE rounds in October 2006,
in addition to their initial order of 1 000.
as widespread as the preceding B-300, the Mk.153 SMAW has had some
success on the export market. In addition to the US, it is also
operated by Lebanon, Pakistan, and Taiwan.
remains in production and development. Each launcher costs
approximately $13 000, though some ammunition for it actually costs
even more; for example, the Mk.6 HEAT round costs an astonishing $25
The SMAW was developed from on this Israeli-built weapon, though
they ended up having no compatible parts or ammunition.
MK.153 Mod 0
SMAW: Basic production model. In service with the US and several
MK.153 Mod 2
SMAW: Upgraded MK.153 SMAW with improved optics, a laser rangefinder
in place of the spotting rifle, and improved ergonomics. Entering
service with the USMC in 2016.
Launcher employing the same 83 mm rocket as the SMAW, and a new
"Novel Explosive" (hence the "NE") thermobaric warhead for use
against bunkers, entrenched infantry and a wide array of other
The M141 Bunker Defeat Munition, also called the SMAW-D (for
"Disposable"), is a disposable single-shot launcher with a similar
round to that used in the SMAW-NE. Interestingly, it is used by the
US Army, and not the US Marine Corps. The M141 BDM has also been
exported to Lebanon.
SMAW II: Improved
version of the SMAW under development, capable of launching a HEAT
round with a tandem shaped charge warhead with significantly greater
SMAW II Serpent:
Upgraded SMAW II with many improvements.
LAW 80: Not
directly related to the SMAW itself, but uses a variant of the same
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