Mk 19: A reliable Grenade Launcher since the Vietnam War

Eric Sof

US Navy sailors fire a Mk 19 40 mm grenade launcher during a training exercise in March 2003

Mk 19 grenade launcher is a powerful 40 mm belt-fed automatic grenade launcher developed by Saco Defense Industries that entered service in 1968, in the middle of the Vietnam War.


Mk 19 grenade launcher (Mark 19) was designed during the Vietnam War as a high firepower weapon suitable for river patrol craft. US Army wanted a powerful weapon capable of quickly firing large numbers of grenades. The right company to deliver that was Saco Defense Industries, which had already delivered the M60E2 machine gun. To date, over 35,000 units have been built.


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

The Mk 19A is a man-portable crew-served weapon that can fire from a tripod-mounted position or from a vehicle mount, with the latter being the preferred method, as the weapon alone weighs 77.6 pounds (35.2 kg). The primary ammunition for it is the high-explosive dual-purpose M430 grenade. On impact, the grenade can kill anyone within a radius of five meters and wound them within a radius of 15 meters.

A Mk 19 40 mm machine gun mounted on an M3 tripod
A Mk 19 40 mm machine gun mounted on an M3 tripod (Photo: XY)

The Mk 19 should not be fired at targets fewer than 75 meters away. It utilizes a sizeable rear leaf sight moved in 100-meter increments. Mk 19 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.

Since it has relatively low recoil, the Mk 19 is best used on vehicles or small vessels. It can be mounted on an M3 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. They 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 tactical rounds cost $50 or $60, compared to the current day training rounds, which cost around $7.


Mk 19 Mod 0

The original Mod 0 was designed in 1966 and hurried into service in 1968.

Mk 19 Mod 1

An improved model, the Mod 1, became operational around 1971.

Mk 19 Mod 2

In 1974, the US Navy attempted to improve the design, creating Mod 2. However, Mod 2 was never used.

Mk 19 Mod 3

In 1976, the US Navy simplified the weapon, and the result was the Mod 3, the primary Mk.19 model. In 1983 the Mk.19 Mod 3 was also adopted by the US Army.

Operational usage

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.

US Marine firing from Mk 19 40 mm grenade launcher during a training exercise
US Marine firing from Mk 19 40 mm grenade launcher during a training exercise (Photo: XY)

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.

Technical specifications

Country of origin:United States
Manufacturer:Saco Defense Industries
Caliber:40 mm
Cartridge:40 x 53 mm
Weight:35.2 kg
Length:1 090 mm
Barrel length:413 mm
Muzzle velocity:240 m/s
Cyclic rate of fire:325 – 375 rpm
Practical rate of fire:40 rpm
Magazine capacity:belts with 32 or 48 rounds
Sighting range:300 – 1 500 m
Range of effective fire:1 600 m
Maximum range:2 200 m

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