The turn of the century, the 40mm Multi-Shot Grenade Launcher (MSGL) was only a myth to most American warfighters. Capable of delivering six 40mm grenades over more than 400 meters of landscape in less than three seconds, the grunt’s dream weapon was only teased as reality in video games like SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs or Ghost Recon.
Because of its unparalleled lethality and battlefield supremacy, even online gamers wielding this uber-powerful weapon were mocked by fellow players for lacking the “real” talent required to kill with precision.
It was practically cheating.
But now it’s for real - U.S. Marines on the ground in Afghanistan are finally able to use the Milkor USA M32A1 MSGL to dispatch multiple enemy fighters with pin-point accuracy up to 150 meters. But it couldn’t have happened without Richard J. Solberg Jr., a modest businessman from Alaska with a specific interest in introducing new weaponry to the U.S. military.
hroughout the past 30 years, many large-bore semi-automatic high-capacity weapons manufactured in South Africa had seen great success worldwide with little footprint with in the U.S. military. This inspired Solberg to start Milkor USA, Inc., which became the first American company to manufacture an American-made version of the internationally popular South African 40mm MSGL, in the summer of 2004.
The Tuscon, Arizona-based Milkor USA, Inc. opened its initial American manufacturing facility in Perry, Florida, in 2005 with the help of Erik Solberg and Bryan Newberry. Soon after, they were able to bring a 100 percent American-made version of the MSGL to the American market and immediately won their first contract with the U.S. Marine Corps.
For the Marines, this weapon was poised to support, not replace, the M203 40mm Grenade Launcher – a single shot, breech-loaded attachment to the M16A2/M16A4 service rifle. The M203 was developed in the late 1970s and entered military service in the early 1980s as a replacement to the M79 Grenade Launcher – a single shot, break barrel, 40mm Grenade Launcher used in the 1960s, specifically during the Vietnam War.
Although the M203 is an effective weapon system which currently fulfills numerous present-day missions for the Marine Corps, its overall technology is outdated. Not to mention the pain of reloading and regaining sight picture with each shot.
Gunner Milt Hardin, a Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer 5, had been looking for a weapon like the MSGL since he was a young gunnery sergeant. He had once seen Ecuadorian marines using it when he attended the Infantry Officer’s Course in the 1990s.
“I knew a captain who was there, and I heard him shout from across the range, ‘Gunny, come over here, you gotta check this out!’ I couldn’t believe what I saw – I mean, I’d been dreaming about this weapon for years,” Hardin said. “The amount of damage it could inflict in so little time would just make your jaw drop.”
After spotting the MSGL a second time at a Marine Corps Gunner’s Symposium in 2005 where Milkor USA was marketing the weapon to the U.S. military, Hardin took over the presentation to explain the versatility the MSGL allows in mission planning to potential customers.
If anyone would know the benefits of this weapon, it’s a Marine “gunner” - a technical weapons expert knowledgeable in the tactical employment of every piece of weaponry in the U.S. Marine Corps’ arsenal.
“The MSGL takes the combined-arms aspect down to the fire team level,” said Hardin. “So if air [power] isn’t on station, or artillery can’t be used, a single Marine is never far from effective, heavy support when he needs it.
“It’s also a fail-safe way of knowing you won’t be over-run,” he added. “You get a couple of them working in concert in a sustained-fire situation, and it’s pretty impressive – just a matter of having enough ammo to keep it going.”
According to Hardin, it’s also a force multiplier, meaning this piece of equipment can literally multiply the potential effectiveness of a given fighting force. But it’s not without its drawbacks.
“As with any other piece of support equipment, there are some environments you can’t use it in because of the potential for collateral damage,” said Hardin. “And of course the weight of the ammunition is also a serious consideration.”
Hardin brought the weapon to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where Major General Stephen T. Johnson, then-commander of the Second Marine Division, got a chance to take the weapon for a test drive.
“He was on the range for 20 minutes and he was hitting every target he aimed at with about five minutes of instruction,” laughed Hardin. “I don’t even know if he listened to the five minutes – it’s just that user-friendly.”
Like most Marines, Hardin doesn’t believe in “killing nicely.” Neither does the MSGL. With extremely low chamber pressure, it’s not only massively destructive; it’s also sadistically silent – perfect for the swift, silent, and deadly U.S. Marines.
he weapon’s sights are also unique. It uses a holographic sort of aiming system that superimposes a trajectory-adjusted floating red dot over the non-magnified viewfinder, allowing the warrior to keep both eyes open for maximum use of peripheral vision.
“Though slightly different from the traditional leaf sights Marines are used to on their M203 grenade launchers, it’s very effective in its own right,” said Hardin. “And if the first round is slightly off, you’ve got five more right behind it that can be used to walk you on to the target.”
There’s also no shortage of specialized rounds for this $8,500 weapon. Adaptive rounds can include anything from non-lethal rounds used in crowd control situations to parachuting video cameras, infra-red flares, smoke, flash-bangs, or even the awe-inspiring “hell-HOUND” rounds. HOUND stands for High Order Unbelievably Nasty Destruction, and, well, that’s a pretty good description. The HOUND round delivers double the killing power of a standard high explosive round. It will not only penetrate a brick wall, most are left asking, ‘what wall?’
“Each chamber can be selected individually to accomplish a host of different tasks in seconds,” said Solberg. “Pop an illumination flare to see, pop smoke to conceal your path, pop three flash-bangs through three windows, and still have a round left in the chamber to blow the door off its hinges. It’s a weapon of limitless possibilities.”
In 2008, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) took their first delivery of a custom version of the weapon, and last year, Milkor USA was awarded a five-year contract to deliver 5,000 of a new-and-improved M32A1 MSGLs to the U.S. Marine Corps.
“The feedback from the Marines after field testing in Iraq has been that the MSGL is an absolute game-changer,” said Solberg.
According to some of the Marines involved in field testing in Iraq, its affect was profound, particularly at locations where a patrol could expect to be engaged on every outing. After insurgents got a taste of the destructive power of the MSGL, they seemed stay home – likely preferring to face the MSGL where it’s safe – from their living room couch in a game of SOCOM online.