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Mk.153 SMAW

Anti-tank rocket launcher

Mk.153 SMAW

Based on the Israeli B-300, the SMAW is the primary infantry anti-tank weapon of the US Marine Corps

Country of origin United States
Entered service 1984
Caliber 83 mm
Cartridge length 812 mm
Cartridge type HEAT, HEDP, thermobaric
Cartridge weight (HEAA) 4.5 kg
Cartridge weight (HEDP) 4.2 kg
Weight (empty) 7.54 kg
Weight (loaded) 13.39 kg
Length (empty) 760 mm
Length (loaded) 1 371 mm
Muzzle velocity 220 m/s
Practical rate of fire 3 rpm
Sighting range up to 1 400 m
Range of effective fire (against 1x2 m target) 250 m
Range of effective fire (against tanks) 500 m
Maximum range 1 800 m
Armor penetration (HEAA rocket) 600 mm of RHA
Armor penetration (HEDP rocket) 200 mm of RHA


   The Mk.153 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 Talley Defense.

   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 phasing-out the M67 recoilless rifle, the Marines had assumed that the M72 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.

   Initially, 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.

   The design 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.

   The layout 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.

   Note that 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.

   The SMAW 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.

   The Mk.3 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.

   The Mk.4 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 firing range.

   Most 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.

   The Mk.213 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).

   The Mk.80 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.

   A round 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.

   Also notable 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).

   The spotting 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.

   The SMAW 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.

   In 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 followed.

   The next 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.

   Despite the 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.

   Though not 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.

   The SMAW 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 $25 000.




   B-300: 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 other nations.

   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.

   SMAW-NE: 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 targets.

   M141 BDM: 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 penetration.

   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 spotting rifle.



   Article by BLACKTAIL

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Mk.153 SMAW

Mk.153 SMAW

Mk.153 SMAW

Mk.153 SMAW

Mk.153 SMAW

Mk.153 SMAW

Mk.153 SMAW

Mk.153 SMAW

Mk.153 SMAW

Mk.153 SMAW

Mk.153 SMAW

Mk.153 SMAW

Mk.153 SMAW

Mk.153 SMAW

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