The Mk 153 Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon, commonly known as the SMAW or Mk 153 SMAW, is a reusable American multi-role rocket launcher.

History[edit | edit source]

The SMAW was designed as part of an urgent requirement to replace the M72 LAW following the collapse of the FGR-17 Viper program in 1983. While the US Army adopted the AT4, the Marine Corps became interested in the Israeli B-300 reloadable rocket launcher. The weapon was first fielded in 1984.

The weapon is known to have been deployed by the United States Army during Operation Desert Storm; a total of 150 launchers and 5,000 rockets were deployed. While the Army initially showed interest, the launchers were ultimately returned to the United States Marine Corps; the Army ended up developing their launcher using the same warhead as the SMAW, known as the SMAW-D, designated as the M141 Bunker Defeat Munition. A few shortcomings of the system were rectified in the 2000s with the introduction of a few modifications, such as the rewriting of operator's manuals and the addition of a kit to reduce environmental intrusion into the firing mechanism.

An upgraded version of the SMAW, known as the Mk 153 Mod 2, began fielding by the US Marine Corps in November 2017.

A program was started by the Marine Corps in 2002, tentatively titled Follow On To SMAW (FOTS); the resultant contract was ultimately awarded to Lockheed Martin and IMI, with the resulting weapon being the FGM-172 SRAW. Ultimately, the SRAW was used to augment the use of the SMAW as opposed to replacing it.

A "next-gen" version of the SMAW, known as the SMAW II or Serpent, has been in development and has yet to be fielded.

Design Details[edit | edit source]

The SMAW is loaded with pre-packaged disposable single rocket casings inserted in the rear of the reusable launch unit, which incorporates the weapon's sights and fire control group. An enhanced development of the Israeli B-300 launcher, the SMAW resembles the B-300 greatly in terms of appearance. The rocket casings have a 83.5 mm (3.29 in) bore diameter and fire 83 mm (3.3 in) rockets. The main SMAW weapon platform consists of the launcher itself, four types of rockets (HEDP, HEAA, NE and Practice) and a side-mounted 9mm spotting rifle.

The launcher itself consists of a fiberglass-epoxy composite launch tube, side-mounted spotting rifle, electromechanical firing mechanism, mounting brackets, open battle sights and a mount for optics. The launch tube has gelcoat on the bore.

On the right side of the launch tube, a spotting rifle is mounted. The rifle is of British origin, being designed by ROF Radway Green[1] for the LAW 80 rocket launcher, and functions semi-automatically via primer actuation (i.e. when fired, the primer sets back and unlocks the breech of the spotting rifle, ejecting the round in the process: it is an unusual variant of blowback operation). The rifle is fed by six-round box magazines one of which is included in a slot in the end cap of each rocket. The spotting rifle is fired mechanically while the launch tube is fired by a magnet: both use the same trigger, with a switch above the pistol grip selecting which one will be fired.

Provision is made to mount an AN/PEQ-2 laser aiming module as an alternative to the spotting rifle. The weapon has open iron sights as standard, and can also mount a Mk 42 Mod 0 day sight or AN/PVS-4 or AN/PVS-17B night sight. 

The later Mk 153 Mod 2 variant of the SMAW instead mounts an electronic Modular Ballistic Sight (MBS) that replaces the spotting rifle, incorporating a laser rangefinder, a ballistic computer which produces an offset reticle for indirect aiming, and a built-in thermal sight.

Ammunition[edit | edit source]

The SMAW uses 83mm rockets available in four variations; the Mk 13 Mod 0 encased HEDP rocket (High Explosive Dual-Purpose), the Mk 6 Mod 0 encased HEAA (High Explosive Anti-Armor) rocket, the Mk 7 Mod 0 encased practice rocket and the Mk 80 Mod 0 encased NE (Novel Explosive) rocket.

The SMAW's spotting rifle uses the Mk 217 Mod 0 spotting rifle cartridge, also known as the 9×51mm SMAW. The round consists of a 7.62×51mm NATO case necked out and fitted with a special 9mm tracer projectile; inside the 7.62mm case is a .22 Hornet blank used to fire the bullet. When fired, the .22 Hornet case backs out approximately 0.25 inches (6.4 millimetres) to unlock the breech; fired cases have a very peculiar appearance.[1]

Backblast[edit | edit source]

As with most weapons of its type, a main safety concern during the operation of the SMAW is its backblast area; this is especially so for the SMAW as its backblast is known to be particularly violent and loud compared to its contemporaries.

When fired, the backblast extends in a ninety meter, 60° cone to the rear of the weapon; this blackblast is lethal up to about 30 meters and remains extremely dangerous to 90 meters.[2] To combat this, assistant gunners are employed to monitor the backblast area and clear the area of troops or to notify the gunner of obstructions that may reflect the force of the backblast back at the gun team; the gunner may only fire upon hearing "Backblast area secure" from the assistant gunner.

Due to the intensity of the SMAW's backblast, it can not be fired from the interior of most buildings without risking severe physical injury or death to the crew as well as other occupants of the building.

Variants[edit | edit source]

Mk 153 Mod 0

Basic variant.

Mk 153 Mod 2

Improved variant aimed at increasing system accuracy, reliability, maintainability and survivability of the operator.[3] 1,249 launchers are to be delivered by October 2020.[4]

SMAW II "Serpent"

"Next-gen" variant of the SMAW developed by Raytheon Missile Systems and Nammo Talley. The project aimed to reduce the weight of the SMAW by about 4.5 pounds (2.0 kilograms), and be ready for deployment by 2012.[5] Appears to have been dropped in favor of the Mk 153 Mod 2 update.


Prototype variant of the SMAW that is designed to be able to be fired safely within confined spaces.[6] It has yet to be deployed or put into service.

M141 Bunker Defeat Munition

US Army single-shot weapon using the same booster and HEDP warhead, designed as part of the Bunker Defeat Munition program to provide an infantry anti-structure weapon.

References[edit | edit source]

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