Let’s talk machine gun setup and optimization…….
I wanna limit this discussion to various methodologies around setting up belt feds. Load carriage would be another thread entirely. This is in the .mil/contractor context.
.mil wise, there are really two major groupings for how a belt fed will be utilized, primarily being focused around the general purpose machine gun, (M240B). The first of these contexts is firing from a prepared or semi prepared position, IE overwatch/support by fire, or defense of a fixed position. The second is in an assaulting role. Setting up a gun to fit both of these roles, while allowing the gunner and gun team to be as effective as possible is crucial. Everything that follows is in my experience only, and is absolutely up for debate. To preface, I spent the better part of 6 years in and around gun teams in the airborne community, in almost every position, (gunner, AG/gun team leader, AB, AT, acting WSL). Drop in the bucket compared to some of these guys.
Keeping weight down is crucial. On both the M249 and M240 series, I immediately ditch the heat shield. Not only does it add ounces, but it inhibits the efficient changing of barrels, and makes extra noise. I see no benefits to its addition, and I think it’s telling that the MAG 58 completely excluded it.
Optics wise, I strongly prefer an Aimpoint in a low mount. I personally liked the COMP M4, but that’s only because I didn’t have access to issued T1s. Using magnified optics on a machine guns seems a little silly to me, due to the nature of the design, the finicky and clunky nature of most magnified MGOs, as well as how a gun team operates. Having a mount on a relatively unstable feed tray cover means that your zero is relative, which right off the bat limits the usefulness of a magnified optic. It’s my opinion that a dot provides a more efficient reference point for directing the beaten zone of the gun, at a wide variety of ranges, from 25 all the way to 1200.
PID should not be priority for a gunner. Directing and holding a consistent beaten zone on target, as well as manipulating T&E and regulating rates of fire should be his primary concern. That job needs to belong to his AG, who is directing the fires anyways. AGs should have some sort of magnified optic which allows him to obtain PID on individual targets, as well as assists him in range estimating. Some guys like binos, I’m a fan of the ACOG for this role.
Ideally, I think a T1 in an adjustable MATECH style mount would be great, but I don’t have any experience with them first hand. Anybody use one?
Once optics are mounted, I then concern myself with laser systems. Of all the available options, I’ve found the issued DBAL to be optimal. The PEQ 15 works, but due to heat issues, we had some wondering zeroes during a battalion machine gun leaders course with them. The DBALs, with their all metal construction, held more consistently with less breakage. Your MFAL needs to be mounted on the same side your gun feeds from, and should have a pressure switch that both the gunner and AG can reach. This allows the AG to make setting adjustments if he has to, and allows both the gunner and AG to activate the laser depending on the circumstances you are in.
A good padded adjustable sling is a given, (I’m a fan of the Vickers MG sling). I also like to roll a foregrip on the left rail of the gun, IOT allow me to press the gun out and engage if I have to fire while not prone. I typically rolled with the sling on my left shoulder, with the butt of the gun underneath my right armpit, sort of “Rhodesian style”, (if that makes sense). If I had to engage while standing or kneeling, this allowed me to press the gun out, clamp the butt under my armpit, and use tracers to guide my burst if I didn’t have time to shoulder the 24+ lb pig and utilize the sights.
The 50 round nutsacks are good for patrolling, and are easy to overide if you have to switch to firing from the ground. Carrying around loose belts is a pain and leads to reliability issues once the belt gets twisted.
For tripods, if the mission requires one, I prefer the M192 over the M122A1, simply due to the weight and ease of use. The M122A1 might have been great during the cold war, and is more precise, but at this point it’s a relic. A new tripod would be wonderful, if you could tighten up the mechanism, and reduce the weight even further. Maybe a glock type polymer with reinforcements?
For the M249 I have a similar theory of setup. Vickers MG sling, Aimpoint, foregrip/MFAL with pressure switch, no heat shield, and the collapsing “paratrooper” stock is the heat. I also prefer the short barrel and I typically remove the bipod. 100 round nutsacks are also preferred, due to the lower profile, lower amount of noise, and ease of use/carriage.
The nature of employment of the M249 leads me to believe that a bipod is nearly always unneccessary. Add to this the amount of busted bipods in a line unit, and it quickly turns into dead weight. This is about the only role where a “grip pod” has any validity, given you can find one that works.
While removing the bipod does limit its use in a local SBF type scenario, I feel that the positives outweigh the negatives. Keeping up with a rifle squad, and firing the weapon from the shoulder during the “assault”, makes the weight of the weapon very important. Hard to clear through to the LOA if you are fatigued to the point that you can no longer raise the squad’s most casualty producing weapon.
Team training is also critically important. Various drills should be trained constantly, including dead gunner, reload, barrel change, tripod to bipod and the reverse, as well as synchronized emplacement and pickup. The following video is lighthearted, but indicative of a drill we would often practice.
Be smarter than your equipment, and train constantly. Machine gunning is an art form, as well as a brutal science, and should be treated as such.