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A mortar is usually a simple, lightweight, man portable, muzzle-loaded weapon, consisting of a smooth-bore metal tube fixed to a base plate (to absorb recoil) with a lightweight bipod mount. They launch explosive shells in high-arcing ballistic trajectories. Mortars are typically used as indirect fire weapon for close fire support with a variety of ammunition.
Mortar carriers are vehicles which carry a mortar as a primary weapon. Numerous vehicles have been used to mount mortars, from improvised civilian trucks used by insurgents, to modified Infantry fighting vehicles, such as variants of the M3 half track and M113 armored personnel carrier, to vehicles specifically intended to carry a mortar. Simpler vehicles carry a standard infantry mortar while in more complex vehicles the mortar is fully integrated into the vehicle and cannot be dismounted from the vehicle. Mortar carriers cannot be fired while on the move and some must be dismounted to fire.
There are numerous AFVs and even MBTs that can be equipped with a mortar, either outside or inside of the cabin. The Israeli Merkava tank uses a 60 mm mortar as a secondary armament. The Russian army uses the 2S4 Tyulpan (Tulip) self-propelled 240 mm heavy mortar which is one of the largest mortars in current use.
Most modern mortar systems consist of three main components: a barrel, a base plate, and a bipod. Modern mortars normally range in calibre from 60 mm (2.36 in) to 120 mm (4.72 in). However, both larger and smaller mortars have been produced.
The modern mortar is a muzzle-loaded weapon and relatively simple and easy to operate. It consists of a tube into which the gunners drop a mortar round. When the round reaches the base of the tube it hits a fixed firing pin that fires the round. The tube is generally set at an angle of between 45 and 85 degrees to the ground, with the higher angle producing a shorter horizontal round trajectory. Some mortars have a moving firing pin, operated by a lanyard or trigger mechanism.