While the overall design of the system has remained constant since then – a gunner from 1948 could fire today’s system without almost no training – there has been constant innovation around components.
Saab has worked tirelessly to evolve the features of the weapon and its sights to ensure they meet the demands of modern troops. The release of the M4 saw the overall weight of the system reduced by more than three kilograms through the use of light-weight materials, such as titanium alloy, and an optimised design. Saab engineers also reduced the length of the weapon by 6cm and improved the overall ergonomics.
“We recognised that the weapon should be as light and manoeuvrable as possible because light infantry are often operating in tight spaces and jumping in and out of vehicles and buildings” Malcolm Arvidsson says.
Another factor in the Carl-Gustaf’s ongoing popularity is the nature of warfare. While technology has removed the human factor from some theatres of conflict, it remains crucial in others.
“In many parts of the world, the threat environment is not symmetrical,” he says. “Over the past 20 years, there’s been a rise in conflicts where the enemy is inside buildings in an urban environment. Engaging the enemy threat requires boots on the ground, and the troops involved need a weapon to solve their challenges.”
The sights for the Carl-Gustaf system have also undergone significant innovation. “The M4 can be fitted with an intelligent sight that can communicate with the rounds to increase the probability of hit,” Arvidsson says. “The sight looks at factors like the temperature of the propellant to carry out more accurate ballistic calculations. The gunner can choose whether a round should airburst, explode on impact, or penetrate a wall.” Meanwhile, guided missile munitions are also under development that would potentially allow system users to guide a round once it has been fired.
While the Carl-Gustaf system was initially produced for use by Sweden’s military, an extensive export business began in the 1960s to provide other nations' armed forces with the system. Arvidsson says while rival systems can offer some of the Carl-Gustaf’s features, none can offer all. “With the Carl-Gustaf system, the firing system is mechanical, so it works when you need it to. It’s light-weight, it’s versatile and it has a simple maintenance schedule. You would typically need two or even three other systems to solve all the challenges that Carl-Gustaf does.”
The system was born from Sweden’s desire in the 1930s and 40s to produce its own defence equipment and not be dependent on other nations. Arvidsson remarks that, as a result, it has certain Swedish characteristics. “It doesn’t overdo anything,” he says. “It’s built and designed for its purpose. It’s very robust, has a smart design and is extremely reliable. And the quality is high, which is something I think Sweden stands for.”