New Automatic Grenade Launcher Is Designed Like An Assault Rifle

At this year’s Eurosatory exhibition, which is an industry trade show where international companies can showcase their weaponry and other defense products, the Germany-based company Rheinmetall unveiled their detachable magazine-fed automatic grenade launcher. The Squad Support Weapon 40, or SSW40, which looks like something that belongs in a Hollywood blockbuster, is garnering attention for its ability to fire medium-velocity 40mm rounds that could offer small units big firepower, and plenty of it, in a relatively compact package. 

According to the Rheinmetall press release, the SSW40 is the world’s first automatic, magazine-loaded, shoulder-fired grenade launcher. It is unclear if “automatic” means this weapon is capable of fully automatic fire. Broadly similar semi-auto weapons intended primarily to fired from bipods or vehicle mounts have popped up in different parts of the globe. So, it could be SSW40 is “first” in being fully automatic or in being semi-automatic and intended to be fired offhand from the shoulder like a more traditional firearm. The company does say that the SSW40’s handling, ergonomics, and specifications were inspired by assault rifles, which gives the launcher a generally familar, streamlined design. 

It’s also important to note that the SSW40 reveal is a product of a much longer development process. Rheinmetall’s Hydra weapon, which is also an automatic magazine-fed grenade launcher, was reportedly a prototype for the SSW40 and was first introduced a decade ago in 2012. The model was released under a collaboration between Rheinmetall and Milkor USA, who displayed the Hydra at the annual SHOT Show small arms trade show in the United States in 2016.

Being that specific details surrounding the SSW40 are still somewhat ambiguous as development isn’t slated to be completed until next year, a report on the Hydra posted to The Firearm Blog in 2016 during the SHOT Show exhibition could offer some insight into what the SSW40 may shape up to be in the end. The blog post noted that the Hydra featured a hydraulic buffer tube attached to the chamber and barrel and was designed to be capable of firing 10 rounds in less than two seconds in a fully-automatic firing mode. It was also specified that the Hydra on display at SHOT Show that year was fitted with a six-round magazine, but that four- and 10-round magazines were also available. 

Hydra model, the SSW40’s prototype. Guns Fandom Wiki

Furthermore, the blog mentioned that “the Hydra is blowback operated, and the barrel employs non-progressive gain twist rifling. It currently has an unloaded weight of 9.91 [pounds], and an [overall length] of 32.75 inches. It is rated for Rheinmetall-Waffen’s 40x46mm ‘magnum’ rounds, as well as all 40x46mm low-velocity rounds. It will be made in the [United States]. Some possible upgrades to the design before full production are modification of the safety and magazine release, as well as grips made out of something more durable like G10, [a popular high-pressure fiberglass laminate.]”

The SSW40 and the preceding Hydra design definitely have strong Terminator vibes, which definitely should help with garnering interest. Orion Pictures capture

Rheinmetall also touts the SSW40’s recoil-reducing and self-regulating recoil system as being a significant enabler in its ability to fire all available 40mm low-velocity (LV) ammunition types on top of what Rheinmetall claims to be its newest family of 40mm medium-velocity (MV) ammunitions. The new family of MV ammunitions includes high-explosive fragmentation, airburst, and anti-tank types, as well as non-lethal cartridges, including tear gas, door-breaching, training, illumination, smoke, as well as flash-bang grenades. 

Artist’s rendering of Rheinmetall’s newest family of 40mm MV ammunitions. Rheinmetall

“The new MV ammunition has a significantly increased velocity and a flat trajectory, allowing targets to be engaged more quickly and increasing the effective range of the system to 900 meters,” reads the Rheinmetall press release. “Combined with the broad spectrum of Rheinmetall’s 40mm LV/MV ammunition portfolio, the infantry user achieves unprecedented flexibility and effectiveness on the battlefield of the future.”

These figures notably differentiate from other LV and MV 40mm launchers of this type, including multi-shot weapons like, for example, Milkor USA’s M32A1. The M32A1 grenade launcher is a six-shot revolver-style design and has a maximum LV range of only 400 meters and a maximum MV range of 800 meters.

Milkor USA’s M32A1 grenade launcher. Milkor USA

In terms of combat use cases, Rheinmetall claims that the SSW40 could provide competitive all-terrain firepower in both neer-peer and asymmetric conflict scenarios with just a magazine change. This likely implies the ability to go after armored targets and then soft ones, or even employ less than lethal rounds, with just the magazine swap. Addition of laser modules, fire control sights, and programming systems can be added, the latter of which can be used to program air-burst ammunition for pinpoint accuracy, even behind cover, such as targets inside open doors, windows, or hiding behind partial cover.

While the magazine is huge, the SSW40 is relatively compact.

There has long been a desire to achieve this level of firepower in smaller units, thus prompting the development of weapons like the aforementioned M32A1, as well as the abortive XM25 25mm grenade launcher system developed for the U.S. Army. If the SSW40 can overcome possible tangential issues that would hinder its practicality, like carrying enough magazines to ensure sufficient ammo is available, the weapon could eventually bring the idea of a highly mobile and easy-to-employ automatic grenade launcher capable of rapidly firing medium-velocity rounds to the battlefield.

Needless to say, this thing could offer some fearsome squad-level firepower in a relatively familiar package. The Terminator looks also probably add a few bonus points. 

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