Believe me when I say you’ve seen an M72, and you’re not even aware of it. I’m talking about all the war-themed films you’ve seen, or if you’ve been part of the service, you’d know I’m talking about the shoulder-fired, man-portable, light mini-rocket-looking weapon. Let’s take a moment to admire this cool weapon from the 1960s.

What makes up an M72?

According to the Federation of American Scientists – Military Analysis Network, M-72 LAW is a lightweight, self-contained, anti-armor weapon consisting of a rocket packed in a launcher. It is man-portable, may be fired from either shoulder and is issued as a round of ammunition. It can be stored long-term and requires little from the user beyond a visual inspection and some operator maintenance. The launcher, which consists of two tubes, one inside the other, serves as a watertight packing container for the rocket and houses a percussion-type firing mechanism that activates the rocket. It contains a nonadjustable propelling charge and a rocket, and every M72-series LAW has an integral high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warhead.  

Why was the M72 designed?

The M72 was designed in the early 1960s for use against light armored vehicles of that era. It could penetrate about three-quarters of an inch of armor. This may not seem like much, but it’s better than a small arms fire when going up against an armored personnel carrier.  Tanks are also pretty soft in the tail.  A LAW fired into the back of a Russian T-62 would have had a good chance of disabling it with a hit to the engine compartment. More recent and improved versions of the M72-series LAWs were produced in the 1990s, including the M72A4, M72A5, M72A6, and M72A7. These newer versions increased their range and accuracy in providing warheads with increased penetration power.  The M72 EC Mk.1 could punch through almost eighteen inches of armor. 

M72A4 LAW, an American anti-tank weapon. Armémuseum (Swedish Army Museum)CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Although the M72 is mainly used as an anti-armor weapon, it may be used with limited success against secondary targets such as gun emplacements, pillboxes, buildings, or light vehicles.