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A grenade launcher is a weapon that launches a grenade with more accuracy, higher velocity, and to greater distances than a soldier could throw it by hand.

Grenade launchers can either come in the form of standalone weapons (either single-shot or repeating) or attachments mounted under the barrel of a rifle. Alternatively, rifles have been designed to fire rifle grenades, either from their muzzle or from a spigot-type detachable launcher. Larger grenade launchers may be mounted on vehicles.


Most grenade launchers are man-portable, shoulder-fired weapons, usually mounted on a rifle such as the AK-47 or M16. Some can be used independently, such as the M79 and AG36. These are almost always single shot, manually reloaded weapons firing 30–40 millimeter caliber high-explosive ammunition. The most standard grenade round today is the 40 mm grenade, which has a wide variety of applications in man-portable and vehicle-mounted weapons. There are many new 'specialty' grenades available, from rounds that can be used as less-lethal sponge grenades; as a flare; infrared flare; or even a video camera that surveys the battlefield from a bird's eye view.

Smoke grenade launchers on an AFV
There are also heavier examples, including automatic grenade launchers for ground and vehicle use, such as the American Mk 19, the Germanmarker HK GMG and Singaporemarker's AGL. Capable of a relatively high rate of fire, these automatic grenade launchers are used for suppressive fire and to destroy or disable light vehicles and buildings.

Some armored fighting vehicles also mount fixed grenade launchers as a means of defense, usually firing smoke grenades to conceal the vehicle behind a smoke screen, though can also be loaded with chaff, flares, or anti-personnel grenades to repel infantry attacks.

Shoulder-fired grenade launcher

The man-portable grenade launcher can come in the form of either a single-shot or repeating weapon, the latter usually resembling a large revolver. Examples include the M79 (single-shot) and the Milkor MGL (repeating).

Attachment grenade launcher

Grenades can also be fired from an underbarrel weapon attachment which is permanently mounted on the rifle. In underbarrel systems, the rifle portion and launching portion of the weapon can both be carried loaded and ready to fire. Underbarrel tubes generally have their own trigger and use the rifle's magazine as a grip for the firing hand. To fire, one simply changes grips, disengages the safety and pulls the trigger.

In Western systems the barrel either slides forward or pivots to the side to allow reloading, while Soviet/Russian launchers are loaded from the muzzle and do not require spent cases to be extracted (as the case is fixed to the projectile). For aiming, the M203 mounts either a flip-up rear sight, which is notched for different ranges and utilizes the rifle's existing front sight, or a "quadrant" sight which mounts to the side of the carrying handle.

Examples of modern man-portable grenade launchers are the M203, AG36, Mk 13 and GP-30, which mount to service rifles.

A late development is the 3GL from Metal Storm. Three grenades in the barrel ready for rapid fire.

Muzzle-fired grenades

Rifle grenade on an M1 Garand
Many rifles have been designed to fire grenades from their muzzles, usually using either a special blank propellant cartridge, or (in more modern designs) a central bullet pass-through or "bullet trap," either of which allow firing the grenade with regular live rounds. This system has two key advantages: the grenade can generally be made larger and more powerful as compared to underbarrel or standalone weapons, and the rifle's weight and handling characteristics are not affected as with underbarrel systems.

The disadvantage of this method is that when a soldier wants to launch a grenade, he must "switch modes" to mount the grenade to the muzzle. If he is surprised by a close-range threat while preparing to fire the grenade, he has to reverse the above procedure and cannot immediately react with rifle fire. Rifle grenades also tend to be more difficult to fire accurately, compared to under-barrel or standalone designs.

The SIMON breach grenade is a muzzle-fired grenade for breaching doors. The SIMON launches using a bullet trap to capture a standard 5.56 bullet fired from an M4 carbine or M16, rather than a cumbersome propellant charge.

Multiple grenade launchers

Another type of man-portable grenade launcher is the M32 'six shooter' grenade launcher and similar types, which is able to fire six grenades in quick succession from a cylindrical chamber; this classification of firearm is often referred to as a Multi Shot Grenade Launcher, or MSGL. Automatic launchers include the Mk 19, AGS-17, and the HK GMG, which all fire at a higher velocity than related shoulder-fired grenades.

Modern developments tend toward smaller, faster, and massed grenade fire. The XM25 is a shoulder-fired, magazine-fed semi-automatic launcher firing 25 mm projectiles. It was originally a component of the XM29 Objective Individual Combat Weapon program, but modified to a larger caliber.

Multiple grenade launchers are also installed on armoured fighting vehicles as a means of generating small smoke screens.

Automatic grenade launchers

A 25mm automatic grenade machine gun
The heavy equivalent of the XM29 is the XM307 ACSW automatic grenade launcher that is easily convertible between the 25 mm grenade ammunition and standard .50 BMG cartridges. Both are intended to fire programmable "smart" grenades capable of being set to explode at a certain distance from launch or at a certain height above the ground. This gives the ability to hit targets inside rooms or behind hard cover that would normally not be reachable by small arms fire.

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