M202 FLASH: The Army's man-portable, four-barrel rocket launcher - We Are The Mighty
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M202 FLASH: The Army’s man-portable, four-barrel rocket launcher

The Army’s recent order of a four-bore rifle prototype made some waves. It’s a pretty exciting piece of technology, but if it gets picked up, it won’t be the first four-barrel weapon that American troops have fielded. And while this new prototype rifle fires 6mm rounds at an impressive rate, the older system packed a bigger wallop.

This older four-barrel system wasn’t a rifle, however, it was a rocket launcher called the M202 FLASH. “FLASH,” in this case, stood for FLame Assault SHoulder weapon. It packed four 66-millimeter M74 rockets that were held together by a clip.


As the full name of the rocket launcher suggests, the rockets were equipped with incendiary warheads. It replaced the traditional flamethrowers that had seen a lot of action in World War II, much to the relief of the grunts who once carried them.

M202 FLASH: The Army’s man-portable, four-barrel rocket launcher
Traditional flamethrowers, like this M2 being used in the Pacific Theater, were effective, but had a lot of drawbacks. (US Army)

Traditional flamethrowers were backpack-mounted. The canisters on their backs were filled with what was, essentially, jellied gasoline. To make matters worse for the GI carrying a large, flammable target on their back, they had to get within 47 yards of the enemy to use a traditional flamethrower.

While flamethrowers were devastating to enemy positions and extremely effective at clearing terrain, the guy who carried it on his back was in danger of becoming a very crispy critter should his flamethrower get hit. And there’s no hiding who’s carrying a flamethrower. This made the specially-trained operators a target.

M202 FLASH: The Army’s man-portable, four-barrel rocket launcher
The M202 entered service in 1978 and has seen action in the Global War on Terror. (US Army)

The M202A1 eliminated a lot of those drawbacks. Any number of grunts could be trained to use the system. The weapon is still distinctive but, according to U.S. Army Training Circular 23-2, it has a maximum range of just over 800 yards. While you’re not always going to be firing from maximum range, it’s a lot better than being within a stone’s throw.

Each of the M74 rockets fired by the M202 packed about 1.3 pounds of what the Army called a “thickened pyrophoric agent,” called triethylaluminum. This burned at temperatures of up to 2200 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to white phosphorus (“Willie Pete”).

The M202 has been obscured — largely because it had its share of hiccups. Still, it’s seen some action in the War on Terror — and in a few of our favorite movies and games. The M202 made an appearance in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando, Capcom’s Resident Evil, and Overkill Software’s Payday 2.

M202 FLASH: The Army’s man-portable, four-barrel rocket launcher
Take that, T-Virus. (Capcom)

-Feature image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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