Country of origin
1 000 mm
Muzzle velocity (up to M72A3)
Muzzle velocity (post M72A3)
Range of effective fire (against stationary
Range of effective fire (against moving tanks)
1 000 m
over 300 mm
The Talley Defense Systems M72 LAW (Light Anti-armor Weapon;
it is sometimes called the LAWS, or Light Anti-armor Weapon System)
is a disposable, single-shot anti-tank rocket weapon. It is
very small, light, and easy to use, and is intended to be issued as
needed to as many soldiers as deemed necessary. It represents a
radical departure to the traditional approach of issuing a
reloadable anti-tank weapon to a dedicated grenadier, although this
approach is not unprecedented; the German Panzerfaust disposable
recoilless gun of World War 2 was developed around the same concept.
The origins of the M72 LAW are rooted in a requirement
established in 1956 by the US Army, for a "Lightweight Anti-Tank
Weapon" that could be carried and fired by a single soldier. Various
possibilities were explored, but it was ultimately decided that the
weapon should be a small, single-use launcher that would simply be
discarded once fired. Between 1956 and 1958, a design was submitted
to the Army by the Hesse-Eastern Division of Flightex Fabrics, which
entailed a 66 mm rocket with a shaped charge warhead, launched from a
small, disposable fiberglass tube made just strong enough for
decades of rough handling, and one shot. Development was finally
initiated in February of 1958 at the newly-established Rohm and Haas
research laboratory at Redstone Arsenal. The propulsion system was
designed first, after which the remainder of the weapon was designed
by a team under Paul V. Choate, Charles B. Weeks, and Frank A. Spinale.
Once development was underway, work proceeded quickly, with
the first shoulder-fired launch occurring in October of the same
year. The complete weapon matured quickly, and it was
type-classified by the Army in March of 1961 as "66 mm HEAT, Rocket,
M72". Full-scale production was initiated by Hesse-Eastern in 1963,
and the weapon achieved operational service with the US Army and US
Marine Corps in the same year.
In its closed position, the M72 LAW is identifiable by a
cylindrical fiberglass launcher, usually olive drab in color, with a
long, narrow, and rectangular sight housing on top along the tube's
entire length. A carrying sling is attached to a swivel on the rear
cover, and another swivel on the underside of the foreword section
of the launch tube.
When opened, the M72 LAW is around 30% longer, with the inner tube
extended from the back end of the outer tube. A rail that is
retracted entirely into the sight housing on the launcher when
collapsed is now clearly visible, extending from the rear of the
housing to the front of the rear sight cover. The front cover is
completely removed from the weapon, while the rear cover dangles on
a hinge below the back end of the outer tube. The carrying sling is
detached from the swivel on the rear cover, and is usually left
attached to the front swivel. After being fired, the sling is
usually removed from the tube.
To fire the M72 LAW, the operator must pull out the arming
pin, and remove the rear cover and sling assembly (FM 3-23.25 warns
operators not to discard the rest of the sling assembly until the
rocket is fired). The operator must then extend the launcher by
grasping the rear sight cover with their firing hand, and the
forward area of the launcher with their non-firing hand --- the
launcher *must* be fully-extended and locked to fire it safely,
which is achieved when it has been extended far enough that it is
impossible to telescope it back together. The launcher must then be
shouldered, and the flip-up sight reticule raised; when the target
is in the operator's sights, the arming trigger handle must be
pulled to the "ARM" position, and when ready to fire, the operator
is to squeeze the trigger bar. Unless there is some sort of
malfunction, the rocket will launch almost instantly.
The front and rear sights on the M72 LAW are of the flip-up
ladder type, with reticules printed on two small panes of plexiglas.
The maximum sighting range is 350 m, in increments of 25 m up to 200 m,
and in increments of 50 m beyond that range. Stadia lines and range
markers are included, for calculating lead on crossing targets.
A 2-stage propulsion system is used to launch the 66 mm rocket
from the M72 LAW. The first stage is a simple black powder charge,
which is ignited when struck by a firing pin upon squeezing the
trigger bar. This charge hurls the rocket clear of the operator and
simultaneously initiates its ignition, so that by the time the
solid-fuel sustainer rocket is in full burn (which has an
exceptionally powerful thrust for its size), it is well clear of
the firing position. As the M72 LAW family has evolved, increasingly
more powerful motors have been fitted to them, increasing their
range and muzzle velocity.
The weapon may be fired from a standing, kneeling, or prone
position. The M72 LAW must be fired at an angle from a prone
position with the venturi pointed away from the operator, who would
otherwise be seriously injured by the backblast.
The backblast area of the M72 LAW is a 30-degree cone. The
"danger zone" extends to 15 m behind the weapon, with an 8 m base; all
personnel, equipment, and flammable material must be clear of this
area. A now widely-circulated US Army photograph taken in 1969 at
Fort Lewis graphically demonstrates the force of the LAW's backblast
in the "danger zone", as a heap of wooden packing crates directly
behind Pvt. Barry Hill (the weapon's operator in the photograph)
were sent flying through the air behind him. The "caution zone"
extends from the aforementioned 8 m base 15 m behind the weapon, to a
25 m base 40 m behind the weapon. Precautions must be taken to protect
the eyes and ears of any personnel inside the "caution zone", and
any debris behind the weapon may be flung with significant force
into this area as well.
Most variants of the M72 LAW have a shaped charge warhead,
capable of penetrating 300 mm of Rolled Homogonous Armor (RHA), though HE-FRAG warheads, HEDP
warheads, APERS warheads, and non-explosive training warheads are
used in several more recent models. None of the LAW variants with
HEAT warheads have a precursor charge, so they will not defeat
Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA).
Unfortunately, the early service of the M72 LAW was a bleak
chapter in the history of the US military. When first issued to US
troops in the Vietnam War, the LAW was initially deemed effective
when used against enemy-held structures and fighting positions, but
its results on the defensive against tanks were nothing short of
By far, the most vivid example of the LAW's many problems was
the Battle of Lang Vei, a garrison held by US Army Green Berets and
a number of local militia. An North Vietnamese Army armored formation was approaching
rapidly, and the garrison had only two 106 mm and three 57 mm
recoilless rifles, a few mortars, and little ammunition for any of
them, so the timely delivery of 100 M72 LAWs seemed their salvation.
Instead, it only gave them false hope. Most of the launchers
misfired; some launched rockets that fizzled-out and fell to the
ground; some launched rockets that struck the enemy vehicles, but
didn't explode, while many others did explode on impact, but failed
to penetrate the thin armor of the APCs and
PT-76 tanks; some
rockets exploded moments after launch; the Green Berets found that
the arming pins in at least two launchers were impossible to remove
(in one instance, the pull ring broke through the top of the pin
while leaving it in place, making the weapon impossible to arm). In
a scene that evoked the horrors of the US Army's attempts to use
2.36" Bazookas on the beaches of Anzio and the fighting positions of
Task Force Smith in Korea, the Green Berets resorted to
concentrating their rocket fire against the tracks of the advancing
tanks; this too failed. Few of the vehicles were knocked-out, and
the Lang Vei garrison was overrun and destroyed after less than a
day of fighting.
After Lang Vei, the Army conducted a test-firing of a batch
of M72s, to test their reliability. The report on the test results
speaks for itself; “Following the battle of Lang Vei, eighteen M72
LAWs were test-fired by Detachment A-109 at Thuong Duc. Six failed
to fire: Three of these six failures were due to malfunctions within
the firing mechanism. A second check of all firing pins and safeties
was conducted, after which a second attempt was made to fire the
weapon. They again failed to fire. The tube was collapsed and
extended back to the firing position, and a third attempt was made
to fire the weapon with negative results. The remaining three M72
LAWs ignited, but the rocket failed to leave the launcher tube. Of
the twelve rockets that did fire properly, one failed to detonate
A series of major design revisions were made to the M72 LAW
following numerous experiences like those in Lang Vei, resulting in
the improved rocket motors of the M72A1 and M72A3, and eventually an
improved launcher as well, in the M72A4. These changes also resolved
the weapon's previous reliability problems. However, the LAW never
overcame the stigmata of its Vietnam War catastrophes, and it soon
encountered a problem that no timely improvements could overcome ---
obsolescence in the face of the latest Soviet tanks. The
T-72 introduced frontal armor that was not only significantly
thicker than that of preceding Soviet tanks, but the innovation of
composite armor had also made this armor significantly stronger for
its thickness as well.
Confidence in the M72 LAWS series significantly plummeted
throughout the US military and NATO, prompting the US Army to
develop a successor. However, the resulting
FGR-17 Viper anti-tank
rocket launcher was an
even greater embarrassment, and both the program and the remaining
purchases were halted shortly after it entered service. The fallout
from the LAWS and the Viper was that the US military was forced by
Congress to acquire a new man-portable anti-tank weapon very
quickly, and that the weapon in question had to already be in
production. As the M72 LAW and FGR-17 Viper were the only such
weapons then produced in the US, the Department of Defense had no choice but to
acquire a weapon of foreign origin (which the US military is
infamous for avoiding). The US Army ultimately selected a Swedish
anti-tank weapon (the
Bofors AT-4, as the
M136), while the US Navy
bought an Israeli system (the
B-300, as the
The M72 LAW family nonetheless lives-on in production and
service, despite its less than stellar reputation, as the utility
of a small, light, easy to use, disposable support weapon is
self-evident. Notably, it has returned to the front lines in almost
every US ground conflict since the Vietnam War, and the M72 LAW has
also been used profusely by the US military and its allies in
Afghanistan and Iraq. Its single-use design also makes the LAW an
attractive weapon for hasty delivery to non-state groups, as this
offers increased probability that anti-tank weapons will not
proliferate after the end of a civil war (particularly if the
recipient is the loser, and the victor is likely sell-off surplus
ordnance to anyone willing to buy it).
The known operators of the M72 LAW include Australia,
Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Egypt, El Salvador, Finland,
Greece, Indonesia, Israel, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico,
Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines,
Portugal, Romania, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, the
US, the UK, Vietnam, and Yemen. It has been retired from service
with Cambodia and Denmark. There are also some non-state users of
the M72 LAW, who have acquired them by a number of different means;
some bought them off the black market, stole them, had them covertly
smuggled-in by nations who would prefer not to have their
involvement known, and some have even had their launchers openly and
directly delivered to them. The National Liberation Front of Angola
(FNLA) was one such non-state
operator, and the LAW has been observed in the hands of militia and
insurgents in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere.
The M72 LAW is still in production, and is manufactured in
the US by NAMMO Talley, NAMMO in Norway, and MKEK in Turkey. The
unit cost of a new example varies from $750 to more than $2 200,
depending on the model. Due to the overwhelming numbers and
distribution of the M72 LAW, it is likely to remain in service far
into the foreseeable future.
Original production model. Utilizes the M54 rocket.
M72A1: Has improved rocket motor.
M72A2: Has improved rocket motor. It is unclear how it
differs from the M72A1.
M72A3: M72A1 or M72A2, with improved safety features.
M72A4: Has an improved launcher assembly, and higher-velocity
rocket with an improved warhead.
M72A5: Essentially an M72A3 with an improved launcher.
M72A6: Armed with an HEDP warhead, for use against
structures, personnel, and light armor. The M72A6 is not expected to
be effective against main battle tanks.
M72A7: Modified M72A6 for use by the US Navy.
M72E8: M72A7 with a Fire-From-Enclosure (FFE) capability,
developed by NAMMO Raufoss in Norway.
M72E9: NAMMO Raufoss-developed version of the M72A5, with a
significantly more powerful shaped charge warhead.
M72E10: This is basically an M72E8 with an HE-FRAG warhead,
for use against personnel.
M72AS: Training RPG with a 21 mm munition and an inert
M190: Reloadable training weapon, that launched an M73 35 mm
Picket: Enlarged version of the M72 LAWS with an 82 mm rocket,
developed in Israel. Did not enter service.
HAR-66: Turkish hybrid weapon with an M72A2 rocket and an
HAR-66 AP "Wasp": A HAR-66 launcher and rocket, with an
XM191: Incendiary rocket weapon with a rocket based on that used
in the M72 LAWS. Though generally considered effective, the
napalm-based filler of the rockets and some other design features
were considered inadequate. Was replaced in development and service
by the M202 FLASH.
M202 FLASH: An evolution of the
XM191, and also an incendiary rocket launcher. In service with the US and South
Soviet-made RPG weapon based on the same design principles of the
M72 LAW. It is uncannily similar in design, and was unquestionably
influenced by its US-made predecessor, leading many in the West to
assume that it was simply a reverse-engineered M72.
This weapon is essentially an enlarged RPG-18, with a wider 72 mm
Yugoslav-built equivalent of the M72 LAW. This weapon has also been
widely-assumed by many sources to be a reverse-engineered M72, but
it is larger overall, with a slightly smaller 64 mm bore.
This German-made recoilless gun from World War 2 was the first
single-use infantry anti-tank weapon. The Panzerfaust ("Tank Fist") and its evolutions are no
longer in service.
Similar weapon developed in the UK. Though despite sharing a similar
name and design philosophy, the LAW 80 is unrelated to the M72 LAW.
Polish-built single-use anti-tank weapon. Though a rocket launcher
like the M72 LAW, its over-caliber projectile is more evocative of
the World War 2-era Panzerfaust.
A 74 mm single-use anti-tank weapon developed in Sweden, and
designated as the Pansarskott m/68 in Swedish service. There is
definitely no mistaking this particular weapon for a clone of the
M72 LAW, as it is a recoilless rifle rather than a rocket launcher.
Armbrust: German-built single-use anti-tank weapon. The Armbrust
boasts a countermass and a self-sealing muzzle and venturi, giving
it a low enough backblast to safely fire from confined spaces, and a
negligible flash, smoke plume, and muzzle report.
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