Automatic grenade launcher
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These weapons are often mounted on vehicles or helicopters, as when these weapons are moved by infantry the weapon, its tripod, and ammunition, are a heavy load, requiring a small team of men. The Mark 19 Automatic Grenade Launcher, first fielded by the Americans in 1966, and still widely used today, weighs 62.5 kg, when attached to its tripod, and loaded with a box of ammunition. The popular Mark 19 is capable of indirect fire to 2,200 metres, an indirect fire role traditionally reserved for mortars. Even though the round carries less explosive than a 60mm mortar shell, this is thought to be counterbalanced by its higher volume of fire.
The most popular caliber for automatic grenade launchers in the west has been 40mm. The Soviet Union successfully fielded a 30mm grenade launcher, the AGS-17 during its war in Afghanistan, and in 2002, Russia introduced a successor weapon, the AGS-30. Traditional munitions for automatic grenade launchers include high explosive, fragmentation, and shaped charge for attacking light armored vehicles. Less lethal rounds, like tear gas and sponge rounds, for crowd control, have also been made. In the 21st century, AGLs have been made with integrated sight/range systems which can set a fused round to detonate precisely on, above, or behind a designated target.
Different weapons use different methods of operation, with "blowback" and "long recoil" being two popular choices. In all these weapons the energy released by firing a round loads the next round into the weapon's breech. The popular Mark 19 is automatically reloaded through the blowback method, where expanding gases blow back the firing bolt.
In the long recoil method the bolt is fixed to the firing chamber, and the whole firing chamber is blown back. These weapons are slightly less accurate, but weigh less than blowback weapons. General Dynamics manufactures a long recoil weapon, the Mark 47 Automatic Grenade Launcher, as does the Spanish firm Santa Bárbara. The LAG-40 manufactured by Santa Bárbara has a relatively low rate of fire -- 215 rounds per minute.
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In its current form, the Mk19 mod 3, this AGL has become the weapon of choice among US ground troops in Iraq – primarily because the AGL offers both direct (to 1,600 meters) and indirect fire (to 2,200 meters).
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The long recoil operating system’s obvious advantage is the compact gun body. While this compensates for the weapon’s internal complications, that moving barrel might also result in first-round aiming inaccuracies. The AGL designers are willing to overlook this in exchange for reduced weight (in comparison to a blowback design) and for the portability inherent in a smaller weapon (even if weight reduction is modest). In any case, great accuracy is not the forte of the AGLs.