I Marine Expeditionary Force in 2016 will receive 56 new and improved versions of the shoulder-launched multipurpose assault weapon, or SMAW.

The SMAW MOD 2 replaces the 9mm spotting rifle with a laser designator and thermal boresight. The change will improve accuracy and reliability, and reduce the amount of time the shooter is exposed to enemy fire while zeroing in on the enemy, officials said. The targeting system uses the same tubes, which means it will be compatible with existing munitions, but it is not a retrofit. These will be new weapons.

The SMAW is the assault team's weapon of choice against fortified positions and light armored vehicles. It can fire 83mm High Explosive, Dual Purpose (HEDP), High Explosive, Anti-Armor (HEAA)and Novel Explosive (SMAW-NE) rockets, plus new or enhanced rounds.

It can effectively hit a 1-by-2-meter target from 250 meters away, and a tank-sized target at 500 meters. Shooters currently use 9mm tracer rounds to acquire the target. In the heat of battle, most grunts and engineers will fire one 9mm round and apply "Kentucky windage" to get the rocket in vicinity of the target. When a direct hit is needed, two or more targeting shots may be required. All the while, the shooter is serving as a pop-up target for unfriendlies, who know exactly where he since tracers work both ways.

No more.

"We made some improvements to help bring that Marine home," said Masco Settles, product manager for anti-armor systems. The laser designator provides immediate and accurate targeting distance without revealing the shooter's location. The new SMAW is also 3.5 pounds lighter.

Reliability was another factor in the Corps' decision, Settles said. The 9mm spotting rifle is more than 30 years old, and failure rates were increasing. This was a complaint of frontline fighters who grew tired of constantly sending the systems back for maintenance; trigger mechanisms were especially problematic. Officials said they expect the improved ballistic sight integration will reduce life-cycle maintenance costs, which is always a benefit for a cash-strapped Marine Corps.

The concept of applying thermal and laser range-finding technologies to the SMAW was first tested in late 2013, when Marines fired 146 rockets through modified SMAWS over an eight-day period. The event validated the concept, and helped to form the technical data package.

The $72 million, five-year contract calls for 1,249 systems, which will effectively replace the existing inventory. Atlantic Diving Supply in Virginia Beach, Virginia, will produce the weapon systems.