Marines test 'blooper' against roadside bomb threat

7 May 2004 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

It might just be that the answer to a 21st century problem for Marines has been around for 40 years.

Marines with Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division tested M-79 grenade launchers as a possible answer to neutralizing improvised explosive devices.  The "bloopers," named for the "bloop" the weapon makes when fired, might be the low-technology response Marines need to counter one of the deadliest threat in Iraq.

"The idea for countering the IEDs has been around, but the problem has been coming up with the correct system," said CWO 4 Charles F. Colleton, gunner for 1st Marine Division.  "Using a weapon system to detonate mines has been around.  We're just finding out if this works."

Most IED countermeasures have been high-technology answers.  Electronic jammers sending out radio waves to either detonate or block signals have been used.  Still, not all IEDs are detonated with wireless radio-wave devices.  Some are hard-wired. 

The M-79 "blooper" gun might be just the answer to allowing the Marines the stand-off distance they need to eliminate the threat and keep roads open for convoys.

"It takes shock to create shock," Colleton explained.  "We have to get the explosion close enough to set it off.  We're trying to see if it works... something that smacks it so hard that it detonates it."

Still, for most Marines, the M-79 is an unknown weapon.  It was first introduced into military stocks in 1961 and used widely throughout Vietnam.  It was dumped shortly after the war in favor of the of M-203 grenade launcher.  The idea was that the combined weapons of the M-16 rifle and M-203 grenade launcher gave Marines the best of both worlds, whereas before, Marines were limited carrying just a sidearm and the M-79. 

The weapon itself is rather simple.  It's a break-action, single shot weapon that uses a leaf site.  In testing here in Iraq, Marines found the reconditioned weapon accurate to 200 meters, although it's advertised to fire beyond 300 meters.  It fires the same 40 mm grenade as the M-203 grenade launcher.

"It's not a complicated weapon system at all," said CWO 4 Rod N. Fiene, ordnance officer for 1st Marine Division.  "Next to a single-shot shotgun, it's the simplest thing I've ever seen."

The test was set up to see just how easily Marines could adapt to the weapon.  Marines from 1st Marine Division's Headquarters Battalion were selected for the test, seeing how non-infantry Marines could adapt to firing the blooper.

"It looked like an old shotgun, just a smaller version," said Sgt. Bradley Leblanc, from Military Police Company.  "I've fired the M-203 before, but not a whole lot, so this was something very new to me."

Leblanc squinted into the desert sun as his thumb fumbled with the safety latch.  He squeezed the trigger, the stubby weapon responding with a humble "bloop."

The 40 mm grenade came crashing down 200 meters away, thundering the answer Marines might just be looking for when it comes to IEDs.  The rounds impacted nearly on top of the five-gallon water jug used for a target.  Tiny bits of metal tore through plastic leaving jagged gashes in their wake.

"There was no problem getting used to it," Leblanc said.  "It was simple.  The only thing I found was that the sights were so old, I was shooting at targets at 200 meters and the sights were set at 300."

Marines dialed in their bloopers within about 12 rounds.  Grenades landed well within the five meter "kill" radius, where it's estimated the shrapnel pattern of the grenade would be so dense and so fast, enemy forces would die.  Through testing, the Marines were hoping the same would apply to the IEDs.

"After I got the feel of it, all of the shots were in the general area," he added.  "It would be no problem for me to take this weapon out.  I'd actually like to have it."

Essentially, the M-79 is the same weapon as the M-203.  The fire the same projectile, shoot the same ranges and have about the same accuracy.  But having a single, dedicated weapon to handle IEDs allows a "comfort" factor for which Marines are looking for when it comes defeating the explosive threat.

"I think there's a perception that the '203' is not accurate because it's mounted below the rifle," Fiene explained.  "Sometimes it feels awkward.  This is a little easier to pick up and shoot because it's a stand-alone weapon."

Fiene said the blooper guns weren't necessarily the end-all answer to countering IEDs and Marines are still exploring all their options when it comes to defeating the threat.  Still, the answer doesn't necessarily come with a high price tag from some of the most advanced engineering defense laboratories.

Improvised explosive devices, he explained, "aren't necessarily a complex technology.  As a weapon, they're relatively crude.  The only thing we've looked at to defeat it has been high-tech to this point.  Maybe something as simple as a 40 mm grenade might be the answer."