The Different Types of U.S. Army Mortars

Mortars have been a important part of the United States Army artillery for a long time. They are primarily used as support for infantry forces. Accuracy has always been a challenge for mortar units, but technology is making great strides in the development of more accurate mortar systems.

In today’s post, we are going to take a look at the different types of U.S. Army mortars. We will also talk a little about the progress being made for a more accurate mortar system. These are the current mortar systems the United States Army utilizes:

Light Mortars

The M224 is a 6o-mm light, short range mortar weapon. It weighs just under 50 pounds and can be used either in a conventional mode, or handheld. The maximum range for the M224 is 3,500 meters. A newer, lighter model has been being used which is designated the M224A1. It is approximately 10 pounds lighter. The M224 primarily fires these types of ammunition:

  • High explosive M720 and M888

  • White phosphorous M722

  • Illumination M721

The M224 is used to support light infantry, airborne, and special operation forces. The average rate of fire is 20 rounds per minute.

Medium Mortars

Currently the Army uses 2 medium range mortar systems. They are both 81-mm. The M29A1 is slowly being phased out and the M252 is taking its place. The M29A1 has a shorter maximum range at 4,600 meters whereas the M252’s maximum range is listed at 5,800 meters. The M252 also carries a sustained rate of fire at 15 rounds per minute, and the M29A1 only carries 8 rounds per minute. It just makes good sense that the Army is moving to the M252.

The operation of the M252 is a squad of 5 personnel. The squad leader stands behind the system directing operations. The gunner is at the left of the system and controls the elevation and trajectory. The assistant gunner is to the right and is the person who loads the shell. The first ammunition bearer is behind the assistant gunner and prepares the shells and fuzes. The second ammunition bearer stands behind the first ammunition bearer and keeps written records of everything that occurs.

The M252 fires these types of ammo:

  • High explosive M821 and M889

  • Red phosphorous M819

  • Illumination M853A1

Heavy Mortars

The United States Army has used the 107-mm M30 large mortars, but they are being done away with for the more popular 120-mm M120 and M121. The M120 system has a range maximum of 7,200 meters and has a sustained fire rate of 4 rounds per minute. The design was introduced via Soltam Systems of Israel who makes the Soltam K6. The M120 is quite similar.

The difference between the M120 and M121 are just how they are moved. The M120 is moved via a trailer whereas the M121 is equipped on the self-propelled M1064A3 vehicle.

This heavy mortar system fires:

  • High explosive M57

  • White phosphorous M68

  • Illumination M91

Picatinny Arsenal is hard at work designing GPS guided shells that will provide a more accurate system for the M120. They are also working on a complete digital system of mortars that will be safer, and more accurate.

Final Thoughts

As time moves forward, mortar systems are adapting. Mortars have been a greatly used weapon throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Their usefulness in supplying cover for ground troops makes the mortar systems a needed tool in war. They are also used to mark areas for bombers and to illuminate areas for airborne operations.

What are your opinions about the mortar systems the United States Army uses? What improvements do you think they could make?

We would also like to hear from anyone that has served with a mortar squad. You can tell us in the comment section below.  Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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