Whether you’ve played Black Hawk Down, Call of Duty, or Battlefield, chances are you’ve played around with the M203 grenade launcher. Goofing around with a grenade launcher in a game can be one hell of a good time, but there’s a reason why the actual military is slowly phasing it out.

An M320 grenade launcher rests on a crate with ammunition for a demonstration at the San Angelo Police Department firing range, Feb. 15, 2019. During the demo, Goodfellow members used pellet rounds, a sponge round, and other non-lethal rounds. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Isiah Jacobs/Released)

Around 2008, the M320 was developed by Heckler & Koch to create a new grenade launcher to fill the design and functional gaps the M203 left behind. That’s not to say the M203 wasn’t a reliable attachment. It’s just that technology improves, and we have to get along with the times to give our armies the best possible equipment they can get their hands on.

Giving Credit To The M203

Yes, I know that the title of this article is quite negative, but that does not mean the M203 doesn’t deserve a pat on the back. As we all know, the M203 has been in service since 1969. It provided the military the necessary firepower to blast the enemies as far as 400m.

The M203A2 Grenade Launcher can be mounted under the M16A4 Rifle or M4 Carbine. It gives the Soldier a grenade capability and bridges the gap between the hand grenade and mortar. Photo Courtesy of PEO Soldier

It served the United States Army for decades with little improvement or refinement. The M203 replaced the excellent M79 grenade launcher during the Vietnam War. It was generally easy to attach to M16s and M4s, and the C7 and provided crowd control whenever necessary in close-range situations dispensing tear gas and smoke. More so, it could also breakthrough light barriers such as windows, doors, and even unarmored vehicles if needed—although the weapon wasn’t really used for anti-vehicle purposes. Its A2 variant also had a quick-release mechanism for easier access and mobility.

Why Was It Terrible?

First, the M203 was famous for its wild-guess accuracy due to its limitations with the sights. They had to be attached manually, which required calibrating it all over again when attached. Yes, it could be attached to the guns mentioned earlier, such as the M16, and its carbine variant, the M4 which was certainly a plus. It was definitely a useful attachment for mobility reasons, but it defeats the entire purpose if it didn’t hit targets accurately. The M320, on the other hand, simply has an electronic system leaf sight that does not need any more calibration.

A range instructor shows Spc. Thomas Harrison how to properly engage a target with the m203 Grenade Launcher.

Second, soldiers have complained that the M203 tended to fall off their rifle after being fired, making it outrageously dangerous in a situation where you need to immediately reload it. Yes, it is usable as a standalone weapon at close range, but reports have said that it simply lacks the accuracy it needs to be effective even at close ranges. This resulted in the military bringing back the M79 when it was well past its prime.

Marines and sailors use M-203 40 mm grenade launchers to fire rounds May 16 in Central Training Area. Photo by: Lance Corporal Scott M. Biscuiti

Third, the M203 has a pump-slide reloading system which heavily restricts its ammunition types. Soldiers could not use other longer ammunition as it would not fit. The grip of the M203 is also available as another attachment. However, soldiers also complained about it being quite tricky to place without interfering with the grenade launcher’s reloading. The M320 has a folding foregrip that attempted to solve this issue.

Lastly, this may seem petty, but many grunts complained the M203 attachment was the source of a lot of “battle-rattle” when they were on the move with it and that is never a good thing for a squad or platoon on patrol or trying to sneak up on an enemy position.