Armada International was invited by Saab Bofors Dynamics to witness live firing of the company’s Carl Gustav, AT4 and NLAW man portable products in Sweden.
The future of armour in military formations is being brought into question by the increasing number of ways that tanks can be defeated and destroyed. The war in Ukraine has demonstrated from the first few days just how effective modern anti-tank weapons have become, with a seemingly unending flow of graphic images and videos showing Russian armour of all types being ambushed and blown up.
The tactics that have been used by the Russian Army in the first few months of the war have been revealed to be uncoordinated in many circumstances. There has been scant evidence of joint planning in attacks with infantry, armour and artillery – backed by fixed wing and rotary air power – prosecuting a combined arms drive forward. This gave Ukraine’s ground troops the opportunity to use hunter-killer tactics to ambush unsupported armour.
The United States Marine Corps (USMC) Force Design 2030 briefing paper created a shock among many in the service as well as the wider defence world when it was revealed that it would completely divest the Corps of tanks: “We have sufficient evidence to conclude that this capability, despite its long and honourable history in the wars of the past, is operationally unsuitable for our highest-priority challenges in the future. Heavy ground armour capability will continue to be provided by the US Army.” The decision, states the report, would mean: “Zero tank companies (divestment of entire capacity of seven companies and prepositioned capacity).”
In early May, Saab Dynamics invited around 300 international government and military delegates from 30 countries to witness a ground combat demonstration of its shoulder fired weapons, which it jointly hosted with the Swedish Armed Forces.
Held over two days, the first day on 3 May saw a variety of tactical scenarios being demonstrated by Swedish Airborne Rangers at the Swedish Army’s Land Warfare Centre at Kvarn. This involved several live training and firing scenarios ranging from the increasingly reputed NLAW single shot missile system, to the widely used AT4 man-portable and disposable single shot weapon family, through to the well known and widely used Carl-Gustaf M4 reloadable recoilless rifle.
The second day saw the action move to the Saab Dynamics Test Centre where the same range of weapons were used to demonstrate a variety of ammunition types including anti-armour, anti-structure/anti-personnel and as well as new ammunition for the AT4CS.
Carl Gustav M4
The Carl Gustav is used by over 40 countries. and is a multi-role 84mm recoilless rifle with a two man crew and its original design can be traced back to 1946. However, now in its fourth generation it has been made lighter and easier to operate by ground forces. It now weights around seven kilograms and has been reduced in length for better handling. It has a combat range of between 20-200 metres.
During the initial briefing on the first day, Michael Höglund, head of business at Ground Combat at Saab stated that there are now 12 different ammunition types for the 84mm weapon that can be used with the Carl Gustav. These include: two versions of the HEAT 551 round; the HEAT 751 tandem warhead round that has been designed to defeat reactive armour; the HEAT 655 CS round that can be fired in confined spaces during urban fighting; the ASM 509 round with two modes, Impact Mode or Delayed Mode, the latter of which allows troops behind walls and other forms of hard cover to be engaged; the MT756 tandem warhead round for hard structure penetration; and assorted other rounds – both impact and delay – that can provide variations on explosion on imact or air burst. Other more specialised rounds can be used for area illumination or to provide smoke to conceal movement. The latest round is the 448 programmable ammunition which works with Saab’s standard sight which is now supplied with the Carl Gustav M4.
The FCD 558 Fire Control Device, when used with Firebolt technology ammunition, will recognise the type of ammunition being loaded, the temperature of the propellant, and then once the distance to the target has been input will calculate the right trajectory and aim point for the best potential firing angle.
Two other sight manufacturers were also demonstrating their sights during the second demonstration day. Working with Saab since 2009, Finnish company Senop has developed a a 1.5kg Advanced Fire Control Device Thermal Imager (AFCD TI) for the M4. This is a smart sight that incorporates a ballistic calculator, laser range finger which work with a day camera and a thermal imager. Once again, the computer can identify the type of ammunition being used. A single push action will place the aiming dot on the target for the right aiming solution. The device also incorporates both image and video capture – up to 100,00 images and several hours of video. The timeline for the introduction into service of this sight included Saab verification in the third quarter of 2022 followed by verification firings. Customer sales will begin in 2023.
Aimpoint is the alternative manufacturer to develop an alternative sight for the Carl Gustav – the FCS13RE FCS for a variety of crew served weapons. The ballistic computer, laser range finder and red dot sight is integrated into the sight unit. It is powered by six AA batteries and is configured through push buttons on the back of the device. It has direct view optics which means both eyes can be kept on the target.
The company currently has under advanced development a successor sight, the FCS14. This sight will have multiple operational modes, direct optic and high definition display and the potential to attach a DSA thermal/day camera, both with 1x, 4x and 8x magnification. Perhaps most impressively, it will have connectivity which will allow it to send and receive target data to other systems in a network.
The AT4 is a well known, easily used, disposable anti-tank weapon with over one million sold since its conception in 1985. Like the Carl Gustav, it is an 84mm calibre weapon with a usable range of between 200-1,000m. It too can tackle a range of targets from anti-armour through to anti-structure and anti-personnel.
The range of ammunition is extensive covering extended range penetration (up to 600m) of armour up to 460mm, with rounds covering anti-structure and confined space firing. The standard battle range for HEAT, high penetration (HP) and reduced sensitivity (RS) versions is 300m.There is also an anti-structure tandem (AST) version which has the heaviest height of all models at 9.3kg but can be used at shorter ranges up to 200m to blast access holes into structures and reinforced concrete walls up to 200mm thick. It is operated with a mode selector and can also be used with an optical night sight which would be retained when the weapon is discarded.
Saab has developed its confined space (CS) capability by using a salt water solution in the rear of the weapon container. This reduces the blast effected from the rear of the weapon when it is fired, allowing it to be used in a confined space.
The Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon (NLAW) has rapidly gained status as an anti-tank weapon through coverage of several nations including Sweden and the United Kingdom delivering thousands to the Ukraine armed forces.
It was jointly developed by Saab Bofors Dynamics and Thales Air Defence for a British light anti-tank requirement. At around 12.5kg it is heavier than the AT4, but has a range out to 800m. Again it is a lightweight, disposable weapon and has gained particular notoriety as an effective top-attack weapon, although it can be used in line-of-sight direct attacks. Using a shaped charge, the missile is tracked briefly by the operator then acts like a ‘fire and forget’ weapon. Once it arrives over the top of its target (usually where the armour is weak) by using its predicted line of sight (PLOS) system, a proximity fuse then fires a penetrator down into the target’s vulnerable upper armour.
Recent orders for Saab’s anti-tank weapons include one from the US Army’s MAAWS Program office; in the US the Carl Gustav in known as the Multi-purpose Anti-Armour Antipersonnel Weapon System (MAAWS) as well as the M3A1. The 12 May order value was $16 million with the weapons destined for both the US Army and the US Marine Corps.
In May it was announced that Denmark had become the 15th CarL Gustav M4 customer with an order from the Danish Ministry of Defence Acquisition and Logistics Organisation (DALO), although the country has been a Carl Gustav operator for some time.
Saab has received orders for components for the Carl-Gustaf recoilless rifle. The total order value is $82 million and deliveries will take place during 2022 and 2023.
by Andrew Drwiega