The U.S. Army is bringing in the really, really big guns.
Regular units will soon be issued a Swedish-built "recoilless" rifle that can fire an 84-mm. projectile nearly a mile and has the power to take out a tank. The 15-pound guns, which soldiers hold just above the shoulder to fire, were previously only issued to Special Forces. But after soldiers in Afghanistan repeatedly complained that insurgents were wise to the limitations of their M-16 rifles, the Pentagon has decided to make the Swedish-made Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel Weapon System (MAAWS)-- or the M3 Carl Gustaf for short-- standard issue.
“This weapon system is a game changer for the American warfighter," John Belanger, a spokesperson for Saab, which manufactures the gun, told FoxNews.com. “Additionally, the M3 will provide our soldiers a cannon-caliber weapon that will reduce the dependence and cost associated to artillery and air support. Commanders now can deploy his units to any combat environment without overburdening his soldiers or need to trade lethality for portability.”
Belanger said the guns, which are equipped with a night-vision scope that runs alongside the massive barrel, will allow soldiers to "fix and destroy enemy targets day or night at ranges up to 1,250 meters.”
The weapons, which cost upwards of $20,000, are classified as recoilless rifles, but look more like rocket launchers -- and pack a similar punch. Because they are held above the shoulder, much of the propelling force escapes out of the back, instead of being absorbed by the soldier's body.
The standard infantry munitions soldiers have used for more than a decade in Afghanistan are not reusable and have a range of less than a third that of the Carl Gustaf, Belanger said. That means insurgents can attack U.S. soldiers from a safe distance.
“This gap in capability has forced our soldiers to maneuver under direct and effective fire for great distances to bring the enemy into the effective range of his weapons,” he said, adding that patrol leaders in the field often had to rely on air support and artillery when under attack.
"It operates just like a rifle," Bhuvanesh Thoguluva, chief of the Army munitions systems vehicle protection, rockets & shoulder-fired weapons branch said in a released statement during the testing phase in 2012. "After firing, the assistant gunner reloads it, and it can be fired again. On a disposable weapon you will find a maximum effective range of approximately 300 meters, whereas with the Gustaf you are talking about possibly up to 1,700 meters. That's a huge difference."