The M72 LAW was the standard shoulder-fired anti-armor weapon for the United States military and its allies throughout the Cold War (though it still sees extended service today). The concept behind the weapon system was quit basic as it was essentially a two-piece launch tube with a ready-to-fire rocket within. The rocket was protected by the elements until the weapon was made ready to fire by extending the two launch tube sections to full length. At its core, the M72 was lightweight, cheap-to-produce and relatively easy to operate in an effort to provide the basic infantryman with anti-armor capabilities at range. Production of the M72 was handled by Talley Industries of the United States and has since seen license production granted in Norway and Turkey.
The major issue with early anti-armor weaponry was the required proximity to the target. It was not until World War 2 brought on the development of shoulder-fired ranged weapons to fulfill the purpose of knocking out enemy tanks that the category truly came into its own. The Americans developed their rather simplistic though reusable "Bazooka" launchers in 1942 which went on to see widespread use throughout the war. For the Germans, they utilized their Panzerschreck (based on the American Bazooka) and Panzerfaust systems - the latter consisting of a single-shot disposable tube with a ready-to-fire rocket within. The Bazooka itself was utilized well into the latter half of the 1950s and appeared in various forms before being retired.
Over its operational life, the M72 went on to be evolved in several guises. The "M72" designation marked the original production models of 1963. The M72A1 sported a new, improved motor while the M72A2 was similar in most respects, given an improved motor facility. Safety was addressed in these previous models to produce the M72A3 standard. A high-velocity version with a new launch tube appeared as the M72A4. The M72A3s were then improved with a new launch tube to become the M72A5. A low-velocity variant with an improved warhead and launcher became the M72A6. The US Navy utilized this same version but knew it as the M72A7. The M72E5 was intended as a much-improved version in the 1983 evaluations that ended with the selection of the Swedish AT4 as the next portable US military anti-tank system. The M72E8 addressed the "firing from confined spaces" limitation with a new motor and launcher. The M72E9 brought with it improved anti-armor penetration capabilities along with a new launcher. The final M72 variant became the M72E10 model which featured a revised launcher and a High-Explosive Fragmentation (HE-FRAG) rocket warhead.
The M72 had run its expected service life by the end of the 1970s, directing the US military to find a suitable replacement. This was to be the FGR-17 "Viper" but the program was cancelled by the American government in 1983. Forced to choose an existing anti-armor solution instead of using millions to develop a new one, the US military settled on the effective Swedish AT4 which became the "M136" in US nomenclature. Despite the arrival of the AT4/M136, the M72 still continues in operational service today - having seen combat actions in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, the USMC has recently (2011) contracted for 7,750 additional M72s of the latest production mark. The United States Navy SEALs still actively utilize the M72 in their current inventory as well, as does the US Army and Canadian Army. Many other forces retain the services of their M72 as a secondary system or have outright retired or sold off their inventories.
The Finns designated their M72s as "66 KES" while the Turkish military marks theirs as the "HAR". In the UK, the M72 takes on the designation of "L1". Overall, the M72 family has seen considerable exposure in a plethora of armies around the world. These include Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, and Thailand to name a few.
- Anti-Tank / Anti-Material / Breaching
1,000 mm (39.37 in)
1,000 mm (39.37 in)
5.51 lb (2.50 kg)
Flip-Type Forward and Rear Sight.
Single-Shot; Disposable Tube
475 feet-per-second (145 meters-per-second)
1,640 ft (500 m; 547 yd)
M72 - Initial Production Model
M72A2 - Improved rocket motor
M72A3 - Improved rocket motor
M72A4 - Revised safety features
M72A5 - Revised launcher design
M72A6 - Improved projectile function and launcher.
M72A7 - US Navy designation of the US Army M72A6.
M72E8 - Improved launcher; close-quarters launching capability allowing the system to be fired from building windows.
M72E9 - Improved anti-armor projectile; improved launcher.
M72E10 - Improved launcher; HE-Frag projectile
66 KES 75 - Finnish Designation for M72A2
66 KES 88 - Finnish Designation for M72A5
HAR-66 - Turkish Designation; M72A3 launcher with M72A2 projectile.
Rocket, 66mm HEAT, L1A1 - British Designation for base M72.
LASM (Light Anti-Structures Missile) - British Designation for M72A9.