United States Military Weapons of War

Weapons of US Military

US Military Conducts Annual 'Iron Artep' Exercise Near Inter-Korean Border
••• Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

The weapons arsenal of the U.S. Department of Defense is vast. These are the primary weapons and equipment used by the Infantry and Special Operations units.

Small Arms

M-4 Carbine: The M-4 combat assault rifle first entered Army service in 1997. The rifle is the standard weapon used by some Army units such as the 82nd Airborne Division and special operations units, such as ​Army Rangers. With a shortened barrel and collapsible stock, the M-4 is ideal for close-quarter marksmanship where lightweight and quick action are required. Firing a standard 5.56mm round, the weapon weighs a mere 5.6 lbs. (empty). A revised rear sight allows for better control of the weapon out to the maximum range of the ammunition used. The M4 has also benefited from its customization. Current versions of the rifle offer several attachments—including sight mounts, flashlights, grenade launchers, and shotguns.

The M110 was initially deployed for active use by U.S. Army soldiers in Afghanistan in April 2007. Soldiers with Task Force Fury were the first to use the rifle in a real combat zone. The initial response was enthusiastic. Snipers and spotters who used the weapon praised its semi-automatic capabilities as an improvement over previous bolt action rifles that required soldiers to manually reload the weapon’s chamber after each shot.

This is the preferred sniper rifle for the U.S. Marine Corps. The M40A5 sniper rifle is based on the Remington model 700. It is a heavy barrel, bolt action; magazine-fed 7.62mm rifle that is optimized for accuracy with Match Grade ammunition. The rifle is equipped with a special Schmidt & Bender 3–12×50mm Police Marksman II LP scope. The rifle weighs approximately 16.5 pounds. It is equipped with a built-in five round magazine.

The M-249 official name is the SAW which means Squad Automatic Weapon. Early test versions of the M-249 were plagued with problems, but the current model is considered reliable. The weapon entered Army service in 1987, replacing the M-60 Machine Gun.

The M-249 is a .223 cal (5.56mm) gas operated lightweight machine gun which feeds from a belt held in a 100 or 200 rounds box under the gun. This weapon has a plastic pistol grip and a folding stock so it can be kept compact and light.

The M-240 entered Army and Marine Corps service in 1997. The M-240 fires the 7.62mm NATO round. Advantages of this weapon include its popularity with other nation's forces and number of configurations. For example, in a helicopter crash, the M-240d helicopter-mount version could be quickly modified by installing the bipod and buttstock of the M-240b version, which would then allow the weapon to be used for self-defense by the surviving helicopter crew members.

The Browning M2 .50 Caliber Machine Gun, Heavy barrel is an automatic, recoil operated, air-cooled machine gun with adjustable headspace and is crew transportable with limited amounts of ammunition over short distances. This gun has a back plate with spade grips, trigger, and bolt latch release. This gun may be mounted on ground mounts and most vehicles as an anti-personnel and anti-aircraft weapon. The gun is equipped with leaf-type rear sight, flash suppressor, and a spare barrel assembly. Associated components are the M63 antiaircraft mount and the M3 tripod mount.

The Joint Service Combat Shotgun is a compact, lightweight, semi-automatic, 12 gauge weapon configured with a standard magazine with a minimum capacity of six 2 3/4 inch cartridges. M1014 Joint Services Combat Shotgun (JSCS) is the US Department of Defense designation of the Benelli M4 Super 90.

The M-1014 is constructed of lightweight polymer materials and corrosion resistant metal components. To enhance mission performance and provide increased operator flexibility, the M-1014 is equipped with modular components such as modular stocks in various configurations and modular barrels of various lengths.

The MP5-N fires from a closed and locked bolt in either the automatic or semiautomatic modes. This gun is recoil operated and has a unique delayed roller locked bolt system, a retractable buttstock, a removable suppressor, and illuminating flashlight integral to the forward hand guard. The flashlight is operated by a pressure switch custom fitted to the pistol grip. This is the same basic weapon used by the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team and other world-class counter-terrorist organizations.

The present inventory includes both suppressed and non-suppressed versions of the MP5. The basic configuration of this weapon makes for an ideal size, weight, and capable (accuracy, lethality, reliability, etc.) close quarters battle weapon system.

Hand grenades are small bombs, containing explosives or chemicals, that can be thrown by hand or rigged as booby traps. There are several varieties of hand grenades designed for many purposes. All of these grenades can be broadly classified into six general types: fragmentation, illumination, chemical, incendiary, smoke, and practice and training grenades.

The M67 fragmentation grenade is the standard grenade used by the U.S. Military. It has a smooth, sheet-metal body and is shaped like a ball. Its outer case is lined on the inside with a serrated wire recoil. It is filled with 6.5 ounces of an explosive, known as Composition B, and uses a detonating type of fuse. When the detonator causes Composition B to explode, fragments of the body and fuse assembly are hurled in all directions. The M67 weighs 14 ounces, and the average man can throw it 40 meters. The effective casualty-producing radius is 15 meters.

Small Missiles and Mortars

The Stinger weapon system is a man-portable (34.5 pounds), shoulder-fired, supersonic missile system designed to counter high speed, low-level, ground attack aircraft. The Stinger is effective against helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, and observation and transport aircraft. Once fired, the Stinger uses proportional navigation algorithms to guide the missile to a predicted intercept point. The Stinger missile can be used as a man-portable air defense system (MANPAD) when the weapon is fired from the gunner’s shoulder, mounted aboard the Avenger weapons system, or mounted in the light armored vehicle-air defense variant (LAV-AD).

The M252 81mm Medium Extended Range Mortar is a crew-served, medium weight mortar which is highly accurate and provides for a greater range (4,500 meters to 5,650 meters) and lethality than the previous 81mm mortar. The cannon has a crew-removable breech plug and firing pin. This mortar also uses the standard M64 mortar sight of the M-224 60mm mortar.

The M252 is ideally suited to support airborne, air assault, mountain and light infantry units. The M-252 Mortar is used by the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps.

The M224 60mm Lightweight Mortar is a smooth bore, muzzle loading, high-angle-of-fire weapon. The cannon assembly is composed of the barrel, combination base cap, and firing mechanism. The mount consists of a bipod and a base plate which is provided with screw type elevating and traversing mechanisms to elevate/traverse the mortar. The M64 sight unit is attached to the bipod mount via a standard dovetail. An additional short-range sight is attached to the base of the cannon tube for firing the mortar on the move and during assaults. It has a spring-type shock absorber to absorb the shock of recoil in firing.

The M136 AT4 is the Army and Marine Corps primary light anti-tank weapon. The M136 AT4 is a recoilless rifle used primarily by Infantry Forces for engagement and defeat of light armor. The recoilless rifle design permits accurate delivery of an 84mm High Explosive Anti-Armor warhead, with negligible recoil.

The M136 AT4 is a lightweight, self-contained, anti-armor weapon consisting of a free-flight, fin-stabilized, rocket-type cartridge packed in an expendable, one-piece, fiberglass-wrapped tube. The M136 AT4 is man-portable and is fired from the right shoulder only. The launcher is watertight for ease of transportation and storage.

The Shoulder-Launched Multi-Purpose Assault Weapon (SMAW) is designed to destroy bunkers and other fortifications during assault operations as well as other designated targets with the dual mode rocket and to destroy main battle tanks with the HEAA rocket.

The SMAW is an 83mm man-portable weapon system with High Explosive, Dual Purpose (HEDP) rocket and is effective against bunkers, masonry and concrete walls, and light armor. The High Explosive Anti-Armor (HEAA) rocket is effective against current tanks without additional armor. The 9mm spotting rounds are ballistic matches to the rockets and increase the gunner's first round hit probability.

The Dragon Weapon System is designed to engage and destroy armor and light armored vehicles. The weapon is also effective against hard targets such as bunkers and field fortifications. The warhead power of Dragon makes it possible for a single Marine or soldier to defeat armored vehicles, fortified bunkers, concrete gun emplacements, or other hard targets. The launcher consists of a smoothbore fiberglass tube, breech/gas generator, tracker and support, bipod, battery, sling, and forward and aft shock absorbers. Non-integral day and night sights are required to utilize the Dragon.

The tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missile is a crew-portable, vehicle-mounted, heavy anti-armor weapon system consisting of a launcher and one of five versions of the TOW missile. It is designed to defeat armored vehicles and other targets such as field fortifications from ranges up to 3,750 meters. After firing the missile, the gunner must keep the crosshairs of the sight centered on the target to ensure a hit. The system will operate in all weather conditions in which the gunner can see a target throughout the missile flight by using either a day or night sight.

Individual Equipment

AN/PVS-14 Monocular Night Vision Device (MNVD) is a light-weight, third generation night vision device that gives the soldier the operational advantage to “see at night.” NVDs (known also as Night Vision Goggles) are electro-optical devices that intensify (or amplify) existing light instead of relying on a light source of their own.

The devices are sensitive to a broad spectrum of light, from visible through infrared. When a soldier looks "through" an NVD, an amplified electronic image is seen on a phosphor screen, giving the soldier the ability to operate with little or no illumination from the moon, stars, or other ambient light sources.

The PVS-14 system can be used with the head mount or with a Kevlar helmet mount.

U.S. Army Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD) is part of the governing body that dictates the name of the generation of night vision technologies. The U.S. Army has not yet authorized the use of the name GEN-IV night vision technology.


MOLLE is an Army and Marine Corps item that replaces the aging ALICE (All-purpose, Lightweight, Individual Carrying Equipment) pack and Integrated Individual Fighting System introduced in 1988. One of the main components of the MOLLE system is the nylon mesh vest that has removable pockets to accommodate different carrying needs.

Some of the new technology centers on the MOLLE's frame. A new anatomically-contoured frame made with plastic originally used in automobile bumpers has dramatically increased durability, functioning in temperatures ranging from -40 to 120 degrees F. MOLLE also advances load-carrying ability with its new suspension system. Heavily-padded shoulder straps and waist belt are adjustable for varying torso lengths, eliminating the two sizes of ALICE. Additionally, the Fighting Load Carrier (FLC) replaces the Load Bearing Equipment (LBE) web belt and suspenders of the ALICE.

Flak Vest

The 16.4-pound Interceptor system consists of a tactical vest and a pair of small arms protective inserts. The Kevlar vest includes detachable neck and groin guards, while the ceramic plates slide into pockets on the front and rear.

By itself, the Interceptor vest insulates a soldier from shrapnel and 9-mm pistol rounds. When the protective inserts are added, the system acts as a ballistic barrier to 7.62-mm rifle ammunition. The previous flak vest, used before 2002, only offered protection against fragmentation.

The Interceptor's inter-changeable components give troops the ability to dress to the level of a particular threat. Applications include combat operations, peacekeeping missions, and field-training exercises. Regardless of the situation, Body Armor functions as an effective defense against mines, grenades, mortar shells, artillery fire, and rifle projectiles. The Interceptor system allows commanders increased capability in the areas of survivability and maneuverability.

A weapon that failed to take off is the "Metal Storm." It was capable of firing 1 million rounds a minute.