The importance of making the Carl-Gustaf rocket launcher in India

Indian Army expected to benefit from the latest M4 version being made in Haryana

48-A-soldier-holding-the-Carl-Gustaf The big gun: A soldier holding the Carl-Gustaf | Kritajna Naik

Somewhere in Kashmir, near the Line of Control, an officer barked at his men: “Okay boys, time to take ‘em out. Get the RL ready.” It was the early 1990s and cross-border firing was frequent. The “RL” (rocket launcher) was an 84mm recoilless rifle.

It is a good step to have this factory at Jhajjar. The needs of the Army can be met more easily and during times of need, production can be ramped up. ―Brigadier Rumel Dahiya (retired)

Two soldiers got on the job. One positioned the weapon on his shoulder while another loaded it. A few seconds later, a boom was followed by a flash of destruction across the border. Plumes of smoke rose from what was a fortified bunker.

Carl-Gustaf, the Swedish-made, man-portable, recoilless rifle, was introduced in the Indian Army as an anti-tank weapon in 1976. It remains the go-to weapon for the infantry.

Brigadier Rumel Dahiya (retired) told THE WEEK: “Having used it so many times in exercises, field firings and competitions, what is impressive about the Carl-Gustaf is its versatility.” It can be fired from the shoulder, the air or a vehicle and can fire high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT), illuminating and smoke ammunition rounds. “It is light and packs quite a punch,” he said. “To my mind, it is the ideal anti-tank weapon, up to about 500 metres. We also use the Russian RPG 7 (rocket-propelled grenade), but nothing to beat the much sophisticated Carl-Gustaf.”

Carl-Gustaf shares its name with the king of Sweden―Carl XVI Gustaf. The weapon’s name originates from the factory where its first version was made. (The factory was based in Eskilstuna, which received city privileges during the reign of King Karl X Gustaf.) It was introduced in Sweden in 1948. The most common version in use now―the M2―was introduced in 1964. The M4, the latest version (2014), is less than a metre long and weighs 7kg―the M2 is about 14kg and the M3 (1986) about 10kg. Every munition for the Carl-Gustaf has a calibre of 84mm and is compatible with every version.

Today, the Saab-owned Carl-Gustaf is used by 40 countries. The Americans have designated it M3A1, but often call it Gustaf (sometimes the Goose). In Norway, it is RFK (rekylfri kanon, meaning recoilless cannon), and in Denmark, it is Dysekanon (nozzle cannon). While Canadian soldiers call it Carl G, the Aussies have dubbed it “Charlie guts ache” and “Charlie Swede”.

In India, the weapon saw extensive action in Sri Lanka when the Army was deployed for peace-keeping operations and then in the Kargil War. But, its widespread use began during the counterinsurgency operations in Kashmir and in the northeast.

“Carl-Gustaf was an effective weapon, especially when it came to blasting inside concrete buildings and bunkers,” said a colonel, who requested anonymity. As a young lieutenant, he led a platoon of soldiers near the LoC. “It was so good that there was no need to seek a replacement with another weapon,” he said.

So loud is the sound and shock of the Carl-Gustaf that the soldiers firing two to four rounds complain of going deaf for a month! “It had its disadvantages back then,” said the colonel. “At 12kg, it was heavy and bulky. The sighting system was basic and the back-blast was substantial. The back-blasts have caused casualties, too. But the worst was the booming sound.”

The Carl-Gustaf’s back-blast charges out in the form of a triangular cone, with gas, fire and blast elements expanding as they exit the launcher to as far as 30 metres after which they dissipate. Because of the nature of the blast, the first 15 metres are considered a danger zone. The back-blast also gives away the position of soldiers firing the Carl-Gustaf.

Brig Dahiya said that the back-blast is a significant factor. “One has to take care that nothing catches fire from the powerful back-blast,” he said. “But, if a projectile has to be fired with so much of force that it can penetrate a thick steel frame, it requires a lot of momentum and thrust. That can only come if a lot of explosive is used.” He added that the boom was unavoidable as you cannot put a silencer on such a weapon. “Once fired you have to quickly move away, before the enemy counteraction,” he said. “The firing position has to be safe from retaliatory enemy fire.”

While guns have come and gone for the 13-lakh-strong Army, the Carl-Gustaf stayed put. That is why it will now be made in Haryana’s Jhajjar.

Having got approval for 100 per cent foreign direct investment, Saab has begun work on the first fully foreign-owned defence production facility in India. For that, a new company―Saab FFVO India Pvt Ltd―has been set up.

India will be making the latest M4 with upgraded sighting technology and advanced carbon fibre winding with some component sourcing from local suppliers.

The colonel, who is now serving in an operational area, said that the Carl-Gustaf was, in his opinion, the best close-quarter battle weapon because of its destructive nature and man-portability over all types of terrain, including mountains, rocky outcrops and jungles. “During counterinsurgency operations in Kashmir, we had intelligence that a three-storied building was housing seven militants,” he said. “And, there was no way to flush them out. But, the Carl-Gustaf’s shock effect pulled them out.”

He said that he had made use of it extensively in three situations. “During the Kargil War, we used it for bunker-busting and for firing on concentration of troops,” he said. “It was exceptionally reliable and highly accurate, with great destructive power because of its high muzzle velocity. We used it also for unconventional operations near the LoC and for illuminating air bursts at night.”

The effective firing range of the weapon is about 1,000 metres using the smoke and high explosive ammunition, 500 metres for stationery vehicles and bunkers, and 350-400 metres for moving vehicles, including tanks, for which HEAT rounds are used. Its muzzle velocity―the speed attained by a projectile when it leaves the weapon―is 240 metres per second.

Notably, it is not only the soldiers who are trained to use the weapon. It is part of the young officers’ course at the Infantry School at Mhow in Madhya Pradesh. Later, officers also use it at field firings.

A disadvantage, apart from the back-blast, is that two men are needed to operate it―the gunner and the loader. Usually one patrol unit carries two sets of ammunition, with every set comprising two rockets. In the 1990s, the Carl-Gustaf was not available in big numbers and it was one weapon to a platoon (about 30 men). At present, one unit (about 10 soldiers) carries one Carl-Gustaf.

Brig Dahiya said that there were shortages of the weapon system. “Not all units have the complete authorisation for this weapon because of import restrictions,” he said. “So, it is a good step to have this factory at Jhajjar. The needs of the Army can be met much more easily and during times of need, the production capability can be ramped up. Moreover, the 100 per cent foreign investment policy to make military equipment also gives confidence to others to come up with their products.” In the process, he added, Make in India gets a thumbs-up.