Small Arms Survey release ‘Research Note 55: Recoilless Weapons’

The Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based research institute, has released a new publication authored by ARES Director N.R. Jenzen-Jones, with contributions from ARES staff members Graeme Rice and Michael Smallwood.

Research Note 55: Recoilless Weapons examines at the technical features, development history, and global employment of these common light weapon systems. Recoilless weapons utilise the countermass of expelled propellant gasses (or sometimes a powder or liquid) to the rear to balance against the momentum of the forward-fired projectile. This mitigates the otherwise excessive recoil of the large and heavy projectiles these weapons tend to fire. Recoilless systems are regularly documented in conflict zones.

Below are some excerpts from the full research note:

Recoilless weapons are generally considered to be light weapons under existing international instruments such as the International Tracing Instrument (ITI), although some larger systems would qualify as conventional artillery (and are therefore not covered here). Smaller recoilless weapons may be carried and fired by one operator, whereas large calibre types are generally crew served and employed from a mount or vehicle. Recoilless weapons most commonly range between 40 mm and 120 mm in calibre.

Various recoilless weapons are commonly documented in conflict zones, and are in service with a range of armed forces and non-state actors. Many of these common systems offer a substantial increase in firepower to mobile military units or non-state armed groups, while requiring little specialized training to operate. They are also relatively portable, moderately priced, and often readily available, and provide more firepower than many other small arms and light weapons. These attributes make them particularly attractive to non-state armed groups.

Modern recoilless systems offer several advantages over other weapons that are commonly employed in similar roles. They are relatively affordable, with comparatively low-cost ammunition, and are lightweight and portable. The latest-generation Carl Gustaf M4, for example, weighs less than 7 kg. Many recoilless weapons can also fire a wide range of ammunition types, providing a distinct tactical and logistic advantage. Saab offers 15 different projectiles for its Carl Gustaf series, enabling an individual soldier to engage enemy personnel, armoured vehicles, and structures at a variety of ranges and under different battlefield conditions.

To read the full text of Research Note 55, click here.