Israel’s B-300 provided the basis that evolved into the SMAW (Shoulder launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon), first fielded by the United States Marine Corps in 1984. Versatile, with a lot of punch as a support weapon, seven years later it saw first combat during Operation Desert Storm, and proved even more useful since the War on Terror began in 2001. Prized for its ability to take out buildings, houses and other structures at 500 meters, the SMAW has spawned a number of evolutionary improvements.
Sporting a diameter of 83mm and a length of 29.9 inches unloaded, and 54 inches loaded, the SMAW originally came in a package weighing 16.9 pounds without rocket, and 34-35 pounds with. The SMAW is a two part system comprising a launch tube made of fiberglass epoxy that is loaded by attaching encased rounds at the rear.
The two primary rounds available are the High Explosive Dual Purpose (HEDP) Mark 3 and High Explosive Anti-Armor (HEAA) Mark 6 rockets. The Mk3 round can penetrate 7.9 inches of concrete, 12 inches of brick or up to 6.9 feet of wood-reinforced sandbags. The Mk6 uses a standoff rod to focus the explosive on a small point, helping penetration. Reportedly, it can slice through 24 inches of cold rolled homogenous steel with little difficulty. When fired, both rockets leave the tube at a velocity of about 720 feet per second and provide one of the loudest discharges on the battlefield.
To ensure the projectile’s accuracy, the sights provided were standard iron or both day or night optical. The firer used a 9mm magazine-fed spotting rifle affixed to the tube and matched to the SMAW’s round to get the proper range to ensure first-round hits. Once fired, the empty case was removed and another placed back in the tube. This was standard procedure for the entire range of the SMAW family, save for the disposable version, the 32 inch, 15.7 pound SMAW-D or M141 Bunker Defeat Munition, which used the HEDP round.
As good as the SMAW performed, the Corps felt there was room for improvements and in 2008 the SMAW II emerged, along with a new encased round permitting firing from enclosed areas. The SMAW II’s primary difference is in its launcher weight, at a svelte 11.7 pounds. Combined with a round, this brings its weight to just over 30 pounds, depending on the warhead.
Still another upgraded version of SMAW II became available in 2012. Dubbed the SMAW II Serpent, this improvement replaced the spotting rifle with a much more effective electronic fire control system enclosed in a roll cage. The cage also serves as a carrying handle for a launcher that increasingly uses a new and improved round available for the entire SMAW family.
Known as the Novel Explosive round, it has provided fantastic results when used against bunkers, caves and buildings. Essentially an anti-structure munition, it uses thermobaric effects of heat and over-pressure to completely destroy such installations, rarely leaving survivors. Developed by the Naval Surface Warfare center in conjunction with Marine Corps Systems Command, it first went into action at Fallujah in 2004 and continues wreaking havoc against insurgents today.
However great its abilities though, the SMAW still finds its home in only three militaries. Apart from the USMC, with some interest from the U.S Army, it has been exported to just two countries, Lebanon and Taiwan. Part of the reason may be due to the wide selection of similar systems from other nations, such as Russia with its RPG-29, and Sweden with the 84mm Carl Gustav, for example. Whatever the cause is, the SMAW family will continue to pull rank in USMC infantry support units until a suitable replacement, probably one with a reloadable fire-and-forget guided ability, is found.
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