Have you ever daydreamed of blowing the feet out from under a gaggle of drug-smuggling goons like Thomas Jane in The Punisher? Or watched Predator with envy as Arnold Schwarzenegger lit up the Central American jungle? If so, you’re in luck: Colt Defense is rolling out a handful of genuine mil-spec, production-standard M203 under-barrel grenade launchers to the civilian market for the first time ever.
Colt has produced a limited run of M203s that are legal for civilian ownership, offered through ArmsUnlimited, one of the company’s major law enforcement distributors, starting on Nov. 15.
Standard-issue 40mm launchers are classified as “non-sporting” firearms and “destructive devices” by the National Firearms Act, sold solely to military and law enforcement agencies around the world. But Colt’s new M203s sidestep the ban with a 37mm barrel that makes the launchers Title 1 firearms, which don’t require NFA registration. The new launchers will be able to fire a variety of non-lethal 37mm flare and smoke rounds.
While this isn’t the first 37mm M203 to hit the market, it is the first from the original manufacturer. M203 clones have been available for years, but the company’s small factory-run of M203 launchers offers die-hard Colt fans and collectors an extremely rare opportunity.
The iconic M203 has seen action with U.S. troops in every conflict since the Vietnam War. The original M203 was a result of the Army’s 1967 Grenade Launcher Attachment Development (GLAD) program established after the failure of Colt’s original XM148. Ironically, the Department of Defense selected a new design from defense contractor Aircraft Armaments, Inc., but AAI didn’t have the production capacity to meet the DoD’s demand of the first 10,000 weapons due to the company’s research focus. As a result, the Pentagon returned to Colt to produce the M203.
With decades of service in Grenada, the Gulf War, and the post-9/11 campaigns Iraq and Afghanistan, both the Army and Marine Corps are looking to replace the M203 with the new Heckler & Koch-designed M320, which has already seen action in Afghanistan. The Army aims to field nearly 80,000 M320s in total in the coming years.
The new civilian-legal 37mm M203s are roll marked with the official Colt Defense markings: “LAUNCHER, GRENADE M203 40MM,” followed by a unique serial number. The ArmsUnlimited listing does not say whether the launcher ships with a leaf or quadrant range sight.
Colt has produced a limited run of just 300 37mm M203s, offered in two barrel configurations — 9 inches and 12 inches, starting at around $2,000. ArmsUnlimited also offers a Colt-made mounting kit for the M203 at a reasonable $20. Regardless of price, this is exciting news for any avid Colt collector who can’t turn down the chance to assemble the iconic, manufacturer-correct, AR-15/M203 combination.
Matthew Moss is a British writer and historian specializing in small arms development and military history. Follow Matthew Moss on Twitter @historicfirearm.
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Image: U.S. Marines