The 40mm individual single-shot grenade launcher is one of modern infantry fireteam’s core pieces of firepower. They provide rapid explosive firepower at ranges greater than hand grenades but less than infantry mortars. During the Vietnam War, they were called the “squad leader’s artillery.” While the United States pioneered the use of this class of weapon with the M79 single-shot grenade launcher and later XM148 and M203 underslung grenade launchers, Germany’s Heckler & Koch GmbH has come to dominate this market. But how did the German designs end up replacing the American ones? Are there any real competitors who might challenge H&K’s reign in this market niche?
H&K’s first entry into this market was the HK69, a 40mm single-shot standalone grenade launcher designed as an alternative to the M79. More ergonomically modern, it featured a telescoping metal stock and thumb safety instead of the M79’s shotgun-style safety and wooden stock. It also weighed slightly less than the M79—but still a hefty 5.75 pounds due to its all-steel construction. The HK69A1 was adopted by the German Bundeswehr in the 1980s as the Granatpistole, or GraPi in short. It also has been adopted by a myriad of other nations—notably as late as 2002 (by Finland), when the next generation of H&K grenade launchers was already coming out.
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