|Place of origin||United Kingdom (designed)|
United States (manufactured)
|In service||1987–present (United States)|
|Used by||See Operators|
|Wars||Vietnam War (prototype model)|
War in Afghanistan
Syrian Civil War
|Mass||41.3 kilograms (91 lb)|
|Length||50 in (127 cm)|
|Barrel length||1.27 metres (4 ft 2 in)|
|Caliber||81 millimetres (3.2 in)|
|Rate of fire||8–16 rpm sustained|
20–30 rpm in exceptional circumstances and for short periods
|Effective firing range||HE: 91–5,935 m|
The M252 81 mm medium weight mortar is a British-designed smooth bore, muzzle-loading, high-angle-of-fire weapon used for long-range indirect fire support to light infantry, air assault, and airborne units across the entire front of a battalion zone of influence. In the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, it is normally deployed in the mortar platoon of an infantry battalion.
The M252 system weighs 91 lb (41 kg) completely assembled and is composed of the M253 Cannon (35 lb, 16 kg), M177 Mount (27 lb, 12 kg), M3A1 Baseplate (29 lb, 13 kg), and the M64A1 Sight Unit (2.5 lb, 1.1 kg). The mount consists of a base plate and a bipod, which is provided with screw type elevating and traversing mechanisms to elevate/traverse the mortar. The M64A1 sight unit (also used on the M224) is attached to the bipod mount. The M252 is a gravity-fired smoothbore system. Attached to the muzzle of the weapon is the Blast Attenuation Device (BAD), used to reduce the blast effects on the mortar crew. To increase cooling efficiency, the breech end is finned; though first-hand accounts attest that the level of cooling is negligible. The cannon also has a crew-removable breech plug and firing pin.
High explosive rounds fired by the M252 weigh 10 lb (4.5 kg) and can have an effective kill radius of 35 m (115 ft).
The M252 is an adaptation of the British 81mm L16A2 mortar developed in the 1950s. It entered service with the U.S. Army and replaced the previous 81 mm M29 mortar in 1987. It was adopted due to the extended range (from 4,500 meters to 5,650 meters) and enhanced lethality. In the U.S. it is produced by Watervliet Arsenal.
A lightweight version, the M252A1 was first fielded in December 2014. By using lightweight materials such as aluminum, titanium and nylon kevlar the total weight was reduced by 12 pounds (5.4 kg) to 79 pounds (36 kg). The M252A1 also required less maintenance with its internal gears greaseless. The M252A1 was scheduled to replace the M252 in 2016. In November 2016, the Watervliet Arsenal received a contract to produce the bipods which have an "A" shaped bipod frame with deliveries to be completed by March 2020. As part of the same program, a lightweight version of the M224 60mm mortar the M224A1 was also developed. The Marines developed an improved M252A2 version that weighs about 8.16 kg (18 pounds) less than the original and incorporates a 4× magnification sight with a new cooling system.
A crew of five enlisted personnel operate the M252: the squad leader, the gunner, the assistant gunner, the first ammunition bearer, and the second ammunition bearer.
- The squad leader stands directly behind the mortar where they can command and control their squad. In addition to having general oversight of all squad activities, they also supervise the emplacement, laying, and firing of the weapon.
- The gunner stands to the left of the mortar where they can manipulate the sight, traversing handwheel, and elevating handwheel. They place firing data on the sight and lays the mortar for deflection and elevation. They make large deflection shifts by shifting the bipod assembly and keep the bubbles level during firing.
- The assistant gunner stands to the right of the mortar, facing the barrel and ready to load. In addition to loading, they swab the bore after 10 rounds have been fired or after each fire mission. The assistant gunner is the person who actually fires the weapon.
- The first ammunition bearer stands to the right rear of the mortar. They have the duty of preparing the ammunition (charge settings, fuzes, etc...) and passing it to the assistant gunner.
- The second ammunition bearer stands to the right rear of the mortar behind the first ammunition bearer. They maintain and keep a record of the ammunition in addition to the data corresponding to each fire mission. Their twofold records include a written table of firing data, type, and number of rounds fired, and the safety pins pulled from each round to provide physical evidence to the accuracy of the table. In addition they provide local security for the mortar position.
M252 mortar and crew in Afghanistan, 2009
M252 mortar crew and ammunition in Afghanistan, 2008
Marines fire an M-252 81mm mortar during live-fire training at Udairi Range in Kuwait, 2012
Types of rounds
While the M252 does fire a weapon-specific series of ammunition, it can also fire rounds from the M29 Mortar (only at charge 3 or below though). The M252 Mortar can fire the following principal classifications of training and service ammunition:
- High explosive (HE): Designations M821, M821A1, M889, M889A1, M372-series, and M362. Used against personnel and light materiel targets.
- Smoke Cartridge: Designations M819 and M375-series. Used as a screening, signaling, or marking munition.
- Illumination (ILLUM): Designations M853A1 and M301-series. Used in night missions requiring illumination for assistance in observation.
- Training practice (TP): Designations M880, M879, M68, and sabot. Used for training in limited areas.
- Infrared Illumination (IR): Produces illumination which is only visible through the use of night vision devices.
The M224 rounds have two fuze types: the Multi-option Fuze (M734) and the Point-Detonating Fuze (M935). The M734 is used for the M720 HE round and can be set to function as proximity burst, near-surface burst, impact burst, or delay burst.
Method of propulsion
The range of a mortar is controlled by the number of propellant "C-charges" attached. A charge is a semi-circular donut of nitrocellulose, which resembles a puffy letter "C." A round for the M252 mortar comes with four charges attached. Longer-range shots require more propellant than can fit in the tail of the round, hence the necessity of external charges.
When the target is ranged, the first assistant ammunition bearer adjusts the amount of propellant by removing C-charges from the projectile. The mortar squad leader verifies the number of charges; then the assistant gunner drops the round down the muzzle of the tube. The round, pulled by gravity, accelerates down the smooth bore of the mortar until the primer (in the base of the tail boom of the round) strikes the firing pin located in the bottom of the mortar tube. The primer detonates, igniting the charge in the tail fin, which in turn ignites the C-charges on the round. The C-charges ignite, releasing hot, expanding gas which pushes against the obturating ring on the projectile, sealing the gas behind the projectile. The pressure from the expanding gas accelerates the projectile until it leaves the end of the tube.
- Military technology and equipment
- List of artillery
- List of crew served weapons of the US Armed Forces
- L16 81mm Mortar (original designation)
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