Ever since the first cave dweller was handed a rock by his war chief and told to go smash on “the others,” grunts on the sharp end of things have wanted to carry lighter weapons into battle– and the soldiers of the U.S. Army are no exception to this rule. Well, it looks like the latest weapon in the Joe’s arsenal to potentially get light-sized is the hard serving M249 Minmi squad automatic weapon, otherwise known as the SAW.
The U.S. light machinegun concept
Back around 1909, the Army realized that, with the German Spandau, the British Vickers, and Russian Maxim machineguns out there in ever-growing numbers, Big Green was going to need something more mobile and effective than its Civil War-technology Gatling guns. This led them to adopt the French Hotchkiss gun as the M1909 Benét–Mercié machine gun.
Isnt it cute?
This 26.5-pound gas operated weapon, with a cyclic rate of about 600 rounds per minute, seemed just the thing, and was put into production by Springfield Armory in 30.06. While it proved better than a pointy stick in places like Columbus, New Mexico (where a team of 13th Cavalry troopers with four of the guns fired in excess of 20,000 combined rounds in some 90-minutes against raiders from Pancho Villa’s legions), the gun, with its 181 moving parts and cranky 30-round feeding strips just wasn’t all that good.
This led the Army to adopt the thoroughly detested 20-pound Chauchat light machine gun during World War One before finally going American in 1919 with the Browning Light Machine Gun. The former weapon, although chunky at 31-pounds, remained in service due to its utter reliability until as late as the 1970s when it was finally replaced by the 7.62x51mm NATO M60 machine gun.
The M1919A6 was 32.5 to 35 pounds depending on setup…but it was better than either the Benet Mercie or the Chauchat
Known as “the Pig,” the M60 was unforgiving to those not well versed in its use, and worst of all, was heavy to boot, with Vietnam-era models hitting the scales at nearly 25-pounds unloaded, which wasn’t all that much lighter than the guns used against Villa back in 1916.
M60 machine gunner of the 25th Infantry Division, 1968
Well, fast forward until 1984, when the U.S. Army went shopping around and stumbled over the Belgian-made Minimi, a light machine gun manufactured by FN Herstal (FN). This neat little 17.5-pound LMG only weighed 2/3rds that of the Pig and, even though it was chambered in 5.56x45mm rather than the bigger 7.62, a gunner could carry more of the smaller round per pound, meaning there would be more love to give on the modern battlefield. While this gun, adopted as the M249 or SAW, has seen mucho combat in Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, many argue it could still be lighter and, while it was at it, shoot a bigger round.
Enter the LSAT CT LMG…
The Lightweight Small Arms Technologies (LSAT) Cased Telescoped Light Machine Gun, or CT LMG, weighs just 9.2 pounds…
And shoots a caseless polymer telescoping round inside polymer links that weigh about half as much as a normal round
Read the rest in my column at Firearms Talk