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Penn Arms GL-1 Compact Launcher

Combine Systems Inc. (CSI) was founded in 1981. It is a U.S. company offering products for military and law enforcement worldwide. More specifically, it concentrates on tactical munitions and crowd control devices. Combined Tactical Systems (CTS) is the law enforcement division of CSI, offering a huge array of chemical munitions, distraction devices and less-lethal rounds.

Penn Arms was founded in 1989, manufacturing various calibers of firearms for law enforcement and military forces. The Penn Arms’ specialty is single shot and multi-shot 37mm and 40mm launchers. Penn Arms had worked closely with CSI over the years, and they are now sister companies.

Penn Arms offers several models of 37/38mm and 40mm launchers. In the 37/38mm line, Penn Arms makes the single shot TL-1 launcher; the six-shot, spring-driven TL-8 multi-launcher and the six-shot, pump-action PL-8 multi-launcher. The 40mm line is quite similar to the single shot (TGL-1), six-shot, spring-driven (TGL-6) and six-shot, pump-action (PGL-65) launchers. The HGL models, which are similar in concept to the M203, and designed to be mounted under an assault rifle.

All of the stand-alone launchers feature the break-open design for breech loading. The different models of launchers are designed for specific ammunition from 40mm, 37mm and 37mm Sage / Arwen. Penn Arms even offers the Striker 12. This 12-gauge shotgun is semi-automatic and features a spring-fed 12-round detachable magazine.

Newest 40mm Launcher

Introduced at the 2009 SHOT Show, the newest launcher from Penn Arms is the GL-1 Compact in 40mm. We recently tested this launcher with the new CTS Spin Stabilized Foam Baton round. The GL-1 Compact is a lighter and shorter version of the TGL-1 single-shot launcher. Instead of the fixed or the top folding stock, the GL-1 Compact has a side-folding tube-frame stock. It also has a vertical fore-end grip that folds up to the fore-end. The GL-1 Compact is available only in 40mm.

The GL-1 Compact is a fully rifled, single-shot 40mm launcher with a break-open design for loading similarly to a single-shot shotgun. The barrel release lever to open the breech is ambidextrous. The two paddles—one on each side of the launcher just above and in front of the trigger—come together over the receiver, forming the notched fixed rear site of the weapon. The paddles were large and very easy to operate with the tip of the trigger finger.

The GL-1 features a double-action trigger with a trigger / hammer lock push safety located directly behind the trigger, similar to the Remington 870-series of shotguns. The trigger pull was very, very long with the hammer being released at its farthest point to the rear of its range of motion. At first it seemed a little too long, but because of its smooth consistent pull, we became comfortable with it after only a dozen rounds.

The GL-1 Compact comes with a side folding stock, adjustable front pistol grip and a four-rail system for mounting accessories. The folding stock with soft rubber shoulder pad was easily collapsed and extended by pushing down on the swivel pin. The shoulder pad is of a soft enough rubber that grips nicely as a shoulder weapon. The handle trigger housing is made of a heavy black composite material, as well as the front pistol grip. The rest of the launcher is metal with a dull / non-reflective black finish.

Short and Sweet

With the stock folded, the Compact launcher measures just 17 inches, a full inch shorter than the full-size version. With the stock extended, the GL-1 Compact measures 27 inches, which is 2 inches shorter than the full-size version. With the stock extended, it locks firmly into place, and the lock-up is very secure and rigid. The cheekweld is not much to talk about, but the weapon is solid and feels very well manufactured.

The barrel length is a full 12 inches like the full-size launcher for maximum accuracy. It has six obvious rifling grooves and a 1 in 47-inch rate of twist.

The rail system that came on the new launcher consisted of a long rail that ran the length of the top of the barrel back to the rear sight. The hood-protected front post sight was adjustable for elevation. The front post was incorporated into the very end of the rail just shy of the muzzle for the maximum sight radius. Overall, the notch rear sight and the post front sight were adequate, but a little more “high visibility” on the front post and rear notched site would be nice for low-light shooting.

The top rail is secured to the launcher by two Allen screws into the receiver / trigger housing. Attached to that top rail are two rings that encircle the barrel one at both ends. These rings have multiple threaded holes to move existing rails to. Eleven different positions are available, not including the top rail. Our GL-1 Compact had a side rail on each side and a bottom rail. This gives the operator a limitless ability to customize the weapon with any combination of white lights, laser sights, optical sights, etc.

Two sling loops were mounted on the Compact launcher. One was located on the left-hand side of the trigger housing just in front of the stock. The other was located at the end of the left side rail closest to the rear site. The rail is capable of being turned 180 degrees to move the sling loop to the very front of the weapon if so desired.

Shooting Impressions

Straight from the box, the GL-1 Compact was ready to go. The launcher is so simple in design and operation that an operator will only have to handle it a few minutes to feel completely comfortable with all its features and capabilities. At 6 pounds (unloaded) the GL-1 could easily be fired one-handed if necessary. Just to prove the point of how handy this down-sized launcher is, we fired it one-handed with the stock and fore-grip folded so that the launcher looked like a massive handgun. Against full-size mannequins from 50 yards, we got solid hits.

With virtually no recoil or report from the CTS 40mm Spin Stabilized Foam Baton rounds, and with the outstanding accuracy from this combination, the GL-1 Compact was truly a joy to fire. From a purely visual standpoint, the launcher is impressive and bound to be a deterrent. Looking down the huge barrel of the 40mm launcher has to be intimidating for subjects. They can’t like the looks of this launcher or what might be coming next.

We used the CTS Spin Stabilized Foam Baton 40mm round exclusively in our testing. This less-lethal impact projectile is spin stabilized utilizing the rifling of the launcher. It can be fired from any M203, M79 or similarly styled 40mm launcher. The rubber foam (sponge) ogive compresses on impact, allowing the round’s kinetic energy to be transferred to the target over a larger, safer and more effective surface area.

Designed specifically for rifled launchers, these rounds were extremely accurate. The “optimal range” cited by the manufacturer is 3 meters (10 feet) to 30 meters (100 feet). We fired multiple rounds at these ranges and obtained 1.5-inch to 4.0-inch groups, respectively. The rounds were also accurate well past 30 meters. Easily compensating for the projectile drop, we got consistent, reliable and predictable hits at both 40 yards and 50 yards.

With the shot placement of less-lethal munitions being so critical, it is obvious why the manufacturer would limit its suggested range. They also warn in writing that “Shots to the head, neck, thorax, heart or spine can result in fatal or serious injury.”

At the extreme ranges, we had about an 8-inch drop at 40 yards and an 18-inch drop at 50 yards, point of aim versus point of impact. The problem with these ranges is that you must aim at the exact parts of the body you are not supposed to hit. So in worst-case scenario, the range of the impact munitions is definitely there for a longer shot, but this is also against manufacturer’s recommended usage.

40mm Foam Baton

The foam (sponge) rubber projectile weighs 60 grams / 925 grains. With a velocity of 250 feet per second, that puts the kinetic energy of the projectile at the muzzle at 128 foot-pounds. To put that in perspective, imagine being hit by a solid foam rubber projectile about the size of a racquetball at Major League fastball speeds. Or a solid punch from a professional boxer. Let’s just say this 40mm foam baton has definitely got the “thump” to get anyone’s attention.

Reload kits for the 40mm foam baton are available from CTS. Each kit consists of shell cases, rotating bands, and foam ogives in quantities of 48, 72, 96, and 120. These kits are for training purposes only. Hand loaders on your department cannot just deprime the cartridge case inside the plastic shell casing and install a new primer. The 40mm foam is propelled by a small amount of smokeless gunpowder, like a blank firing cartridge. A new primer by itself won’t even push the 40mm projectile out of the case. The 40mm projectile propelling system is similar to the M781 40mm practice round, which uses a M212 high and low pressure chamber cartridge case.

The Penn Arms GL-1 Compact and the CTS Spin Stabilized Foam Baton 40mm rounds are definitely a winning combination. Consistency and accuracy are the keys words to look for in any less-lethal munitions, and this launcher-projectile system definitely gives you both. We can only imagine that the future as sister companies will bring the law enforcement community more quality paired products like these.

Don Munson is a deputy sheriff with the Benton County, IN Sheriff’s Department, and he is point man with his multi-agency response team. He can be reached at

Published in Tactical Response, May/Jun 2009

Rating : 10.0

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