M249 Squad Automatic Weapon

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The M249 light machine gun (LMG), previously designated the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), and formally written as Light Machine Gun, 5.56 mm, M249, is an American version of the Belgian FN Minimi, a light machine gun manufactured by the Belgian company FN Herstal (FN). The M249 is manufactured in the United States and is widely used by the U.S. Armed Forces. The weapon was introduced in 1984 after being judged the most effective of a number of candidate weapons to address the lack of automatic firepower in small units. The gun provides infantry squads with the heavy volume of fire of a machine gun combined with accuracy and portability approaching that of a rifle.

The M249 is gas operated and air cooled. It has a quick-change barrel, allowing the gunner to rapidly replace an overheated or jammed barrel. A folding bipod is attached near the front of the gun, though an M192 LGM tripod is also available. It can be fed from both linked ammunition and STANAG magazines, like those used in the M16 and M4. This allows the SAW gunner to use rifleman's magazines as an emergency source of ammunition in the event that he runs out of linked rounds. However, this will often cause malfunctions because the magazine spring has difficulty feeding rounds quickly enough to match the SAW's high cyclic rate.

M249s have seen action in every major conflict involving the United States since the 1989 invasion of Panama. Soldiers are generally satisfied with the weapon's performance, though there have been reports of clogging with dirt and sand. Due to the weight and age of the weapon, the United States Marine Corps is testing the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle with plans to partially replace the M249 in Marine Corps service.[3]

Contents

Development

In 1965, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps' primary machine guns were the M2 Browning and M60. The M2 was a large-caliber heavy machine gun, usually mounted on vehicles or in fixed emplacements.[4] The M60 was a more mobile medium machine gun intended to be carried with the troops to provide heavy automatic fire.[5] Both were very heavy weapons and usually required a crew of at least two to operate efficiently.[6] The Browning automatic rifle, the army's main individual machine gun since its introduction in World War I, was phased out in 1957 with the introduction of the M14 rifle, which had a fully automatic mode.[7] "Designated riflemen" in every squad were ordered to use their weapons on the fully automatic setting, while other troops were required to use their rifle's semi-automatic mode on most occasions to increase accuracy and conserve ammunition.[8] Because the M14 and M16 rifles had not been designed with sustained automatic fire in mind, they often overheated or jammed.[8] The 30-round and 20-round magazines of these weapons also limited their sustained automatic effectiveness when compared to belt-fed weapons.[4]

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