N.R. Jenzen-Jones & Charlie Randall
Images and videos recently posted to Twitter and other social media platforms, purporting to show arms captured from Chechen ‘special forces’ and Russian National Guard (Rosgvardiya) troops in Ukraine, include the Russian GM-94 grenade launcher. Previously identified in Crimea during the Russian invasion of 2014, the GM-94 is a pump-action grenade launcher often firing thermobaric projectiles. Originally intended for law enforcement use against heavily armed criminals and non-state combatants operating in urban environments, it has become a favourite of Russian special operations forces and has seen broader service with both law enforcement and military units, as well as being offered for export. It now appears the weapon is being used by Russian forces during the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, where the GM-94 fits more broadly into Russian use of so-called “flame weapons” (even though it does not use rely on a thermal effect as a primary damage mechanism).
The GM-94 grenade launcher (‘GM’ standing for Granatomet Magazinnyy; Гранатомет магазинный; ‘magazine-fed grenade launcher’) is a manually-operated (pump-action), hand-held, magazine-fed weapon chambered for the proprietary VGM93-series 43 × 30 mm cartridge. It feeds from an internal tubular magazine, located above the rifled barrel. The magazine can hold up to three rounds, and is reloaded through the top-opening loading door above the receiver. Reloading is achieved by sliding the barrel forward to open the breech, loading the required cartridges, and then sliding the barrel rearwards until it is locked to the receiver. Fired cartridge cases are ejected downwards, allowing the GM-94 to be readily fired from either shoulder—a useful attribute in urban warfare. An ambidextrous manual safety is provided in the form of a lever located above the pistol grip, and the top-folding shoulder stock can serve as a carrying handle when folded. Several examples of the GM-94 in Russian service have been observed fitted with aftermarket optical weapon sights (see, for example, Figure 3).
The most commonly issued ammunition for the GM-94 grenade launcher is the VGM93.100 thermobaric cartridge. The VGM93.100 round was designed to achieve its kill effect only by the immediate blast effect of its thermobaric payload (i.e., without fragmentation), thereby limiting its potential for collateral damage and allowing the user to fire such rounds at almost point-blank ranges in urban environments—engaging targets as close as 10 metres from the operator. This projectile has a lethal radius of 5–10 metres, and features a polymer outer construction which is designed to minimise fragmentation. Comparatively, U.S. Army manuals indicate that conventional high explosive (HE M406) and high explosive dual-purpose (HEDP; M433) 40 × 46SR mm cartridges should not be used within 130 metres of friendly troops. Cartridges of other functional types can also be fired by the weapon, including the VGM93.900 high explosive fragmentation (HE-FRAG) round and cartridges with less-lethal effects (such as riot control agents or flashbang projectiles).
Initially, GM-94 launchers were issued to specialised tactical units of the Russian MVD, such as SOBR (СОБР; Специальный отряд быстрого реагирования; ‘Special Rapid Reaction Unit’). These weapons are assigned to specific operators who qualify with them, and are deployed during missions where high intensity, short-range engagements are a possibility. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, to see the GM-94 in Ukraine in 2022, where urban fighting is intensifying at the time of writing. The GM-94 previously saw regular use in engagements targeting pro-Chechen militants, including during high-profile operations in the city of Nalchik, in 2005. In October of that year, Russian military forces employed the GM-94 during a successful operation to free two hostages held by pro-Chechen militants. It is somewhat ironic that one of the first documented examples of the GM-94 in the 2022 Ukraine conflict was captured from Chechen Special Forces (see Figure 1). The weapon was also documented in Crimea, where it was carried by what were most likely Russian special operations forces operating in civilian clothing (see Figure 3).
Whilst the GM-94 grenade launcher remains a relatively uncommon weapon, arms and munitions that Russian forces would consider “flame weapons” (thermobaric, incendiary, and FAE weapons) have nonetheless been widely documented during the current conflict in Ukraine. For example, the TOS-1A multiple-barrel rocket launcher (MBRL) has been the subject of widespread reporting. ARES monitoring indicates a range of other thermobaric shoulder-fired weapons, such as the RPO-A Shmel, have also been deployed by Russian forces. A recent video shared by a Ukrainian law enforcement officer on Facebook also appears to demonstrate the Russian use of munitions with a primarily incendiary payload (likely the 9M22S 122 mm incendiary rocket). Thus, the GM-94 forms part of a broader trend within Russian military development, procurement, and employment of so-called ‘flame weapons’, many of which are likely to continue to be documented in Ukraine.
ARCS Class: Light Weapons
ARCS Group: Light Guns
ARCS Type: Light Grenade Launchers
Operation: Manually-operated (pump action, forward-sliding barrel)
Calibre: 43 × 30 mm (VGM93)
Weight (unloaded): ~ 5.0 kg
Length: 820 mm (stock unfolded); 545 mm (folded)
Range: 300 m (point targets); 500 m (maximum)
Sights: Iron sights (ladder type marked for 50–300 m in 50 m increments)
Feed device: 3-round integral tubular magazine (+1 in the chamber)
Projectile velocity: 85 m/s
Source: KBP Instrument Design Bureau, 2021.
ARES (Armament Research Services). n.d. Conflict Materiel (CONMAT) Database. Confidential. Perth: ARES.
BBC News. 2005. ‘Russia crushes rebel city attack.’ Digital edition: 14 October. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4340596.stm>.
Ferguson, Jonathan & N.R. Jenzen-Jones. 2014.
Ferguson, Jonathan & N.R. Jenzen-Jones. 2014. Raising Red Flags: An Examination of Arms &
Munitions in the Ongoing Conflict in Ukraine. Research Report 3. Perth: Armament Research Services (ARES). <https://armamentresearch.com/Uploads/Research%20Report%20No.%203%20-%20Raising%20Red%20Flags.pdf>.
Jenzen-Jones, N.R. 2014a. ‘GM-94 grenade launchers in use with Russian forces in Crimea’. The Hoplite. 2 March. <https://armamentresearch.com/gm-94-grenade-launchers-in-use-with-russian-forces-in-crimea/>.
Jenzen-Jones, N.R. 2014b. ‘Soviet & Russian ‘flame weapons’: incendiary, thermobaric, and FAE systems in Ukraine’. The Hoplite. 20 November. <https://armamentresearch.com/soviet-russian-flame-weapons-incendiary-thermobaric-and-fae-systems-in-ukraine/>.
KBP Instrument Design Bureau. 2021. ‘GM-94’. Available via: <https://web.archive.org/web/20211110213942/http://www.kbptula.ru/en/productions/small-arms-guns-grenade-launchers/grenade-launchers/gm-94>.
Otis, Daniel. 2022. ‘What are thermobaric weapons?’. CTV News. Digital edition: 1 March. <https://www.ctvnews.ca/world/what-are-thermobaric-weapons-1.5801588>.
Popenker, Maxim & N.R. Jenzen-Jones. 2015. The Russian GM-94 Grenade Launcher. Arms & Munitions Brief 2. Perth: Armament Research Services (ARES). <https://armamentresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/The-Russian-GM-94-Grenade-Launcher.pdf>.
Rivas, Ana, Roque Ruiz & Taylor Umlauf. 2022. The Wall Street Journal. Digital edition: 4 March. <https://www.wsj.com/articles/ukraine-has-accused-russia-of-using-thermobaric-weapons-heres-what-makes-them-so-devastating-11646423184>.
Remember, all arms and munitions are dangerous. Treat all firearms as if they are loaded, and all munitions as if they are live, until you have personally confirmed otherwise. If you do not have specialist knowledge, never assume that arms or munitions are safe to handle until they have been inspected by a subject matter specialist. You should not approach, handle, move, operate, or modify arms and munitions unless explicitly trained to do so. If you encounter any unexploded ordnance (UXO) or explosive remnants of war (ERW), always remember the ‘ARMS’ acronym:
AVOID the area
RECORD all relevant information
MARK the area from a safe distance to warn others
SEEK assistance from the relevant authorities