American soldier with LAW in firing position. Note that the tube is extended and the sights are raised.
Source: US DoD - © Public domain
The M72 LAW is an early Cold War era disposable rocket launcher of US origin. LAW stands for "Lightweight Anti-armor Weapon". The LAW is a single shot disposable anti-tank weapon that was developed in the early 1960's for the US Army. Even though it is much smaller and many times lighter it is more capable than M20 Super Bazooka.
The LAW is a single shot disposable rocket launcher. It consists of an aluminum launch tube within a plastic tube on which the sight and controls are fitted. Before firing the inner tube is retracted creating a longer launch tube. A flip up sight is fitted which also aids in range estimation. The trigger is located in the middle of the retracted launcher, just in front of the rear sight.
The original LAW had a maximum effective range of about 170 meters and would penetrated about 300mm of mild steel. The improved model has an effective range of about 220 meters and will penetrate 355mm RHA. Based on the improved model various versions have been developed which are better suited for urban warfare while having area effect warheads instead of shaped charge warheads.
The main user of the LAW was the US military. The LAW was used by US forces during the Vietnam war and every subsequent conflict. The LAW was widely exported and during the Cold War was used by most NATO nations. Since the 1980's the sales of the LAW decreased as newer anti-armor weapons were needed due to the LAW's limited effectiveness against modern tanks. The LAW remains in use today due to its limited size, weight and increased variety in warheads.
The first version of the LAW was designated M72 and was quickly followed by the M72A1 with improved rocket motor.
The most common versions of the first generation LAW rockets are the M72A2 and M72A3. The M72A2 features a further improved rocket motor that also increases warhead performance. The M72A3 is an M72A2 with additional safety features.
The M72A4 was the first LAW to use an improved launcher assembly. The new launcher functions in the same way but is longer and allows for longer rockets. In turn longer rockets allow for more propellant and result in a high velocity and extended range. Besides the extended range the M72A4 also features an improved penetration warhead.
The M72A5 uses the new launcher but uses the cheaper warhead as used in the older M72A3.
The M72A6 features a warhead with reduced penetration and improved blast effect. The M72A7 is similar to the M72A6 as used by the US Army but is fielded by the US Navy.
The M72A9 was introduced in 2006 and is the latest model in the LAW lineup. In US service it is known as the Anti-Structure Munition (ASM) and in UK service as the Light Anti-Structures Missile (LASM). The M72A9 features a 1 kg blast warhead.
The M72A10 features a similar warhead as the M72A9 but can also be fired from confined spaces and is less audible upon launch. The M72A10 is referred to as the ASM FFE round, with FFE denoting "Fire From Enclosure".
In American service the M72 LAW was replaced in the anti-tank role by the Swedish AT4.
The Soviet RPG-18 was developed as a counterpart to the American M72 LAW.
The French SARPAC has a similar size and role. Unlike the LAW it was unsuccessful.
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