The tank changed warfare for good in the tail end of World War One. Since then, man has devised tank killers to help rid the battlefield of these up-armored war engines. First came anti-tank rifles like the .55 Boys, followed by the Bazooka of WWII. By the 1960s, these were both obsolete and the US Army was looking for something new. They laid down the LAW
What is the LAW?
Officially, the weapon is known as the M72; however, its nickname comes from the project to create a Light Anti-tank Weapon (LAW). Adopted in 1963 the LAW replaced the dedicated two-man Bazooka teams used since 1943 with a weapon that was passed out liberally around the platoon to individual soldiers. Carried as an accessory and not as a primary weapon, your average grunt could pack one or two of the 5.5-pound, 25- inch overall (in traveling configuration) weapons around with him everywhere. When an enemy tank rattled into view, aforementioned Joe could unsling his LAW, extend it, take aim, and pop an armor-penetrating round into the beast. A modern David v Goliath.
1960s LAW M72A1, note the old olive drab uniform, M-1 steelpot helmet, slung Garand rifle, and old school Specialist porkchop arm patch.
Shooting the LAW
The LAW was a self-contained and disposable weapon. It required no maintenance and only cursory inspection. The simple cylindrical launcher was waterproof and held one round of ammunition quietly inside. To fire, the operator extended the inner tube and locked it in place, which broke the waterproof seal, made the weapon 35-inches overall, and flipped up the graduated sights. Pulling the safety catch away from the trigger mounted on top of the tube made it ready to fire.
The press-down domino-shaped trigger works on roughly the same principal as a gas BBQ grill igniter. When depressed hard enough (think like 15-pounds of pressure), it sends an electric spark through the ignition assembly into the rocket. Once ignited the 20-inch long 66mm rocket burns all of its propellant instantly while still inside the tube's barrel. This gives the LAW a sound like a rifle 'crack' rather than the 'whoosh' shown in Hollywood movies With this crack, the 4-lb rocket speeds away and arms its warhead about 35-feet out (so no close shots here or you are throwing lawn darts). Range is listed as a wildly optimistic 3000-feet or so, but it's hard to hit anything more than a football field away. It's no longer powerful enough to penetrate the armor of modern tanks. However, modern versions of the LAW are still great for busting bunkers and slicing up light vehicles.
Once fired, the tube is largely worthless as a weapon and is discarded. Drilled inert, these tubes pop up everywhere online and at gun shows as military surplus. In the latest contract with the current producer, Talley Defense, for 7,750 M72A7s, the Marines are paying $1935 a pop for these little one-shot wonders. You can usually find the inert tubes on our end for about a tenth of that and make a nice addition to any war-room or man cave.
The M72A7 today. Even with K-pot helmets, ACU cammo, SAPI plates, etc, the LAW is still around. The more things change....the more they stay the same.