As RF likes to point out, I have a bit of a thing for grenade launchers. I can’t rationalize it or find a practical use — there’s just something amazingly fun about firing gigantic projectiles at distant targets. Especially when those projectiles emit a small orange puff of smoke upon impact. So its no wonder that I absolutely had to try out H&K’s grenade launchers and report back . . .
Let’s start with the old solution for weapon mounted grenade launchers and see how well H&K stacks up.
The M203 has been the gold standard for grenade launchers since 1969. The relatively simple design makes for easy operation and the relatively slender profile keeps the weapon light and slim. Well, as light and slim as a weapon with a grenade launcher can be. But the M203 has some problems.
First, the old girl has a size issue. The standard cartridge for man-portable grenade launchers is a small “low velocity” grenade with a relatively light kick. The reason is the lighter recoil puts less strain on the weapon and the soldier firing it. But these grenades have very limited range, and take ages to get to the target.
So troops in combat asked for something with a little more distance and the medium velocity grenade was born. Unfortunately, the new rounds are too long to fit in the M203’s forward sliding breech, as it doesn’t slide quite far enough to fit.
The second issue is with the trigger. The M203 uses a single action trigger that is cocked when the tube is opened (or so I’m told), meaning a light strike on a primer cannot be easily remedied with a follow-up tap. And the ammunition had a tendency to roll out of the gun when trying to do a grenadier’s TAP-RACK-BANG on the thing.
Issue #3 is the distinct lack of a safety. Unlike RF, I like manual safeties. And the M203 had none. Which, considering the payload, makes me a little uneasy to think about the possibilities there.
Enter the H&K M320 grenade launcher, the U.S. Army’s chosen replacement for the aging M203.
H&K’s grenade launchers, like everything else they make, are over-engineered and highly stylized. But there are three important differences between her and the M203 that make her technically superior.
Number one on the list is the side pivoting barrel. Instead of making the shooter move the barrel up to eject the spent casings and load new rounds, the barrel pops to one side (shown at top). This not only allows the launcher to be more compact and easier to load in tight situations, but it allows the launcher to take the longer medium velocity rounds as well. The release for the swinging barrel is located on the underside of the launcher in the form of a trigger-like button just forward of the actual trigger.
This makes me slightly nervous. Having a second trigger within the trigger guard itself is, as Joe Grine would put it, “not grunt proof.” The manual of arms says to put the launcher on safe before opening the barrel for just this reason, but you know damn well some idiot is going to do it anyway. What concerns me is what happens if that grunt is opening the barrel to remove a live round. With the launcher pointed at his foot. Doesn’t sound like a pleasant experience. Yes you do need to physically move your hand off the fire controls to access the release, but I can just see it happening anyway.
Distinction #2 is the appearance of a grip on the grenade launcher itself. The M203 used the magazine of the rifle as a forward grip for the grenade launcher, but the M320 has its own built into the firearm.
When using the launcher in a standalone mode, that grip is perfect. It provides something to grab onto and is at exactly the right angle to be comfortable. On the rifle it seems somewhat redundant, seeing as the magazine grip works well enough to justify not having the extra weight added to the launcher. Rifles are heavy enough as they are, and the grip really isn’t helping. The trigger mechanism could have been adjusted to use the magazine just like the old model.
Which brings me to another question: why do we need another vertical forward grip on this thing? I can understand if on the standalone version you want something like that, but on the rifle its just more weight for something the rifleman doesn’t use. And even in standalone mode its not really a required piece of equipment, as you could just hold the barrel.
So, from a design standpoint its a mixed bag in my opinion. Better trigger, better loading mechanism and better safety, but perhaps a bit too heavy to lug around a battlefield. Heck, I complain when I have to carry my AR-15 more than 100 yards.
But how does it feel to fire the thing?
The trigger is LOOOOOOOOOONG, but ultimately satisfying. Recoil is minimal, and the gun seems damned accurate. Everything you could want from a grenade launcher.
H&K M320 Grenade Launcher
Caliber: 40mm Low / Medium
Size: 13.7″ with stock extended
Weight: 3.3 lbs
Operation: Single Shot Double Action
Capacity: 1 round
MSRP: $??? (LE/Mil Sales Only)
Ratings (Out of Five Stars)
All ratings are relative compared to the other weapons in the gun’s category.
Accuracy: * * * * *
Dead accurate at 250 yards, 3 rounds in a row.
Ergonomics: * * * *
The ergonomics are definitely better than the old M203, but weight is still an issue.
Ergonomics Firing: * * * *
The only issue I have here is with the weight of the thing. It makes the rifle a little hard to keep steady. Also, the trigger is MASSIVELY heavy to pull.
I didn’t have enough time to test the reliability, but the design seems solid.
Overall Rating: * * * *
As a standalone system its great, but on a rifle there are some redundancies that could be eliminated to save weight.