The M72 LAW


The M72 LAW rocket launcher is iconic. Seen used in the Vietnam war and after its been seen every where since.

(Light Anti-Tank Weapon, also referred to as the Light Anti-Armor Weapon or LAW as well as LAWS: Light Anti-Armor Weapons System) is a portable one-shot 66-mm unguided anti armor rocket. Adopted in 1963 by the US Army and USMC as their primary ant tank weapon, it replaced the rifle grenade and the M20A1 “BAzooka”.

The M72 LAW was issued as a prepackaged round of ammunition. Improvements to the launcher and differences in the ammunition were differentiated by a single designation. The original M72 warhead penetrated 200mm/8 inches of armor, while the improved M72A2 model boosts this to 300mm/12 inches.

The M72 is simple to use. But just in case you are a few rounds short of a full magazine, the instructions are on the tune as seen above.

You pull the pin that lets you open the weapon.

Pull it out to extend it and release the sights.

The front sight is calibrated for distances.

The rear is a simple peep.

I couldn’t manage to get a clear picture of them lined up through the rear sight so here they are offset to show.

When you are ready, you hold down the front rubberized button to deactivate the safety, then depressed the rear one to fire.

Once the rocket is gone, you toss away the now empty useless tube.

M72/A1200 mm
M72A2/A3/A5300 mm
M72A4350 mm
M72A6/A7150 mm
M72 EC Mk.1450 mm
M72 EC Mk.2300 mm
M247~300 mm


  1. I’ve read that those sighting stadia are basically useless for range estimation. I assume they’re meant to be the length of a typical Russian tank at each given distance?

  2. I remember being told that if possible, we were to crush the tube before discarding. Supposedly to prevent an enemy from trying to reuse it.

  3. Why are Russian RPGs ubiquitous in Third World militias, but weapons like the LAW seem so rare among US and allied forces? Is there a doctrinal difference in that the LAW (and similar, if similar exist) are only used against armor, whereas the bad guys will use RPGs against anything and anyone? Is there a difference in the warhead that makes the RPG more useful for anti-vehicular and anti-personnel use?

    • The role of the RPG is filled by both the LAW and the 40mm grenade. Not quite as well, mind you, but they are there. You usually issued two-three LAW rockets per soldier, if you thought you were going to need them. Basic load was usually something along the line of six or so per squad, dependent on need.

      Now, the void that the lack of the RPG represents? That’s another thing, and a product of the way we fail to look at the squad as a system. We pay lip service to it, but the clear fact is that we badly needed something like the RPG in the squad structure for decades, but never bothered to procure it or even acknowledge the gap in capability. I wanted the Carl Gustav for years, but they didn’t ever get it on general issue until well after I retired. I can’t answer the “why” of it all, any more than I can answer the question of why these idiots-in-charge keep going after these blue-sky solutions to what are very mundane problems. Instead of the XM-25, with its ludicrously tiny little payload, they should have said “Yeah, we’re gonna actually f**k some sh*t up, downrange…” and packaged that rangefinding/fuse solution into much larger direct-fire weapons like the Carl Gustav. You put one of those into the air over an MG crew, and I guarantee you they are not walking away from it. Yet, they kept wanting that itty-bitty little payload package…

      Other thing lacking is a decent light tripod for all these weapons. You are not lobbing a CG round into a window at 900m off of someone’s shoulder… The Army badly needs a good light tripod for the support MG and other things like the Carl Gustav, one that can be carried with a moving squad and rapidly set up for delivering fires out past what you can hit off the shoulder. Unfortunately, not one of the people making procurement decisions is really what I’d call “informed” on what the troops actually need.

      You have to start thinking of things in terms of downrange effects, and how you most effectively generate them. We don’t think systematically about how our squads are armed and equipped, and it shows. To a degree, I think the Soviets did a better job at it, and that’s why they had the AK, the PKM, the RPG, and the rest of their suite. While we had whatever the fantasists in our lalaland procurement agencies stuck us with… I can’t think of a single f**king thing that was ever asked for that we actually got. Couple weeks ago, Shawn held up a perfect example here: The RAAW.

      And, the crap they keep trying to develop? Laughable–There was a deal back during the late Seventies that was just ludicrous on the face of it all: The Infantry schoolhouse guys wanted what amounted to an “instant foxhole digger”, or EXFOD. It was supposed to be this little Claymore mine-size package that would be capable of producing a usable foxhole anywhere in the world, in any soil, instantly. Anyone who has even a little background in explosives work could come up with a half-dozen different reasons something like that was never going to work, but the idiots in procurement kept right on with the program until the mid-1990s. Millions of dollars wasted, and nobody blinked.

      To my mind, the way this sort of thing should be thought about is by segregating things into downrange targets and effects. You class your targets by what sort of munition will be most effective against them–Individual weapons (rifles, LMG, grenade launchers) get used against personnel that are close in; Crew-served weapons like the GPMG, mortar, and Carl Gustav (think “direct-fire pocket artillery”) get used against structures, vehicles, and masses of personnel. You need to be able to deal with the categories of targets you are assigned to fight, with some overlap–The Infantry company needs mortars as well as access to the fire support network that is artillery, CAS, and whatever else might be available.

      And, we sadly do not break things down like this, or think about how we’re going to engage these targets. The Soviets did, and that’s why they stuck the RPG down in the squads as a multi-purpose support weapon. Although, to be honest, it did kind of evolve by itself–Originally, it was seen as strictly an anti-tank tool.

      • Thanks, Shawn and Kirk. I will confess that I was, in part, teeing up a rant for Kirk, and I was not disappointed.

        I hadn’t thought of the 40 mm grenade launcher as partially overlapping the RPG in terms of function. That makes a lot of sense. What’s really striking to me is that anywhere you see insurgent forces, somebody has an RPG, and I can’t think of a time when I saw a LAW or Carl Gustaf in the hands of a US or allied soldier, but I have seen zillions of pictures of our soldiers with various 40 mm launchers.

        “Ask a Soviet engineer to design a pair of shoes and he’ll come up with something that looks like the boxes that the shoes came in; ask him to make something that will massacre Germans, and he turns into Thomas F****** Edison.”
        ― Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

        • The RPG has proven to be an alarmingly versatile weapon, but part of that stems simply from the various flavors of insurgents that the Soviets sponsored being quite, ah… Profligate? Is that the word I want? Yeah; it is… Profligate with the largesse gifted upon them by the commissars. In Soviet use, the idea of volley-firing RPGs at self-destruct ranges in order to improvise an anti-aircraft weapon would have given said commissars conniption fits at the sheer waste of it all. Red Army soldiers doing similar things would have likely wound up completing their conscription terms somewhere in Siberia. When Mbungo-Mbungo did it in East Africa, well… The Commissars gritted their teeth, indented the supply system for a few thousand more RPG rounds, and told the bosses that there were a lot more tanks in the region than anyone had credited, and no, he had no idea where they’d come from, he’d had nothing to do with handing them out to the locals…

          Eventually, all that off-label use got taken up by the system, but I would still wager good money that using an RPG AT round on something other than a tank in the Soviet/Russian system would have gotten you an ass-chewing and probably time in the stockade.

          The RPG is, as well, a reason the Soviet Union went bankrupt. You pass out ten thousand 7.62X39 M43 cartridges and a few dozen AK-series to go with them, that’s not to terribly expensive. You ship ten thousand RPG rounds off to Bumfuck Central Asia, and now you’ve got one hell of a bill coming due, and someone ain’t gonna be able to afford their nice, new washing machine. Or, more likely under Soviet conditions, some hospital in one of the hinterland SSRs won’t be getting that new autoclave…

          With the US system, you don’t fire off metric tons of expensive anti-tank rounds to do the job that a guy with a Dragon or Javelin can do. What we do, instead, is sit back a thousand meters or so, and gently lob a Javelin round in to make life better for an MG position somewhere in the hills of Afghanistan, at a cost of zero lives, and a few hundred thousand dollars. The tradeoff is that instead of a half-dozen casualties and a few thousand dollars in RPG rounds, you just spent money to obtain the same tactical outcome. Better? Worse? Less cost-effective? Frankly, if I’m a taxpayer, I’m horrified. If I’m the guy out on the pointy end? Yeah; fuck you, gimme your money.

          I think what’s more needed is a Carl Gustav-type weapon, affordable ammo, precision fire control, and a lot more of all of it at the squad level. Will we ever get it? Who knows, but it’s needed.

        • Who, me?

          Panzerfaust was a cheap-and-cheerful alternative to running up to a tank and slinging a Tellermine underneath the track, heaving a taped-together cluster of M24 hand grenades known as a “Gebalte ladung” onto a rear deck, or any one of the other numerous suicide systems for anti-tank work. As such, I think the Panzerfaust was great. Any time I can reduce my chances of dying from about 100% to 80%…? Gimme that good ol’ Armored Fist.

          Basically, the Panzerfaust takes what was an act of desperation and lends it a bit of statistical separation from suicide. There were reasons the Germans issued their soldiers awards equivalent to the Purple Heart for killing a tank in “close combat”, and why so many of those were posthumous.

          Look up the Sonderabzeichen für das Niederkämpfen von Panzerkampfwagen durch Einzelkämpfer, sometime. You got a silver badge for each tank you killed, and a gold one for every fifth. They issued 18,500 silver, and 400 gold. Highest number of tanks credited to one man under the criteria for these was 21, dude named Günther Viezenz, who apparently managed that feat, and who also managed to survive the war, going on to serve in the Bundeswehr. Retired as a colonel in 1980.

          Now, the Panzerschreck, on the other hand? A superior copy of the Bazooka in 88mm, which we should have taken up and had on hand for Korea. The 2.36 inch toy we used in WWII was inadequate and obsolete before the bullets stopped flying, and the successor to it in the works. The bigger 3″ model was stalled in limbo until slightly after Task Force Smith, and then it was “Yeah, we need lots and lots of those, and can ya put ’em on the next plane flying into Pusan…? Yeah, thanks…”.

          All in all, not a fan of the Panzerfaust. Big fan of the Panzerschreck, but that’s because I prefer to play the coward, and kill my tanks from deep concealment and then be able to run away to do it again… The idiot who said “Hunting tanks is fun and easy…” never played tag with a company of M1s in the woods of Fort Hood. Screw that for a game of soldiers, as the Brits would say…


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