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Weapons: Irreplaceable
   Next Article → IRAQ: Getting The Genie Back In The Bottle

September 15, 2008: The U.S. Army has given up on getting a replacement for the nearly century old M2 .50 caliber (12.7mm) machine-gun. At least not anytime soon. Many of the current ones are wearing out, so the army is replacing over 80 percent of its 36,600 M2 machine-guns in the next five years, with new M2s. Efforts to develop a replacements for the M2 have failed so far.

For example, three years ago, field testing of the XM-312, the chief contender to replace the M-2, began, in the United States and overseas. Then, nothing. That's because the test results were not encouraging, the biggest shortcoming being the low rate of fire (about 260 rounds per minute). This is about half the rate of the M2, and was believed adequate for the 25mm smart shells the XM312 was originally designed for (as the XM307). But for 12.7mm bullets, it didn't impress the troops. There were some reliability problems (the M2 has one jam per 10,000 rounds), which were believed fixable. The rate-of-fire issue, however, has proved to be more difficult. Meanwhile, a new upgrade for the M2 has been fielded, and Ma Deuce still rules the battlefield. The new M2E2 has a quick change barrel, flash hider and lot of small improvements. It is much in demand.

Originally, the M2 replacement was going to be the M-307, which was designed so it could fire either the computer controlled 25mm "smart shell" of the XM-25, or (by changing the barrel and receiver), .50 caliber ammo. But it was felt that a straight replacement for the M-2 was needed quickly. The original plan was for the troops to begin getting the XM312 in 2008, or sooner. Didn't happen.

The M-2, nicknamed "Ma Deuce" by the troops, has been around so long because it was very good at what it did. Accurate, reliable, rugged and easy to use, many of the M-2s currently in use are decades old, and finally wearing out. The army didn't want to build new ones, and wasn't sure it could do without the venerable, and very useful, Ma Deuce. So it tried to develop a new .50 caliber machine-gun (the XM312). The XM312 weighs 36 pounds (compared to 50 for the M-2), even with the addition of the electronic fire control stuff from the XM307.

The fire control system, especially the range finder, makes the XM312 much more accurate with first shot hits. American troops testing the XM312 also reacted favorably to the lighter weight and fire control electronics. But the lower rate-of-fire on the XM-312 was a deal killer to the many troops who had used the M2 in combat recently.

The 25mm "smart shell" of the M307 is still a promising concept, but what the troops really want is a heavy shell that can fire through walls, vehicles and take out enemy troops with one bullet. The 12.7mm bullet does all that. For long range grenades, the troops still prefer the 40mm Mk19. The army has 23,000 of these, and many are old and worn out. Not as bad as the M2 situation, but the army is buying 4,600 new ones over the next few years.

Both the M2 and Mk19 have a max range of 2,000 meters. The Mk19 rate of fire is about 350 rounds a minute, and is usually fired in short (a few rounds) bursts of these 19 ounce grenades (which kill or incapacitate most people with six meters of the explosion). The Mk19 is more complex and expensive ($22,000 each) than the M2 ($14,000 each) and jams more frequently. But it is reliable enough to remain popular and in demand.

The M2 has become even more popular with the addition of night and thermal sights. With these, you can spot enemy troops, over a thousand meters away, at night, as they try to sneak up on you. You can eliminate the threat before they get within rifle or RPG range.

Next Article → IRAQ: Getting The Genie Back In The Bottle
  

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aki009    Fallout from 1968 and 1986   9/15/2008 1:06:53 PM
The current deplorable state of infantry weapons development can be traced to the 1968 and 1986 machine gun bans. By taking out the lucrative civilian market that rewards good new designs, the private development of machine guns of all calibers withered and died. Now government driven development efforts routinely suffer from the design-by-committee syndrome, with little to show for decades of failed attempts at defining and developing new guns.
 
It's telling that all major infantry weapons currently in use were designed before 1968, and that many attempts at introducing replacements were either failures right out of the gate, or quickly phased out in favor of what was used before.

 
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flamingknives       9/15/2008 1:31:50 PM
FN Minimi, in service as the SAW - Introduced 1974.
Beretta 92FS in service as the M9 - designed 1972
Javelin - designed late 1980s

How many civilians buy machine guns anyway? Not rifles, machine guns. A tiny percentage of military procurement, I'm sure.

Finally, American machine guns have never been the best, with design flaws and production errors. It's telling that the modern machine guns in US Army service are Belgian.
 
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Camp       9/15/2008 2:54:32 PM
Out of curiosity. How does Singapore's CIS 50MG heavy machine gun compare to the Browning M2? Is it any better?
 
 
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jak267       9/15/2008 7:09:12 PM
The point is that the M2 doesn't need replacing. It does what it does - and what troops need - very well. And so does the M19. Trying to combine both in one, more expensive, more complex weapon seems to be pointless.
 
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Gerry       9/15/2008 8:41:56 PM
"If it ain't broke don't fix it". It does the job, is reliable, doesn't jam very often and can be easily cleared.  Just make it even more reliable, reduce the weight , add some better sights, and range finders . Just a few tweeks here and there, no major overhaul.
 
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slntax       9/15/2008 10:42:08 PM
the m2 weighs about 80 pounds. the body of the weapon is 50 pounds and the barrel around 30. its a great reliable weapon that will shutup anyone that will get in it way.
 
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cwDeici       9/15/2008 11:05:06 PM
I don't know about this fancy new design but the XM-8 should have made it.
 
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justbill       9/16/2008 10:02:26 AM
"Finally, American machine guns have never been the best, with design flaws and production errors."
 
Really? I guess that's why anyone outside the former Com Bloc who uses an HMG uses the Browning M2.
 
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Sabre       9/16/2008 10:32:48 AM
justbill       9/16/2008 10:02:26 AM
"Finally, American machine guns have never been the best, with design flaws and production errors."
He was probably referring to the abysmal M73, and the less than perfect M60, which no one has ever accused of being better than the M240 or MG3.
Even so, as someone who has spent more than a few nights stripping and cleaning an M2, I think that the design could be a little lighter, and a little simpler...
 
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Ispose    MG's etc   9/16/2008 11:23:14 AM
Finally, American machine guns have never been the best, with design flaws and production errors."
He was probably referring to the abysmal M73, and the less than perfect M60, which no one has ever accused of being better than the M240 or MG3.
Even so, as someone who has spent more than a few nights stripping and cleaning an M2, I think that the design could be a little lighter, and a little simpler...

I carried an M-60 in the Army...it was heavy but I never had any issues with it...It was reliable, accurate, easy to strip and clean... I had no issues trusting my life to it. Now the M-16's I used were shit...granted they were the M16A1's but what a godawful piece of crap...bad magazines, double feeding, slightest hint of dust and it would jam, 5.56 poodle shooter round...I thanked God everyday that I was carrying the Hog.
I'm an advocate up getting rid of the M-16 family. I personally like the the new M-14 SOCOM model but I think something like that in 6.8mm with a new M249 type and SAW type in the same caliber would be an ideal weapon set. Lets face it...the evidence in Iraq and Afganistan shows our troops aren't doing much full auto firing with their rifles so the "kicks more on autofire" arguement against a bigger round doesn't hold up. Sure it would be costly to change everything out but maybe every 30 years or so things should be invested in to get the best equipment to the troops rather than updated junk. Sure NATO would scream about changing calibers but so what?...we're adding one more round that we would add to our stocks...Nobody bitched too hard when were went from 30-06 to 7.62 NATO
 
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