M203

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Overview


The M203 is a single shot 40mm rifle attached grenade launcher. It was introduced by Colt in the 1960's as an add-on grenade launcher for the M16 family and as a replacement for the stand alone M79. It was officially adopted by the U.S. Military in the early 1970's.

Due to its global popularity, there are hundreds types of rounds available for the M203 including anti armor, anti infantry, smoke, illumination, non-lethal and training.

The M203 has two basic models: a 12 inch barrel standard M203 model designed for full length M16 rifles and a compact 9 inch barrel designed for the carbines. In Israel, with the exception of sporadic shorter homemade samples used by SF units, all M203 used are the standard length variant.

While the M203 was originally designed for the M16 family, it can be modified via adapters to be mounted on various weapons. In Israel, the M203 was modified to fit all platforms in usage including the M16, Tavor, Galil and the AK47.

Sights


The M023 is issued with two iron sights:

  • Leaf sight (50-250 meters range) - mounted on the handguards.

  • Quadrant sight (50-400 meters range) - mounted on the carry handle or the Flattop receiver rail.

In recent years M203 red dot sights were introduced by various manufacturers, replacing the standard issue Leaf and Quadrant iron sights. Unlike the original sights, these new red dot sights allow for increased accuracy and range as well as day/night operation with little training by the operator. In Israel, the Meprolight GLS203 has been standard issue with the IDF since 2000.

Egoz operator during basic training armed with a M16A1/M203 combo fitted with a leaf sight and a quadrant sight

History


The IDF has a long history of using M203 combos, dating to the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when the U.S. launched a massive airlift to Israel containing various weapons and gear, including large quantities of M16A1 and several M203 to fit them. Several M203 were modified to fit the Galil SAR and the Galil SAR/M203 combo entered service with few IDF SF units in the late 1970's. Shortly afterwards CAR15/M203 samples also entered service with the IDF SF. Interestingly, one of the initial incentives for the CAR15 issue by the IDF SF was CAR15 compatibility with the M203, forming a more compact and lightweight platform then the Galil/M203.

Throughout the 1980's IDF SF units gradually replaced their Galil SAR and AK47 with the CAR15 and by the end of the decade the CAR15 had essentially become the standard issue weapon in the IDF SF community. The IDF conventional units soon followed and in the early 1990's the IDF officially adopted the M16 as its standard issue weapon for all infantry oriented units including both SF and conventional units. Accordingly, the M16A1/M203 combo was issued to conventional infantry units while the CAR15/M203 combo was issued to SF units and to the more veteran soldiers in the IDF Infantry Brigades.

In 1997 the 52mm mortar and barrel mounted rifle grenades previously used by the IDF were taken out of service and were replaced by the CAR/M203, resulting in mass issuing of the CAR/M203 to conventional units.

PALSAR Golani posing after a successful raid during the Israel-Lebanon War in 1982. Left - operator armed with a Galil SAR; middle - operator armed with a CAR15/M203; right - operator armed with a FN MAG.

Israeli Variants


M16

The M203 can be attached to carbines (CAR15/M4/M4A1) and to full size rifles (M16A1/M16A2). Due to the numerous Israeli M16 variants in service there is a M16/M203 combo matching each variant. Today, the most common M203 configuration in Israel is the M4A1/M203, which is the IDF standard issue M203 combo for all infantry oriented units, including both conventional and SF units. The M4A1/M203 replaced the CAR15/M203, which was the IDF standard issued M203 combo prior the mass introduction of the M4A1 in recent years. There are also other less common used M16/M203 combos in usage, such as the M4/M203 used primarily by Law Enforcement SF units.

IDF CAR15/M203 combo fitted with a leaf sight (mounted on the handguards).

M4/M203 combo fitted with a leaf sight (mounted on the handguards) and a Quadrant sight (mounted on the carry handle).

M4A1/M203 combo fitted with a leaf sight (mounted on the handguards) and a Quadrant sight (mounted on the carry handle).

Shorty CAR15/M203 & Shorty M4A1/M203 Combo

The Shorty CAR15/M203 combo and Shorty M4A1/M203 combo are unique weapons found in limited usage in the IDF SF community, primarily by PALSAR Golani. The weapons were created by sawing off the M203 barrel so it will be in alignment with the Shorty CAR15/M4A1 barrel. After the modifications, the M203 barrel is so short that the M203 adapter is fitted directly on the weapon's flash hider. A steel cable is then added to secure the M203 adapter in place (between the M203 tube and the weapons flash hider), preventing the launcher from moving forward during fire. The Shorty CAR15/M203 combo was later replaced in service by the Shorty M4A1/M203.

PALSAR Golani operator armed with Shorty CAR15/M203 combo during deployment in the Territories.

PALSAR Golani operator armed with Shorty M4A1/M203 fitted with a Meprolight Mepro 21.

PALSAR Golani operator armed with a Shorty M4A1/M203 combo fitted with a Meprolight Mepro 21 and a Meprolight GLS203 during extreme weather training in Mount Hermon.

Tavor

Tavor/M203 combos have been in service with the IDF since the late 1990's, first with TAR/M203 variants and later with the Micro Tavor/M203.

Early design TAR/M203 combo.

Up - TAR/M203 combo fitted with a M203 leaf sight and an ITL MARS. Bottom - CTAR fitted with an ITL MARS.

IDF Micro Tavor variants: From top to bottom: Grenade Launcher fitted with a Meprolight GLS203 and a Meprolight Mepro 21; Designated Marksman (15" barrel) fitted with a Trijicon ACOG 4x32 and a forward grip/bipod combo; Standard (13" barrel) fitted with a Meprolight Mepro 21.

Galil SAR

The SAR/M203 combo was in limited usage by the IDF SF units during the late 1970's and 1980's prior to the mass introduction of the CAR15.

AK47

Sporadic AK47/M203 combos were used in the late 1970's and the 1980's by Shayetet 13 and other elite IDF units.

 

Future


The M203 is likely to remain in service for years to come. Red dot sights, such as the IDF issue Meprolight GLS203, greatly increase the platform accuracy, while advanced electro-optical sights, which are integral part of future soldier weapon systems, enable the M203 to fire smart munitions.

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