Mk 19: A revolutionary automatic grenade launcher

Author: Eric Sof


The Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher provides an antipersonnel, anti-material, explosive, area weapon out to a midrange. They are highly effective in this vital role. It was produced in 1968 by Saco Defense Industries, costing about $20,000. In service with nearly 30 countries, the Mk 19 (or Mark 19) is a powerful weapon capable of quickly firing large numbers of grenades. They bridge the gap between the M203 and the M224 60mm mortar. To date, over 35,000 have been built.


The US developed the Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher during the Vietnam War because it needed a river patrol craft with high firepower. The original Mod 0 was designed in 1966, and it was introduced into service in 1968.

The Mk 19 Mod 1 improved model became operational around 1971. In 1974, the US Navy attempted to improve the design, creating the Mk 19 Mod 2. However, US Army never used Mk 19 Mod 2. In 1976, the US Navy simplified the weapon, and the result was the Mod 3, the primary Mk 19 model. In 1983, the US Army also adopted the Mk 19 Mod 3.

Mk 19 is a skillful squad-level weapon with great range and lethality with HE 40mm grenades fired cyclic or in volleys. Further, it can defeat Soviet-era APC armor and is highly effective at neutralizing opposition forces hidden behind cover.


The Mk 19 is a blowback operated, open bolt, an air-cooled weapon capable of fully automatic or single-shot fire. It uses 40 mm grenades. High explosive fragmentation, dual-purpose (armor-piercing/fragmentation), and smoke grenades. The Mk 19 is fed from 32 or 48 round disintegrating link belts weighing 19 or 27 kg. This weapon can fire at 60 rounds per minute for fast fire or 40 rounds per minute for sustained fire.

Mark 19 Automatic Grenade Launcher
Mark 19 Automatic Grenade Launcher (Photo: XY)

The Mk 19 is not safe to be fired at targets fewer than 75 meters away. It utilizes a large rear leaf sight moved in 100-meter increments. Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher can add a night vision sight via a Picatinny rail. Although it has a flash suppressor, it is only intended to preserve the gunner’s night vision. Consequently, it has a highly visible flash.

Mount options

Since it has relatively low recoil, the Mk 19 grenade launcher is best used on vehicles or small vessels. It can be mounted on a tripod, although it is more commonly used in the vehicle mode due to its weight, serving on HMMWVs, AAVs, the Stryker, MRAPs, hovercraft, jeeps, or ships. The M430 40×53 mm high explosive dual-purpose grenades provide much of the Mk.19’s power.

Operational usage

Mk 19 can penetrate up to 50 mm of rolled homogeneous armor with a direct hit. Thus, it is effective against most armored personnel carriers, some infantry fighting vehicles, infantry, and even helicopters. It is lethal within 5 meters and wounds anything within 15 meters.

The Mk 19 and other automatic grenade launchers are versatile infantry support weapons. In addition to acting as machineguns for suppressive fire, it is more effective against personnel and can easily destroy most vehicles and structures. The 40mm grenades have a wounding radius of 15 meters, making them much more likely to affect human targets than a heavy machinegun.

US Army soldiers shooting Mk 19 during a training session
US Army soldiers shooting Mk 19 during a training session (Photo: XY)

They can penetrate over 50mm of steel armor, more than enough to get through most IFVs’ rear and side armor, and rapidly disable unarmored vehicles. At its introduction, it could penetrate the frontal armor of all soviet IFVs and APCs, though the frontal arc of the current BMP3 can probably defeat it. Additionally, it can blast through 16 inches of concrete.

The Mk 19 has fought in numerous wars, primarily with all branches of the US Armed Forces, including the Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, War in Afghanistan, Iraq War, 2006 Lebanon War, Turkey-PKK Conflict, and the Mexican Drug War.


The Soviet Union adopted a similar 30 mm automatic grenade launcher soon after the United States did. It is known as the AGS-17 Plamya. Heckler and Koch developed an improved and lighter version of the Mk 19 using the same caliber: the GMG (Grenade Machine Gun).

It is very reliable and more accurate, utilizing a closed bolt system. Major operators of the Mk.19 include the United States, Mexico, Pakistan, Canada, Israel, and Greece. Turkey and Egypt license produce Mk.19, although Israel did so formerly.

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Technical specifications

Country of origin:Saco Defense Industries, United States
Caliber:40 mm
Cartridge40 x 53 mm
Weight35.2 kg
Length1090 mm
Barrel length413 mm
Muzzle velocity240 m/s
Cyclic rate of fire325 – 375 rpm
Practical rate of fire40 rpm
Magazine capacitybelts with 32 or 48 rounds
Sighting range300 – 1500 m
Range of effective fire1600 m
Maximum range2200 m
Mk. 19 Automatic Grenade Launcher
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