M203 generally refers to the United States Army designation for a single shot 40 mm grenade launcher that attaches to the M16 assault rifle or the M4 Carbine. Stand-alone variants exist as do versions capable of being used on many other rifles. The device attaches under the barrel and forward of the magazine, the trigger for it being just forward of the magazine. The magazine functions as a handle of sorts when firing for the M203. A separate sighting system is added to rifles with the M203 as the rifle's regular sights are not matched to the launcher. The M203 can fire high-explosive, smoke, illuminating, buckshot direct fire, CS gas, and training grenades.
The M203 was introduced to US military forces during the early 1970's, and replaced the older M79 grenade launcher. However, while the M79 was a separate weapon entirely, the M203 was designed in order to increase the efficiency at which a soldier could alternate between bullet fire and HE grenade fire.
It is sometimes thought that the M203 was a poor replacement for the M79, as while the M79 was quick to reload and more or less accurate under adverse conditions, such as in Vietnam War, the M203 was more difficult to operate, and could be sent off-target more easily by variables such as a gust of wind.
A new grenade launcher in development, the XM320, will likely replace the 203 in United States service eventually. The XM320 weighs more than the M203, but has some added benefits.
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