The Denel PAW-20 "Neopup" ("Personal Area Weapon, 20mm") of South African origin is a unique and advanced 20mm semi-automatic grenade launcher currently in development. The weapon utilizes various 20mm point-detonating rounds fired from a detachable box (or rotary drum) magazine through a rather uniquely configured receiver. Design work on the weapon began in 1999 and is ongoing as of this writing (2012). The PAW-20 intends to compete with the popular breeds of 40mm grenade launchers currently available including the American M203 series and developmental American/German XM25. Design of the weapon is attributed to Tony Neophytou with manufacture by Gemaco Elbree PTY Ltd and marketing by the South African state-owned defense powerhouse Denel PTY Ltd. Denel itself is formed of several divisions including Denel Aviation, Denel Dynamics and Denel Land Systems.
The PAW-20 design is something of a hybrid between a traditional assault rifle and a grenade launcher. It certainly shares many visible characteristics with the modern assault rifle and is of a rather compact size for a weapon of this class. However, the PAW-20 is chambered for a large 20mm cartridge, a projectile normally reserved for vehicle- and aircraft-mounted cannons. As such, the PAW-20 is a rather devastating weapon to consider especially at the squad-level, bringing large-caliber firepower to the mix alongside traditional automatic weaponry. The option of firing grenades as opposed to traditional bullets at an enemy certainly holds its own advantages - grenades have a way of "finding" targets that are out of line-of-sight due to their inherent "spray" qualities. One must also consider the benefits of such a weapon for "light" infantry units such as special forces, airborne troops or reconnaissance groups - for all these could benefit greatly from a portable 20mm weapon system alongside their automatic weapons.
The most unique aspect of the PAW-20's design is its overall arrangement. While sharing an appearance akin to assault rifles of today, the PAW-20 incorporates features that make it a wholly unique weapon. This includes setting the pistol grip and trigger to the right side of the receiver. The grip and trigger are shrouded over by an extending cover emanating from the receiver itself. The operator manages the trigger in a conventional way and tucks the buttstock into the shoulder prior to firing as with any rifle system. The free hand supports the forward end of the weapon as in a normal "long gun" by way of a forward handguard wrapped around the barrel and gas cylinder. The weapon's unique arrangement attempts to control the inherently violent recoil effects of firing such a large and powerful cartridge. As such, the weapon is designed to recoil apart from the stock itself. Truth be told, the recoil force is manageable but there is still something to be felt from firing the 20mm projectile. The overall design is sleek and modern, finished in a flat black, with a red-dot type collimating sight fitted over the receiver (side-by-side Picatinny rails provided as standard for other specialized optics use). The large ejection port is set to the left side of the receiver and operates similar to that of an assault rifle extraction system. The magazine well can accept a standard 7-round detachable box magazine or a 6-round rotary drum and a stock is fitted to the rear of the weapon for a firm "three-point" hold in the traditional sense.
The weapon sports an overall length of 845mm with a 375mm barrel assembly. Weight is equal to 6 kilograms when unloaded. Range is out to 1,000 meters though this is dependent on ammunition type being used as well as environmental factors. Typical operating ranges are stated under 400 meters while point targets can be hit out to 600 meters. Muzzle velocity is 984 feet per second.
A unique operational aspect of the PAW-20 is its ability to "collapse" the forward region of the gun within itself, bringing the running length of the weapon down from 33.3 inches to 30 inches. This space-saving measure makes for a slightly more compact system as a whole and beneficial in particular to those infantry required to carry the weapon for hours on patrol. In this mode, the weapon can still be effectively reloaded and cocked for the ready though not fired until completely extended. Extension is accomplished by management of a simply release latch.
Overall, the PAW-20 functions essentially as a conventional assault weapon. An integrated sight allows for precision firing at range while the firing operation itself revolves around a tried and true gas-operated system with a rotating bolt. This follows in line with many of the popular assault rifles today. The firing action is semi-automatic in nature, requiring a trigger pull for each round fired. While the base design of the PAW-20 might seem limiting to left-handed shooters, the weapon can be fired from the left shoulder - though with the right hand remaining as primary and the left hand used as forward support. The PAW-20 is, therefore, not a truly ambidextrous weapon in that respect but not entirely restricted to right-handed shooters.
The heart and soul of the PAW-20 system is undoubtedly its collection of 20x42mm point-detonating projectiles (these developed by the Denel PMP division). There are four different basic types of cartridges available and these include HEI (High-Explosive, Incendiary), SAPHE (Semi-Armor Piercing, High-Explosive), APC (Armor-Piercing, Capped) and Practice (PRAC) rounds. Each bears a distinct design and finish color to visually distinguish them from one another. The HEI projectile features a brass-colored snub-nose cap with a yellow body containing a red band. The SAPHEI is similar though completed with a more conical nose cap that sports a black finish. The APG round is all-black with a decidedly pointed tip. The Practice round features a blunt nose cap and is colored light blue for quick identification.
The 20mm shell has proven to cut clean through wood and steel surfaces with relative ease, broadening the tactical applications of the weapon significantly. This allows the PAW-20 operator the capability to counter threats posed from entrenched enemy infantry, "technicals" and lightly-armored vehicles. Denel markets the use of these 20mm grenades as a sound choice over that of the more popular 40mm types. The 20mm flies along a straighter trajectory with increased accuracy at range and weighs a fraction of the 40mm - three 20mm projectiles can be carried for each 40mm type. Reloading is also quickened by the use of a smaller cartridge (particularly when set in magazine form) while ranges are further increased. With that said, 40mm grenade launchers are typically fielded as secondary weapons alongside primary assault weapons such as the M16 rifle. The PAW-20, however, is regarded as a standalone weapon intended to be the primary option for a dedicated infantryman trained in its use. A PAW-20 soldier would then have the capability to carry as many as 60 to 80 grenades into combat to which, when considering that the suppression effects of a grenade over that of a bullet, certainly hold an advantage. Each 20mm cartridge also operates with an inherent "burst effect" that is not range-dependent - a target at 20 yards away is just as susceptible to carnage as a target at 40 yards with no adjustment being necessary on the part of the firer. Unlike conventional bullet cartridges, a grenade can cause damage to a target or target area even with a near miss thanks to its explosive nature. The PAW-20 can, therefore, be used as a point target weapon, a suppression effect weapon and an area saturation weapon as needed, this across natural terrains as well as urban settings. Denel marketing material also hints at the prospects of the PAW-20 as a "less than lethal" anti-riot weapon firing applicable rounds. This can serve well in peacekeeping and security endeavors.
As it stands, the PAW-20 is termed in "advanced development" and has yet to be adopted by any one national army. Its protracted development and extremely dedicated battlefield role - not to mention expected costs per unit - may perhaps damage its overall reach on the lucrative military market. However, the weapon does fill a noticeable void as a very unique and impressive combat weapon system that seems to be truly lacking on the modern battlefield.