The 82nd Airborne recently took delivery of the first production batch of the new M320 grenade launcher developed by PEO Soldier.
Made by H&K, the M320 replaces the M203 which has been in service across the U.S. military since the 1960s. The coolest thing about the M320 is that it can be operated as a stand-alone 40mm grenade slinger as well as a component of the M4 and M16 rifle. I remember seeing a couple grunts (Marines) and some Joes in Iraq with old-school M79s slung over their shoulders. I never had the opportunity to ask where they got them, but it was clear that having the extra bit of Bang Bang as a separate system was easier to manage than the bulky M203 slung under an M16 barrel.
According to a PEO Soldier release, the M320 has a side-opening breach that can take 40mm projectiles that are a bit longer and pack more of a punch than the current M203 can. it has Picatinny rails that can accept optics and Laser/IR pointers, a collapsible stock and a "double action" trigger.
I'm still searching for some video of the M320 in action -- last year when I went out to Aberdeen to test out some of the Army's new armaments, I did get a chance to shoot it. The simple operation and updated ergonomics are a necessary update to an unglamorous weapon that can add a heck of a punch to a ground pounder where weight and mobility are key. And the siting system is pretty sweet as well, making the usual dead-reckoning lob technique a thing of the past.
The best part of the system, however, is the integrated electronic sighting system that comes with it. Developed by Insight Technology, the optic uses an iron sight reticule that's precision balanced. A soldier uses a hand-held range finder to determine the distance to a target, dials in the yardage in five-yard intervals on the XM320 sight and a handy green/red light and digital bar tells the shooter whether he's on target and shooting level. I hit the target at 150 yards on my first shot. The rifle-mounted laser illuminator can be used at night with the system to find a target even in darkness, making the new grenade launcher far more effective in all conditions, said Maj. Larry Dring, assistant product manager for individual weapons with PEO Soldier.
It's also interesting to note that although H&K got sidelined from the XM8 controversy, the components designed alongside that platform are finding their way into the hands of warfighters anyway -- the ultimate "spiraling out" as it were.
The Army plans to field nearly 72,000 M320s into the force over the next few years.