A single-short, 40mm grenade launcher, the United States M203 is designed to attach to a rifle.  Recoil forces are kept low due to its High-Low Propulsion System, which was used on the older stand-alone M79 launcher.  The M203 can be used on a number of rifle models; however, its original design was intended for the US M16 and the M4 Carbine. 

An M203 Grenade Launcher is one of the many weapons on display in the Firearms and Ordnance Gallery at the Armed Forces History Museum.  Authentic weapons  from around the world dating throughout history can be witnessed in this extensive collection.  The oldest piece on display is a very rare bayonet from the Revolutionary War.


History of the M203

The M203 was designed in 1967 to 1968.  This launcher went into production in 1968 and officially entered the service in 1969 and is still in use today.  The under-barrel device attaches to a number of existing rifles and allows the shooter to switch easily from rifle to launcher.  This makes the weapon more appropriate for close range targets or targets in close proximity to friendly troops. 



The M203 Grenade Launcher is capable of firing a number of different rounds, serving a variety of purposes. 

High-Explosive Dual Purpose

  1. Capable of penetrating 2” of steel armor with a straight shot <150 meters.
  2. Arms 14 to 27 meters - at a point target
  3. Can cause casualties within a 130 meter radius
  4. Kill radius - 5 meters


  1. Arms 14 to 27 meters
  2. Creates a ground bursts causing casualties with a 130 meter radius
  3. Kill radius - 5 meters

Star Parachute  

  1. Used to illuminate and signal and is known for its accuracy over other handheld signal rounds.
  2. Attached parachute deploys upon ejection which lowers the candle at 7 ft/second and burns for approximately 40 seconds.
  3. Raised letter – located on top of the round – signifies the color of the parachute.

White Star Cluster

  1. Five raised dots for night recognition
  2. Used for both illumination and signals and is known for its accuracy over other handheld signal rounds.
  3. Individual star burns for an average of seven seconds during the free fall

Ground Marker

  1. Used for aerial recognition and location of soldiers on the ground
  2. Arms 15 to 45 meters
  3. Impact feature is backed up in the event of fuse failure


  1. Used during practice rounds
  2. Orange or yellow smoke is produced on impact
  3. Arms 14 to 27 meters
  4. Danger radius - 20 meters


  1. Multi-purpose round - effective in riot control and Urban Operations
  2. Arms 10 to 30 meters
  3. Produces white cloud of CS gas on impact


  1. Multipurpose round, extremely effective in heavily vegetated areas
  2. Interior has 20 metal pellets weighing 24 grains
  3. Muzzle velocity – 269 meters/second
  4. No mechanical-type fuse

Each of the various rounds are colored and marked specifically to identify its use. 


Specifications for the M203 Grenade Launcher

  • Weight:  3 lbs (empty)
  • Length:  15 inches
  • Barrel Length:  12 inches
  • Cartridge:  40 x 46mm SR
  • Action:  Single shot
  • Rate of Fire:  5 – 7 rounds per minute
  • Muzzle Velocity:  250 feet per second
  • Effective Range:  160 yards
  • Maximum Range:  1,312 feet


There are a number of variants of the United States M203 Grenade Launcher, used by over 45 countries in every conflict since the Vietnam War.