Country of origin
4 x 66 mm
Length (traveling order)
Rate of fire
Selective fire (see text)
Range of effective fire (point target)
Range of effective fire (area targets)
FLASH (Flame Assault SHoulder weapon) is a 4-barrel rocket launcher
designed to deliver incendiary munitions over distances impossible
for a man-portable, flow-stream flamethrower. It has largely
replaced the conventional "backpack" style flamethrower in the US
military, and enables infantry to attack targets normally engaged at
close range with flamethrowers with precise attacks from more
distant positions, significantly increasing the operator's odds of
success and survival.
This weapon is a further evolution of the XM191 rocket
launcher, which was developed in the 1960s and fielded-tested in the
Vietnam War. It employed a 66 mm rocket based on that used in the
ubiquitous M72 LAWS, adapted for delivering an incendiary filler
instead of the more familiar armor-piercing shaped charge warhead.
While the XM191's revolutionary new 4-barrel design was considered
successful, its napalm-filled rockets were considered
wanting. The result of further design and experimentation resulted
in a formidable weapon that launches rockets filled with a chemical
far more destructive than basic napalm. The resulting M202 FLASH
became operational with the US Army and Marines far too late to
participate in the war that inspired its development, but has long
served the US military.
The design and layout of
the M202 FLASH are relatively simple. In its collapsed form, the
launcher more closely resembles a metal container than a weapon,
with an elongated cubic shape, a rectangular profile, flat sides,
and rounded edges. It is carried either by a sling over a rifleman's
shoulder, or by a carrying handle on the front cover. The weapon is
readied by releasing the latches on the top of the front and rear
covers (which are hinged underneath, and thus hang below the weapon
when not in use), and upon loading a 4-round clip, this component
effectively forms the rear half of the complete weapon.
The sight is located on the upper left side of the weapon
toward the front, and may be folded down when not in use. Although
it resembles a telescopic sight at first glance, the ring contains a
single, flat pane of glass, with no magnification. The sight
reticule details are for ranges in 100 m increments, from 0 m to 500 m.
The trigger assembly also folds-up against the launcher when
not in use, and extends into a pistol grip with a trigger ring. In
addition to the trigger itself, there is also a fire selector, whose
positions include a safety setting, which will not permit the weapon
to fire while safed.
Unusually for an RPG-type weapon, the M202 FLASH has a selective
fire capability. In the primary fire mode, it will launch a rocket
every time the trigger is pulled; in its secondary fire mode, it
will instantaneously launch all rockets still loaded. This system is
advantageous, as it allows single rounds to be launched with
relatively high accuracy, or multiple rounds launched simultaneously
to saturate a larger area.
The accuracy of the M202 FLASH varies with distance. It can
penetrate a bunker aperture at 50 m, or an average-size window at
125 m. The effective range against vehicles or weapon positions is
200 m, while an infantry squad at 500 m. The maximum range is 750 m,
though at this distance the M202 FLASH is only effective against
area targets. All of these figures reflect a 50% hit probability
when simultaneously launching a full clip of 4 rockets, so it can be
surmised that single shots are more accurate.
The 66 mm rocket launched by the M202 is based upon the type
used in the LAWS-series anti-tank rocket launcher, but with a 0.6 kg Thickened
Pyrotechnic Agent (TPA) fill instead of a HEAT warhead. The TPA used in
these rockets is a material known as M235, a triethylaluminum (TEA)
compound; this is an aluminum-based incendiary compound so volatile
that it combusts instantly on contact with air, and burns at
1 200-2 200°C. The resulting flames are literally "white hot", and so
intense that even close proximity to the ignition can instantly
cause severe skin burns. The resulting blast is also bright, and
extremely loud, spread-out over a radius of some 20 m, and can be
expected to have a considerable psychological effect against the
enemy. As a result, the M202 FLASH is expected to be highly
effective in suppressing enemy fighting positions.
Ammunition for the M202 FLASH is seldom issued individually,
as the M74 4-round clips are usually factory-loaded. The clips are
shipped in a rectangular metal container similar in appearance to
the launcher itself.
The rocket arms after launch at a distance of between 5 m and
14 m, but caution is still required when launching it, as a ricochet
could cause the round to break-open and release the M235 filler
(which, as previously mentioned, will combust immediately).
Moreover, the arming radius is also less than the blast radius,
though this may be advantageous when firing a rocket into a
structure or other enclose space.
As it was not designed as a penetrating munition, the 66 mm
rocket is essentially useless against vehicle armor and most other
hard targets; it will burst or shatter on impact. However, it will
easily penetrate most glass, plywood up to 25 mm thick, and even some
types of wooden doors at short ranges. The impact fuse of the M234
warhead will detonate it almost immediately after penetrating a
solid object, creating a formidable mid-air fireball that can turn a
large interior chamber into a 1 200-degree furnace in seconds. The
rocket will not penetrate particularly hard obstacles, such as
stone, brick, or cinder blocks.
Although the 66 mm rocket has no effect against armor plates,
it is still capable of causing significant harm even to armored
vehicles. A competent armored vehicle crew will immediately
button-up if one of these rounds strikes their vehicle or lands
nearby, which restricts their field of view. Even a tank can
potentially be felled with the M202 FLASH, if it is hit on the
engine deck or rear grille --- the M235 filler burns more than hot
enough to quickly destroy any armored vehicle engine, and it would
likely spatter into the engine compartment if the attack is
successful. The effect of a direct hit on a hatch --- or if an M74
rocket is successfully fired into the vehicle itself --- requires no
explanation. Armored vehicles riding atop wheels are especially
vulnerable to the M202 FLASH; it can burn through vulcanized rubber
in seconds, setting the tires uncontrollably on fire, and the M235
filler is too volatile and energetic to be extinguished.
However, the M202 FLASH is also potentially very dangerous
for its operator, as well as any adjacent friendly forces. As noted
above, the burst radius exceeds the arming distance, but the M235
filler from M74 rocket warheads that are somehow broken-open (such
as through improper storage, rough handling, shell splinters, small
arms fire, and so on) will ignite immediately. And given that four M74s
are packed into a single clip, the secondary explosion would be as
lethal and spectacular as it is instantaneous. For these reasons,
the US military have been understandably leery of the M202 FLASH
ever since it first entered service, and training efforts have been
As it does not have a counter-mass feature, the M202 FLASH is
too dangerous to fire from a confined space, or if a large, nearby
vertical obstacle is directly behind the operator. The danger area
of its back-blast is roughly a 15 m by 15 m square behind the
operator, and this area must be clear of personnel and vulnerable
equipment or munitions prior to firing. In addition, a conical area
15 m at the top, 38 m at the base, and 25 m deep directly behind the
danger area effectively forms the "caution area"; personnel may
safely remain in this area, but adequate caution for eye and ear
protection (and possibly against debris kicked-up by the back-blast)
must be observed. Although it is theoretically possible to launch
the M74 rocket directly over or past friendly troops (as it does not
have a trailing wire, disintegrating sabot, or widely-expanding
fins), this practice is inadvisable due to the volatile nature of
its M235 filler.
There are no dedicated operators for the M202 FLASH in the US
Army, and the weapon is issued on an "as needed" basis, typically
one per platoon. Specific soldiers are trained for its use in
advance, although the simple design and operation of the M202 FLASH
allows personnel with little instruction to operate it effectively.
Surprisingly, after nearly 4 decades after its introduction,
the M202 FLASH remains in active service. Its deployment to the
front lines of the War on Terror has also been confirmed, with
leaked documentation proving that the weapon was stocked in
Afghanistan. What has not been confirmed, however, is what role (if
any) the M202 FLASH has played in that conflict. What *is* clear
from this information is that any large force of hostile personnel
attempting to storm a US military garrison would probably have a
very nasty surprise waiting for them.
The only known operators of the M202 FLASH are the US
military and the South Korean Army. It is no longer in production,
and due to the controversy surrounding incendiary weaponry in the
Western world, is not likely to be offered for export. The unit cost
of the weapon and its ammunition are unknown.
The M202 FLASH has had some exposure in popular culture
(notably in the 1980s action film, "Commando"), though its
incendiary effects are seldom portrayed. Its true nature as a
stand-off flame weapon remains relatively obscure.
clip containing an incendiary rocket for the M202, with a thickened
pyrotechnic agent filler.
XM96: Crowd control 4-cell rocket clip, with CS tear gas
warheads. Did not enter operational service.
HEAT round: The Army also proposed developing a loadable
rocket based on that used in the M72 LAWS with a HEAT warhead, but
this does not appear to have been developed. This would have been a
simple feat to achieve, as the M74 was developed from the M72.
Forerunner of the M202 FLASH. The rockets launched from the XM191
were similar in design, but used napalm as a filler.
M202: Initial production model.
M202A1: Definitive production model. It is unclear how it
differed from the basic M202.
KM202A1: Licensed copy of the M202A1 manufactured in South
Korea. Used only by ROKA forces.
M202A2: This is an improved M202A1, but as with that weapon,
it isn't clearly defined how it differs from the M202.
Single-use thermobaric rocket launcher, manufactured in Soviet Union.
Officially it is referred as a "rocket-propelled flamethrower". It launches a much larger munition than the M202 FLASH with
a different thermobaric filler. Used by Russia and other nations.
Two-shot reloadable incendiary rocket launcher, manufactured in
China. Launches a smaller 62 mm rocket with a different filler than
that of the M202 FLASH. Likely that this Chinese weapon was inspired
by the M202 FLASH. It is used by the People's Liberation Army, Sri
Lanka, and possibly some other countries.
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