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M141 BDM

Single-use anti-structure rocket launcher

M141 BDM

Also known as the SMAW-D, the M141 BDM is the UM military's first dedicated man-portable 'bunker buster' weapon

Country of origin United States
Entered service 1999
Caliber 83 mm
Weight 7.1 kg
Length (extended) 1 371 mm
Length (collapsed) 792 mm
Muzzle velocity 271 m/s
Sighting range 500 m
Range of effective fire (against stationary targets) 500 m
Range of effective fire (against moving targets) 300 m
Concrete penetration 200 mm
Brick penetration 300 mm
Packed sand penetration 2 100 mm
Armor penetration 20 mm


   The M141 BDM (Bunker Defeat Munition) is a US-made personal anti-structure weapon, with a design that emphasizes on attacks against hardened structures such as pillboxes and blockhouses. It is a single-use, disposable rocket launcher with an 83 mm rocket based on that used in the Mk.153 SMAW, loaded into a new launcher. Originally developed by Talley Defense Systems, the M141 BDM is presently a product of Nammo AS.

   The effort that ultimately produced the M141 BDM originated from a 1990 US Army evaluation of the performance of its fire support weapons during Operation Just Cause (the 1989 Invasion of Panama). The experience in that conflict was that encounters with enemy fortifications and troops holed-up in structures were quite frequent, and the weapons carried by US troops performed poorly against these defenses. The Army concluded from this study that a new weapon was needed, and established the Multi-Purpose Individual Munition (MPIM) program in 1991 to oversee its development.

   The US Army's conclusion that a new weapon had to be developed from scratch was rather curious. The Mk.153 SMAW fielded by the US Marine Corps years prior was a reloadable rocket launcher and had an ammunition range which included a High-Explosive Dual-Purpose (HEDP) round that ideal for the mission. Adopting the SMAW would not only have met the MPIM requirement, but also eliminate the need for the M136 anti-tank weapon (the SMAW's HEAT round had equal performance), and would have also have maximized the commonality of support weapons between the Army and Marines (the Army later did this with the Barrett M82A1 first used by the Marines, procuring it as the M107 --- a contradiction of the precedent set by the MPIM program). The Army insisted on instead developing its own weapon, a policy unswayed even by the Army accepting a loan of 150 SMAW launchers and 5 000 rounds during Operation Desert Shield. The Army delayed the formal establishment of the MPIM program until September of 1991, which specifically excluded the SMAW as a viable candidate, on the basis that it was too long and heavy for use by paratroopers --- despite it being a virtual copy of the B-300 rocket launcher, which was especially designed for use by paratroopers, and being found ideal for them by several armed forces around the world. The Army further stipulated that the MPIM was to be a disposable weapon, not a reloadable one like the SMAW. A cynical observer would assume that the Army was pulling every stop to avoid being "saddled" with a weapon associated with the Marines.

   Several designs were submitted to the Army by 1993, and in March of that year, they selected three finalists; the SAAB-Bofors AT8 (an anti-structure version of the AT4/M136), the Nammo-Raufoss M72A5 (an M72 LAW with an HEDP warhead), and the Talley Defense SMAW-D (a modified version of the SMAW's HEDP rocket, fired from a new disposable launcher; the "D" denoted its disposable design). The Army funded prototype production for 200 of each, and began a side-by-side comparative "shoot-off" that lasted nine months. Surprisingly, given the Army's disdain for the SMAW, the SMAW-D was selected as the winner, and it was designated as the XM141 Bunker Defeat Munition September of 1994.

   However, matters soon became much more complicated due to interference from Congress. They had begun to complain starting in 1993 that the Army's MPIM program and the Marines' SRAW were too similar in scope and purpose to justify funding both, and that they should be merged as a joint Army-Marine effort. Both services and the industry fiercely objected to the proposed merger (they were not entirely unjustified, as the SRAW was an anti-tank weapon with little anti-structure capability, the XM141 BDM's armor penetration was weak by design, and they were two completely different weapon classes), but by 1994, Congress had overruled all of them and mandated the merger. This meddling caused significant cost and schedule overruns, and pushed the date for the XM141's initial deliveries forward to November of 1997. Congress had also authorized the Army to purchase only 6 000 XM141s.

   As a result of additional complications, XM141 deliveries didn't begin until 1999, and only then was it finally type-classified as the M141 BDM by the Army. The Army's position on the MPIM program also eventually prevailed, convincing Congress in 2000 to increase the authorized number of M141s to 8 000 launchers, and in 2001, the Army was also permitted to withdraw from the SRAW program.

   In its collapsed form, the launcher has a short cylindrical tube, with large octagonal shock absorbers on the muzzle and venturi. Two rectangular fixtures atop the tube house the sights, with the rear sight housing being larger. The firing mechanism is mounted on the right side of the tube, below the rear sight housing, and is also rectangular in shape (before the weapon is readied to fire). A scope mounting rail protrudes from the upper left side of the tube, on the opposite side from the firing mechanism. A sling loophole is located at each end of the outer tube on its underside, just inside of the shock absorbers. A shoulder stop is located on the rear underside of the tube, just in front of the rear shock absorber; it is flat against the underside of the weapon when not in use, and cannot be lowered unless the inner tube is extended. A cotter pin is inserted into the underside of the outer tube just in front of the rear shock absorber, which is joined to the weapon via a short lanyard (the over end of which is attached to the tube as well, via a small loophole); removing this pin allows the inner tube to be extended. The button used to release the inner tube for extension is located on top of the back end of the outer tube, directly above the cotter pin. The tube release button will not function unless the pin is removed. The M141 BDM is typically olive drab in color, with a yellow band around the tube under the front slight cover, and black shock absorbers, with several instructional decals and stenciling on the outer tube.

   The layout of the M141 BDM is markedly difference when it is ready to fire. Extending the inner tube of the launcher nearly doubles its length, and gives it a much narrower overall form. The front sight cover is slid backward and the rear right cover is slid forward, revealing two simple flip-up sights, while the trigger mechanism cover swings-open on a hinge. The shoulder stop consists of a U-shaped metal loop and a strip of canvas, which the bottom of the loop to the underside of the launcher; when extended, it takes-on a delta shape.

   The tube consists predominately of reinforced fiberglass, with hard rubber shock absorbers, while the sight covers and scope mounting rail are made of advanced plastics. Aside from the steel sights and the aluminum-cased rocket, very little metal is used in its construction.

   The iron sights consist of a front post and a rear peephole, with the range adjustable for 100 m to 500 m, in 50 m increments. Two different peepholes are available for the M141; a 2 mm hole for use in broad daylight, and a 7 mm peephole for use at night and in other low-visibility situations. These are also similar to the sights used on the M136, though the shape, orientation, and locations are different.

   A variety of day and night telescopic sights are available for the M141 as well, and can be fitted to its MIL-STD-1913 rail mount. As this is a disposable weapon, the scope is clipped-on prior to use when issued, then unclipped and removed after the weapon is fired --- alternately, a scope may not be issued at all. The standard telescopic sights for the M141 are the Raytheon AN/PAS-13E passive thermal sight, and the L3/Insight AN/PEQ-15 laser and night vision sight. Literature on the M141 also states it is compatible with the PVS-4 night vision sight, the PAQ-4A infrared sight, and the PEQ-2 laser aiming sight.

   The rocket fired by the M141 is the Mk.118 Mod 0 HEDP round, which is similar to the Mk.3 HEDP round for the Mk.135 SMAW, but reportedly capable of more impressive feats of destruction against structures. Its warhead contains 1 kg of aluminized Composition A-3, and reportedly penetrates up to 200 mm of concrete, 300 mm of brick, or 2 100 mm of sandbags. Its armor penetration is meager for a weapon of its type, at only 20 mm of rolled homogenous armor, but there is little doubt that the after-armor effects will instantly kill all of a lightly-armored vehicle's occupants. The rocket's warhead arms at a distance of 15 m from the muzzle.

   Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Mk.118 rocket is its fuze. It has two detonation settings; a delayed detonation that causes the warhead to explode after the rocket has penetrated a relatively weak obstacle (such as a wooden plank wall), or instantly detonate on impact. While this selective fuzing system is not unusual for dual-purpose weapons, the setting is not selected by the soldier firing the weapon --- it is selected by the fuze itself, in order to cause maximum damage to the target.

   To fire the M141 BDM, the user first attaches the appropriate optics (if available), then removes the arming pin and extends the inner tube of the launcher, until it snaps into place. If optics are not fitted, the covers of the open sights are slid-off, and the front and rear sights are flipped up. The cover for the firing mechanism is then opened, exposing both the safety and the trigger bar. The weapon is then shouldered, the safety switched-off, and when the target is in the sights, the user squeezes the trigger bar to fire the rocket. If optics were fitted to the weapon, they should next be removed and stowed away, and the empty tube discarded.

   The M141 may be fired from standing, kneeling, or prone positions; according to literature on the weapon, it is not safe to fire from a sitting position. When firing from a prone position, the user must lie in an orientation 45 degrees off-axis from the weapon, to avoid being injured by its backblast. As with the Mk.153 SMAW, the muzzle report of the M141 BDM is spectacularly loud, and hearing protection is absolutely essential when firing it. The backblast area extends 100 m behind the venturi in a 45-degree fan, while personnel anywhere within 445 m of the venturi in a 90-degree area are required to wear hearing protection.

   The M141 BDM's entry into service was rather timely, as the US Army soon found itself being deployed to Afghanistan in late 2001 to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Hostile armor was quite rate in the Afghan War, but seemingly never a day went by when US troops had to engage insurgents firing from structures and fortifications, which quickly validated the premise behind the M141. Less than two years later, the US armed forces found themselves fighting on a second front in Iraq, and although the Iraqi forces had many armored vehicles, most battles were fought by Coalition forces against gunmen barricaded into sturdy structures. It was during these conflicts that the M141 BDM was finally validated, and untold thousands were fired in both of these theaters. While specific examples of the M141's effectiveness are rather elusive, the weapon has received rave reviews from soldiers and officers alike.

   The operational service of the M141 BDM could be described as a runaway success, and the combat success and value of the M141 were such that Congress authorized a greatly expanded order beyond the 8 000 authorized in 2000; according to Forecast International, 21 551 M141s had already been produced by 2013.

   As of late 2016, the only confirmed operators of the M141 BDM are the armed forces of the US and Lebanon. Production of the M141 is ongoing, and is likely to continue well into the late 2010s, and possibly longer if additional export customers place orders. It is quite expensive for a disposable rocket launcher; in FY2012, US Army documentation stated it had a unit cost of $17 867.83.




   SMAW LEAP: The SMAW LEAP (Low-signature Encased Assault Projectile) uses a countermass to significantly reduce the backblast, which not only creates less of a target indicator when the weapon is fired, but also allows it to be fired from confined spaces, such as from inside buildings. Its development status is unclear.


Similar weapons


   Mk.153 SMAW: The M141 BDM was developed from the SMAW, and fires a similar projectile to the SMAW's Mk.3 HEDP round. The SMAW's launcher is quite different however, being a reloadable weapon.

   AT4: Swedish 84 mm anti-tank recoilless gun, with a cosmetically similar tube design to that of the M141 BDM.

   M136: US-made version of the AT4. As it shares a similar appearance to the M141, and several cosmetic details, the M136 has often been mistaken for the M141 by the press.

   AT8: Essentially an M136 with an HEDP round, the SAAB-Bofors AT8 was the chief competitor of the SMAW-D/M141, but never won a production contract. It seems to have been discontinued by the manufacturer.

   AT4-CS LMAW: This is basically the spiritual successor of the AT8, with a standard AT4-CS launch tube and propellant charge, but firing the HEDP projectile developed for use in the M3 Carl Gustav recoilless rifle.

   MATADOR: A product of a joint German-Israeli-Singaporean project, the MATADOR is an enlarged anti-structure version of the Armbrust anti-tank rocket launcher (though it bears little resemblance to its forbearer). The MATADOR has two fuze settings just like the M141, but the resulting effects from the warhead are different, and the settings are chosen manually prior to launch.

   MRO-A Borodach: Loaded with a 72.5 mm anti-structure rocket, the Russian-made MRO-A Borodach is one of the most similar weapons to the M141 BDM in service today. However, it has a thermobaric warhead with much less penetration, but considerably greater explosive power.

   RShG-1: This Russian anti-structure rocket launcher is basically an RPG-26 with a thermobaric warhead.

   RPO-A Shmel: This Soviet 93 mm rocket launcher is similar to the M141 BDM, but has a larger 93 mm bore, a non-telescoping tube, and a thermobaric warhead.

   RPO PDM-A Shmel-M is a Russian thermobaric rocket launcher. It was developed as a follow-on to the RPO-A Shmel, however its design has evolved to the point that it is effectively a new weapon rather than improved version of the RPO-A Shmel. It has significantly improved range and more powerful warhead. This weapon was adopted by the Russian Army in 2003.

   Bur: Reloadable 62 mm multi-purpose rocket launcher. It is a smaller version of the RPO PDM-A Shmel-M, however this weapon fires HE and HE-FRAG projectiles. This weapon was adopted by the Russian Army in 2014.

   LGEI-99 Snake: Romanian 99 mm rocket launcher, with many similar qualities to the Armbrust and MATADOR. The Snake did not attract any sales during the manufacturer's marketing effort in the 1990s, and it was quickly forgotten, despite its excellent performance.



   Article by BLACKTAIL

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