The original British Ordnance ML 3-inch Mortar of World War 2 proved its worth and then some throughout the global conflict. The weapon was fielded in great numbers with British Army and Commonwealth Forces and found a home in a few other global inventories. The type served well into the 1960s by which time thought was given to providing indirect fire elements a new, more modern weapon system. A joint Canadian-United Kingdom development effort produced the excellent L16 81mm series, to which the type was accepted into service with the British Army in 1965 as the L16A1. It has since been improved with the follow up L16A2 with a plethora of nations following the UK lead.
The L16 serves as an "indirect fire" weapon meaning that line-of-sight of the target is not a requirement for the operating crew. The mortar instead attacks a target area as opposed to a direct target and supplies accompanying infantry with fire support during an offensive or defensive action. Systems such as the L16 are designed to be somewhat portable but they can also be fired from vehicles designed to mount the weapon (usually a tracked carrier). In this fashion, the L16 becomes a highly mobile fire support system capable of going wherever the modern mechanized force can go. Additionally, its portability means that the L16 can be transported at speed and setup within a short window of time, ready to attack enemy emplacements as directed. The L16 - and its global derivatives - have proven highly effective in its roles to date.
Design for the new infantry-level mortar began in 1956 under the leadership of the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment and Fort Halstead. Fort Halstead was charged with the development of the barrel and bipod assemblies. After evaluations and formal acceptance, a serial production effort was initiated with Royal Ordnance heading up the move. Production began promptly and, in 1965 and into 1966, the L16 mortar series formally replaced the wartime Ordnance ML 3-inch Mortar system within the inventory of the British Army. The weapon went on to see extensive combat service in Borneo, South Arabia, Oman, the Falklands War, the Balkans War, the Gulf War of 1991, the invasion of Afghanistan and - most recently - in the invasion of Iraq in support of coalition forces. All told, the L16 has proven a reliable and robust gunnery platform in all environments.
Like other mortars in this class, the L16 breaks down into several main components made up of the launch tube, the bipod support assembly, the baseplate, optics and ammunition. The launch tube connects to the bipod support assembly which mounts the requisite optics and elevation/traverse controls, all of which are manually actuated. The bipod acts as a forward support, giving the L16 the needed arc of fire. The baseplate is designed to dig into the earth and retard the recoil blast of the exiting projectile. Similarly, the bipod support also features a spring-buffeted mounting clamp. The optics help the operator to sight the target area and adjust the elevation and traverse controls for accurized fire. The projectiles are entered into the open muzzle end of the smoothbore launch tube and drop down to strike the awaiting firing pin which enacts the projectile to exit the tube. The flight path is basic and consists of a predetermined arc set by the mortar team. The L16 is typically crewed by three specially trained personnel making up the mortar team. Overall, the weapon weighs in at 78lbs and sports a launch tube length of 4 feet, 2 inches.
The L16 fires a standardized 81mm High-Explosive (HE) round. The crew also has access to a smoke and an illumination/flare projectile which can be used strategically to create a smoke screen for advancing allied forces or light up enemy targets at night. Each shell weighs in at 9.5lbs. A trained crew can let-off up to 12 rounds of sustained mortar fire while 20 rounds per minute can be achieved for short periods of time due to barrel overheating. Each projectile exits the launch tube at approximately 740 feet per second and yield a range of up to 5,560 yards depending on ammunition type. The weapon is sighted via an Optical C2 system with Trilux illumination.
Beyond the British and Canadian armies, the L16 has been inducted into the inventories of Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Brazil, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Luxembourg, Malawi, Morocco, Malaysia, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, the United States, Yemen and Zimbabwe. Both the American and Australian armies saw value in the new L16 and purchased the type in quantity. Within their respective inventories, the L16 is known as the M252 and the F2 81mm Mortar. Interestingly, Luxembourg was also an operator of the World War 2-era Ordnance ML 3-inch Mortar.
Manufacturing Royal Ordnance - UK
Australia; Austria; Bahrain; Belize; Brazil; Canada; Guyana; India; Jamaica; Japan; Kenya; Luxembourg; Malawi; Malta; Morocco; Malaysia; Malta; Netherlands; Nepal; New Zealand; Nigeria; Norway; Oman; Portugal; Qatar; Rhodesia; Somalia; Syria; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; United States; Yemen; Zimbabwe
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