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Sunday, November 10, 2019

Philippine Marines Likely to Acquire SMAW-II under Multi-Purpose Bunker Defeat Weapon Project

As part of efforts to improve the firepower of infantry units of the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC), it has earmarked plans to procure man-portable heavy weapons which would allow infantry units to punch above its weight.

While the Philippine Marines already made known its intention to acquire Rocket Propelled Grenade Launchers under its Squad Rocket Launcher Light Acquisition Project which is currently ongoing, another project has not yet been mentioned to the public.

This project has already been posted in MaxDefense's AFP Moderization Projects Portal under the Philippine Navy section for several months now, but has not yet been discussed.

We are talking about the Philippine Navy's (Marines) Multi-Purpose Bunker Defeat Weapon Acquisition Project, which is a Horizon 2 phase Priority Project under the Revised AFP Modernization Program.

The Mk. 154 Mod. 2 Shoulder Mounted Assault Weapon 2 (SMAW 2), which is an improvement over the original SMAW. Photo taken from The Warzone. 


The Philippine Marines has been using 40mm grenade launchers and 90mm recoilless rifles as its mainstay heavy weapons in the squad level and company level, respectively.

The 40mm grenade launchers proved to be ineffective in certain situations, including against armored units, entrenched units, and against enemy troops both in the open and in structures. This is the reason why the Philippine Marines will augment it with the introduction of  RPG-7 type weapons.

Meanwhile the 90mm recoilless rifles are now obsolete, with many alternatives in the market available which have more firepower, more munition options, and are lighter for the small Asian-bodied Filipino solider. This means a replacement for these weapons is being processed.

It is obvious from the start that the Philippine Marines works very closely with its counterparts from the US Marine Corps (USMC), and even pattern many of its capabilities with its US counterpart. While the USMC does not use RPGs, they do use something else with similar or even greater effect.

The Philippine Marines was after a bunker-defeating weapon that is reusable, capable of accurate fire at more than 350 meters range, and can be used for secondary purpose against armored vehicles and others.

This is the reason why the Philippine Marines is not looking at disposable systems like the M141 Bunker Defeat Munition (BDM) which is also known as Shounder-Mounted Assault Weapon - Disposable (SMAW-D), and the modern variants of the M72 Light Assault Weapon (LAW).

The PMC also preferred to have a weapon that is compatible to what the US Marine Corps use to allow US assistance in training, or even in munition supply in cases of emergency.

The US Marines has been using the Nammo Defense Mk.153 Shoulder Mounted Assault Weapon (SMAW) against structures and bunkers, and against light armored vehicles. And the USMC has brought these weapons to the Philippines several times during joint exercises with the Philippine Marines. It is reusable, with rocket munition being loaded at its rear. 

US Marines giving orientation training on the SMAW during Balikatan Exercises in 2002. Back then, the Philippine Marines have already shown interest in the system although lack of funding has always been an issue. Photo from Getty Images.

Primary Weapon of Choice by PMC: Nammo Mk. 153 Shoulder Mounted Assault Weapon (SMAW):

As early as 2014, the Philippine Marines announced its intention to acquire the SMAW based on the USMC's Mk.153 Mod. 0 SMAW weapon, as part of the Horizon 1 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program.

But the finalized version of Horizon 1 Priority Projects did not include the SMAW, and this was also true when the 2nd List of Horizon 1 phase acquisition list was released. No SMAW on both acquisition lists.

It was only during the formulation of the Horizon 2 phase Priority Projects that the acquisition of weapons similar to or equal to SMAW was again raised up under the Philippine Navy's Multi-Purpose Bunker Defeat Weapon Acquisition Project.

US Marines giving basic training on the Mk. 153 Mod.0 SMAW, this time during the 2016 iteration of Exercise BALIKATAN. Photo taken from DVIDS.
The Mk. 153 SMAW was developed originally by McDonnel Douglas Aeronautics Company, later on by Talley Defense, now known as Nammo Talley based on the Israeli-made B-300 rocket launcher from Israel Weapons Industries. The US Marines first introduced the SMAW in 1984.

The original Mk.153 Mod.0 SMAW launcher weighs around 7.54 kilograms, and 13.39 kilograms when loaded with rocket ammunition. While it has a maximum range of 1,800 meters, its effective range is placed between 250 to 500 meters.

Among the munitions it can fire are the Mk 3 Mod 0 Encased High-Explosive, Dual-Purpose (HEDP) Rocket, the Mk 6 Mod 0 Encased High-Explosive, Anti-Armor (HEAA) Rocket, the Mk 7 Mod 0 Common Encased Practice Rocket, the Mk 80 Mod 0 Encased Novel Explosive (NE) Rocket, and the Mk 217 Mod 0 spotting rifle cartridge. Plus the Novell Explosive (NE).

A newer version called the Mk. 153 Mod. 2 SMAW-II "Serpent" was introduced to the US Marine Corps in 2018, and replaced the 9mm spotting rifle and optics with a more modern electronic modular ballistic sight (MBS) made by Raytheon. This decreased the weight of the SMAW-II over the original SMAW to just 5.3 kilograms.

SMAW-II's improved sighting system which allowed the new version to remove the 9mm targeting gun and reduce weight while improving ease of use of the weapon. Photo taken from The Warzone.
The US Marines is scheduled to receive more than 1,200 units, which would probably replace all existing Mk. 151 Mod. 0 SMAW in its inventory.

The new SMAW-II also introduced new ammunition variants compared to original SMAW.

Redundancy with RPG-7?

With the Philippine Marines already on its way to procure RPG-7-type weapons and even assign it to Marine rifle squads, would the acquisition of Multi-Purpose Bunker Defeat Weapons like the SMAW be made redundant?

This is considering the RPG-7 to be used by the Philippine Marines will have Thermobaric munitions, which is similar to the SMAW's Novell Explosive (NE) or the M3E1's  round which destroys bunkers and structures using explosive heat and pressure.

Here's a video below on the SMAW's NE munition.

It would also be noted that while the US Marines do not have an RPG-7s, the Philippine Marines are slated to have them soon as it embarks on the Squad Rocket Launcher Light Acquisition Project. Thus it makes sense for the US Marines to have SMAW.

But according to sources from the Philippine Marines, the SMAW or the Multi-Purpose Bunker Defeat Weapon is said to have been specified to be more accurate especially over longer distances compared to the RPG-7, and the NE round is said to have destructive power than the RPG's thermobaric round.

The Philippine Marines is set to receive RPG-7 type weapons under its Squad Rocket Launcher Light Acquisition Project. Credits to original source of photo.

Option 2: Saab Bofors M3E1 Carl Gustaf 84mm recoilless rifle:

While it appears that the Philippine Navy and Philippine Marine Corps are already fixed on the Mk. 153 SMAW, MaxDefense believes that they should also consider looking at the new Saab Bofors M3E1 (aka M4) Carl Gustaf Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Tank Weapon System (MAAWS) which is being introduced to the US Marine Corps as a replacement to the Mk. 153 SMAW, and is seen as being favored more by the US Marines over the latest Mk. 153 Mod. 2 SMAW-II Serpent.

Top: the M3E1 up close. Photo taken from Wikipedia.
Above: a Hungarian soldier with an M4 Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle. Photo taken from Wikipedia.

The M3E1/M4 is a lighter, shorter variant of the M3 MAAWS, which was what the Philippine Army and Philippines Marines evaluated in the past. It would be remembered that the both services found the older M3 MAAWS to be far heavier than the RPG-7 or the SMAW, not to mention being a more expensive weapon system (both launcher and munition) which led to both services favoring the RPG-7 family.

the M3E1/M4 is 6.6 kilograms, has an effective range of 350-500 meters using standard ammunition against moving and fixed targets, and up to 1,300 meters for air burst and high explosive anti-personnel rounds. This is way beyond the maximum effective range of most of SMAW and SMAW-II munitions which is maxed at 500 meters. The M3E1's barrel is good up to 1,000 rounds fired.

The slightly heavier weight of the M3E1 or M4 versus the SMAW-II or even the original SMAW remains the biggest concern especially for the smaller-bodied troops of the Philippine Marines.

MaxDefense believes that the Philippine Marines has not yet evaluated the new M3E1 MAAWS which was said to be 3.4 kilograms lighter than the M3 although still 1.1 kilograms heavier than SMAW, and is a 2.5 inches shorter to allow easier use during Military Operations on Urban Terrain (MOUT) like those the AFP experienced in Marawi in 2017.

The M3E1 also has more munition options which includes anti-tank, bunker busting, anti-personnel, illumination and smoke rounds. It also has ammunition that can pierce through thick reinforced concrete bunker walls.

Above is a diagram showing the available munitions for the M3E1 / M4 Carl Gustaf MAAWS. Photo taken from Saab Bofors website.

Saab Bofors is also developing a a new rocket-boosted guided munition with Raytheon which effectively makes the M3E1/M4 similar but cheaper alternative to an anti-tank missile system. It is said to have an effective range of 2,000 meters (2 kilometers).

Final Choice:
It will depend now on the Philippine Marine Corps since they are the end-user for this weapon system. While MaxDefense favors the Saab Bofors M3E1 Carl Gustaf MAAWS due to practicality as it appears to the weapon that may outlast the SMAW-II in the US Marines, the Philippine Marines will still have the last say.

It is also possible thought, that should the US Marines replace the SMAW-II with the M3E1, there will be a large stock of SMAW-II launchers and ammunition that the Philippine Marines could request its American counterpart to sell or transfer. Weight-wise, the SMAW-II is friendlier to Filipino physique than the slightly heavier M3E1 Carl Gustaf.

Meanwhile, if the Philippine Marines select the M3E1 or M4 Carl Gustaf, it allows continuous seamless interoperability with the US Marines as they could provide assistance in terms of training, sustainment, and munition supply especially during emergencies. Not to mention munitions that have longer range and is said to be easier to acquire than those of the SMAW or SMAW-II.

So in the end, it really depends on how the Philippine Marines would be looking at these risks and opportunities. Nonetheless, both weapon systems are effective systems that would really provide the Philippine Marine Corps with added firepower especially 

Project Summary:

Multi-Purpose Bunker Defeat Weapon Acquisition Project

Note: Edited as of 03 November 2019.

* End User: Philippine Marine Corps (unspecified unit/s)

* Quantity: 70 units launchers plus ammunition

* Modernization Phase: 2nd List of Horizon 2 Phase of RAFPMP

* Project ABC:

Acquisition Mode: Most likely Government-to-Government deal.

* Source of Funding: GAA Funded through the Horizon 2 AFP Modernization Trust Fund

* SARO Release: TBA

* Winning Proponent: TBA

Product for Delivery: TBA

* Contract Price: 

* First post by MaxDefense: 
27 December 2014

* MaxDefense Searching Hashtag: #PNMPBDWAcquisition #PMCMPBDWAcquisition

* Status: Senior Defense Leaders approved the implementation of the project on 30 October 2019.

First post and edit: 09 November 2019
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines


  1. It would be a waste of opportunity if the Philippine Marines did not ride the coming wave as both the USMC and US Army phase in the M3E1 as their main portable heavy weapon for infantry. If they went with the SMAW-II, we could eventually be once again on the path of obsolescence as the USMC slowly transitions away from the platform and leaves us one of the lone users.

    It's time the AFP services learned to look at what our allies use and maintain lock-step with them as we increase interoperability and cooperation.

  2. Time for a level up for our AFP. If we are already making light weapons (M16 rifles and pistols), we should be making our own or licence productions of this type for spares and munitions. If not the level of SMAW or Gusfav but for a RPG 7 (if possible also mortars) proudly made in the Philippines. If the terrorist in here can make a crude version of this, why can our Armed Forces do the same, a better one.


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