Recent imagery confirms the presence of the Mk153 SMAW in Ukraine. In the last couple of months there have been sightings of the Mk153 in use at the front and at a Ukrainian Armed Forces training ground. The Mk153 is a shoulder-fired rocket launcher capable of engaging structures and armoured vehicles.
The Mk153’s cousin munition – the one-shot, disposable M141 SMAW-D has been seen in theatre in fairly small numbers since February 2022. We have an earlier article/video looking at the SMAW-D, check that out if you haven’t already.
The Mk153 is primarily used by the USMC and was developed from the Israeli IMI B-300 and introduced in the mid-1980s. So what actually is a Mk153? The USMC describes the SMAW as:
“a one-man operable, 83 mm smooth bore, shoulder-fired, rocket launcher with a spotting rifle attached to the right side of the launcher tube. The encased rocket is fitted into the aft end of the launcher, and the fiberglass encasement is discarded after use. The spotting rifle, which improves firstround hit probability, is fed 9 mm tracers by a magazine, which holds six rounds. The 9 mm round is ballistically matched to the 83mm rocket.”
The SMAW (or Shoulder-Launched Multi-Purpose Assault Weapon-Disposable) can fire Encased High-Explosive, Dual Mode (HEDM) and Encased High-Explosive, Anti-Armor (HEAA) rockets. The HEDM is an anti-structure and anti-light armour munition with a warhead containing 2.4 pounds Aluminized Comp A-3 capable of penetrating 200mm (8 in) of concrete. The HEDM has a maximum effective range of 250m. The HEAA is a dedicated anti-armour round able to penetrate up to 600mm (23.6in) of rolled homogeneous steel, with a maximum effective range of 500m. It uses a shaped charge warhead with 1.89 lbs Octol explosive. The Novel Explosive (SMAW-NE) has a 4lbs enhanced-blast warhead, containing PBXN-113, designed for bunker busting which the USMC manual describes as “designed to provide enhanced-blast lethality to defeat personnel in reinforced structures and caves.”
The Mk153 has iron sights and a Mk42 3.8× magnified optic and a 9mm spotting rifle on the side of the launch unit. This spotting rifle fires tracer rounds which match the rocket’s ballistics and can help range the target and aid the operator in applying the right hold for the target. The tracer cartridge that contains a 9mm jacketed bullet with an aft burning .22 calibre tracer element. Spotting rifle magazines for the rockets are supplied on the outside of the rocket carry tube end cap.
The first sighting of a Mk153 in the field came from some B roll footage of a UK Channel 4 News report published on 28 February. It showed men of the Ukrainian 68th Jager Brigade on the front-line near Vuhledar. Several soldiers are seen preparing a Mk153 to fire.
On 17 March a video featuring a Mk153 SMAW being fired at a range was shared on Telegram. It shows a SMAW being fired and a pile of spent tubes and unfired rockets on the ground. The fired and unfired rockets all appear to have yellow bands indicating high explosive munitions – the Mk153’s practice round has a brown band. Sadly, we can’t make out the other markings which would indicate the type of rounds being fired.
At the end of March another video of Ukrainian soldiers preparing a Mk153 for firing was shared again at the range. The video gives us the best close up of the launcher in theatre so far and shows not one but two launch units. We get a good look at the tube and the launch unit’s spotting gun on the right hand side. This video shows the weapon being prepared to fire, the rocket is inserted into the launcher and rotated clockwise a quarter-turn to lock it in place before the Ukrainian soldier fires at a target down range.
Another interesting detail we can see is the white paper hang ing from the rocket. This is a humidity indicator which allows quick visual inspection to see if the rocket might have been compromised by moisture. The indicator on this rocket appears to have pink in all three of its indicators circles, meaning the munition might be compromised, in USMC service this would mean the rocket needs to be returned to the ammunition supply point. Despite this the rocket appears to fire normally and detonate down range. It’s worth noting that the launch unit isn’t fitted with an optic in any of the clips.
Update – 24/05/23: An additional clip of a SMAW being fired in an urban environment, perhaps during the defence of Bakhmut, date unknown.
Mk153 Specifications (per USMC):
|Encased rocket (as carried)|
|Weapon Ready to Fire|
|Maximum effective (HEDM)||250m|
|Maximum effective (HEAA)||500m|
|Time of flight to 250m||1.6 sec|
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Ukraine War: on the front lines with the 68th Brigade, C4 News, (source)
Introduction to Crew Served Weapons, USMC, (source)
Launcher, Assault Rocket, 83mm (SMAW) MK153 Mod 0, USMC, (source)