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Saab Global
Assistant gunner loading Carl-Gustaf M4 with programmable ammo High Explosive 448

What is Ground Combat?

Modern warfare is often considered to take place in five key domains: in the sky; on land; at sea; in space; and in cyberspace. The term ‘ground combat’ or ‘ground warfare’ refers to fighting which takes place on the planet’s surface, typically involving land forces such as infantry, combat vehicles and artillery.

The purpose of ground combat is to find, engage and neutralise the enemy and to win territory. Soldiers will try to gain key pieces of infrastructure and tactical positions while inflicting the maximum possible damage on the enemy.

A key component of modern ground warfare is ‘dismounted close combat’, in which the majority of combatants travel on foot, rather than in vehicles such as personnel carriers. Such troops may come from military branches including infantry, special forces and marines.

Dismounted close combat may take place is a variety of terrains from city centres to rural areas. Increasingly, it is undertaken in complex urban environments where soldiers need to be aware of non-combatants and must navigate hazards such as rubble and electrical wires. Troops also often need to deal with main battle tanks equipped with specialised urban survivability kits that help them adapt to complex city environments.

Soldier  with an NLAW on its back climbing over obstacle.
Soldier carrying  an AT4 weapon in urban warfare.

Benefits of disposable weapons

Many modern ground combat weapons are built for repeated use; they may be fired, then reloaded, and then fired again. But there are also situations where disposable, single-use weapons can deliver a powerful tactical advantage.

In general terms, disposable ground combat weapons tend to be lighter and more agile than their reloadable counterparts. They may also be simpler and more affordable.

These attributes mean that disposable weapons can often be distributed in greater numbers and to a far wider range of soldiers than regular weapons. This creates the potential for troops to fire multiple weapons at once when they encounter the enemy, unleashing enormous destructive fire power. The effect on, say, a convoy of armoured vehicle caught by surprise can be devastating.

Our AT4 disposable recoilless weapon is an example of a light-weight disposable armament that delivers major fire power. Weapons in the AT4 family deliver 84 mm rounds, including anti-armour, anti-personnel and anti-structure rounds.

Soldier carrying a AT4 weapon in its strap.

Extremely powerful weapons can also be disposable, such as our Next-Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon (NLAW). Weighing just 12.5 kilograms, it is one-man portable. NLAW’s top-overfly-attack mode allows it to destroy modern battle tanks even if they are largely hidden behind objects and have added protection systems. NLAW’s warhead can penetrate armour that is more than 500mm thick.

Recoilless - designed with the user in mind

When a gun of any sort is fired, powerful explosive forces propel the projectile forward and out of the barrel. The laws of physics dictate that a powerful backwards force – known as recoil – is also produced.

Recoilless rifles are ground-combat weapons that are designed to neutralise recoil, allowing troops to fire relatively large rounds from their shoulders without being knocked off their feet or otherwise harmed. Spiral grooves or ‘rifles’ in the barrels of such weapons cause some classes of projectiles to spin when fired, creating a more stable trajectory and enhancing accuracy. (Other rounds rely on fins to improve stability.)

Soldier holds the Carl-Gustaf M4 in its handle.
Carl-Gustaf M4 lies on the ground.


Saab's Carl-Gustaf system is one of the most widely used and respected recoilless rifle systems in use on the planet today. First developed in 1948, it has evolved through several generations and can now be used in combination with more than 10 specialised 84-millimetre rounds, including anti-tank and anti-structure rounds. The system neutralises recoil by channelling a portion of the gases generated by detonation of the round out of the rear of the weapon.

Meanwhile, our disposable AT4 family of weapons and the man-portable Next-Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon (NLAW) use a different system to neutralise recoil. A counter mass is used to absorb the backblast, allowing these weapons to be used in confined spaces. Because the AT4 and NLAW do not have rifled barrels, they are regarded as recoilless weapons rather than recoilless rifles.

Greater firepower with support weapons

Troops undertaking ground combat missions are normally equipped with personal weapons in the form of a rifle or carbine, or sometimes a pistol. While these ‘small arms’ play a useful role in engaging and neutralising the enemy, greater fire power is often required to seize strategic targets.

This is where ground combat support weapons have a role. While still being man portable, such weapons significantly increase the effect that troops are able to deliver, increasing their ability to neutralise multiple enemy combatants and take on armoured vehicles. Common infantry support weapons include recoilless rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, mortars, and anti-tank missiles. Saab delivers an extremely powerful combination of support weapons through its Carl-Gustaf recoilless rifle, AT4 disposable recoilless system and the NLAW anti-tank weapon.

Soldier engages target with NLAW.

Depending on the model, the Carl-Gustaf weapon weighs in at 7 kilograms and can be paired with more than 10 specialised 84 mm rounds. The system provides anti-structure, anti-armour and anti-personnel capabilities as well as general support capabilities, such as smoke and illumination. It can be used by a single operator.

Our AT4 disposable weapon comes preloaded, is simple to use and does not require significant training. Like the Carl-Gustaf system, the AT4 may be used in combination with modern computerized fire-control devices. Meanwhile, our tank-killing NLAW system weighs just 12.5 kilograms and can be fired by a single operator, even in a confined space.

Weapons for destroying a tank

Tanks can play a decisive role in modern warfare, delivering a lethal combination of major fire power, mobility, and armoured protection. The development of counter-measure technologies such as explosive reactive armour (ERA) and active protection systems (APS) has made tanks even more difficult to destroy.

Today, a select range of weapons provide dismounted ground forces with the ability to stop modern tanks in their tracks. These are mainly anti-tank missiles that attack a tank’s more vulnerable surfaces and employ tandem charges to defeat countermeasure systems. Unfortunately, many systems are so heavy that a stand is required for use and multiple soldiers are required to carry them into position.

Saab produces an industry-leading solution in its New Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon (NLAW). Weighing just 12.5 kilograms, NLAW is effective at destroying modern battle tanks, has a combat range of 20 to 800 metres and can be fired within a few seconds of a target being detected. It is unique among anti-tank weapons in that it can be carried into position and used by a single soldier. This allows it to be fired from an infinite number of firing positions, creating a fearsome, distributed anti-tank capability.
NLAW offers the option of overfly top attack mode in which the missile flies above the top of the top of tank, and then launches a deadly attack on the turret, This also allows the operator to fire at – and destroy – tanks that are largely obscured by other objects.

Read more about NLAW - "Game changer against tanks"

Other weapons within our range of ground combat support weapons can also be effective against tanks in certain situations. When used in combination with an anti-tank round, the Carl-Gustaf recoilless rifle can destroy a modern battle tank given a favourable attitude. The AT4 84mm disposable weapon is capable of destroying legacy tanks.

OTA explained

Our NLAW system is a easy system to use. Watch this video to see how it uses PLOS (predicted line of sight) and OTA (Overfly-top-attack) to enable its powerful shape charge warhead hit the tank at it´s weakest point - the turent. Maximising the potential damage to the tank.

Video - 00:18

What is the perfect weapon?

If we set no bounds on our imaginations, the perfect weapon might be a jet fighter that can travel at light speed. Or a rifle that can accurately take out a coin-sized target on the other side of the planet. Neither are likely to be achieved any time soon.

But if we more realistically define a perfect weapon as one that meets all the needs of its user in a particular field of combat, then there’s a better chance perfection can one day be achieved.

Ground combat troops, for example, require weapons that enable them to achieve their objectives of neutralising enemy troops and winning territory in complex environments. The perfect ground combat weapon would be light-weight, easy to use and to train on, and able to be distributed in large numbers. It would be able to fire a wide range of rounds and have modern MBT-killing capabilities. It would also be suitable for use in confined spaces and be completely maintenance free.

No weapon system in the world today delivers all these attributes in one package. However, Saab’s recoilless ground combat weapons, the Carl-Gustaf, AT4 and NLAW can be used in combination to deliver all these capabilities. Together, they are taking armed forces around the world a step closer to perfection.

Read more on our view on the 'perfect' weapon.