A training incident on Jan. 9 involving the firing of the M72 light anti-tank weapon, or LAW, at the Infantry Officer Course held aboard Quantico, Virginia, sent two Marines to the hospital.
Marine Corps Training Command provided few details on the incident, but said that a student Marine officer and an enlisted Marine instructor were treated at a local hospital for minor injuries and have since been released.
The Corps said that there appeared to be no indication of negligence or misconduct.
“Firing the LAW is a routine scheduled event required as part of the Training Command school's program of instruction,” Training Command said in an emailed statement to Marine Corps Times. “The safety of our Marines is a top priority.”
The Marine Corps won’t say exactly how the two Marines were injured, but the Corps’ shoulder-fired rocket launchers come with the danger of injury from gaseous overpressurization that erupts out their back end when fired.
It’s called backblast, and Marines are trained to ensure the area behind the launcher is cleared before firing.
Backblast can put Marines in danger in other ways too. Because gas erupts violently out the back of the launcher, Marines have to make tactical decisions that could put them in harm’s way when firing the rocket.
The rockets are not recommended to be fired in closed environments or from inside rooms, which limits cover and protection for Marines.
But the Corps is steadily working on solving that problem.
The makers of the Vietnam War-era 66mm anti-tank rocket, Nammo, are currently in the process of testing a newly designed M72 that has no backblast.
Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, got to test the new rocket at the Urban ANTX exercise held aboard Camp Pendleton, California, in March 2018.
The new launcher relies on mortar increments to fire the munition instead of an actual rocket engine.
Saab Bofors Dynamics, the makers of the single shot AT-4, has an upgraded version for firing in confined spaces, which is expected to phase out older versions of the Corps’ AT-4s.
And, Saab also has a confined space round for the Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle that the Corps may be interested in procuring.
The Marines already are heavily investing in the 84mm Gustaf with plans to push the launcher to every rifle squad across the Corps.
The Marines plan to procure roughly 1,073 launchers.
The January LAW firing incident at the Infantry Officer Course is still under investigation.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.