We’ve already covered MG optimization, when it comes to setting up the gun. The next step is covering how we can optimize our load bearing rigs to support belt fed ammunition/weapons systems. This is, as always, .mil/contractor centric.
For my purposes, I was operating in either a team environment, or as an individual/solo gunner, with both the M240 and M249 SAW.
For both guns, I essentially took advantage of the same actual rigs. In my experience, (in literal months of force on force use, as well as a little bit of experience gunning downrange), the best way to handle it is combining both chest mounted, and belt mounted pouches.
For chest mounted ammo, keeping it high up on the chest is ideal. This does make you a more pronounced target when prone, but let’s be real guys, we are 200+ lb adult men in full kit, is this REALLY an issue? I’ve run several rigs depending on whether or not armor was required. At the end of the day, the actual platform is pretty irrelevant as long as the pouches match the gun. For me personally, I refused to carry more than 600 rounds of 7.62, or 800ish rounds of 5.56 link on my person. Weight is still crucial here. 600 rounds of 7.62 is roughly 30 lbs, and that’s not counting additional kit, such as NODs, med, plates, helmet, water, etc…
Ounces equal lbs and all that.
Minimize the amount of extra BS you are carrying if you are a gunner. Machine gun is life, therefore your primary goal is feeding that mother and remaining operational while you do it. Rely on your buddies to carry stuff that you can’t.
For actual slick chest rigs, (no armor), I’ve had good luck with both the TT MAV, (solid front, not split), and the ATS slick rig. Basically what you are looking for is a solid MOLLE panel that you can load out. Building from that base, I would use two large 200 round pouches front and center, with two smaller 100 round gp style pouches on the outside of the rig. This gives you 600 rounds of 7.62 on the body, if you are using the belt to carry med and NODs, and about the same round count with 5.56 in nutsacks.
Keeping your ammo high and center allows you to access it more easily when you pop a squat and are pre-loading your position.
For 7.62, consider keeping a short length of the belt accessible outside of the pouch, facing in a direction that allows you to simply pop the fastex buckle and immediately load the feed tray. This isn’t a concern for contained link, (IE nutsacks).
If you can’t use a belt, this same setup allows you to run 400 rounds on the body, and use the left and right 100 round pouches as GP pouches for NODs, NODs BII, medkit, water bottles, ripits, protein bars, etc….
You NEED some sort of solid H harness, preferably padded, when running a belt fed chest rig. Regular unpadded straps will absolutely screw you in the front butt if you have to patrol with the pig for a long period of time. Padding is essential here.
If a PC is being worn, keep the same setup, but either direct mount to the PC, or alternatively use some sort of quick attach buckle system for easy donning/doffing.
I consider the “battle belt” another essential piece of kit when running a belt fed. While your killing load should be mounted high and center, the battle belt allows you the ability to carry all sustaining equipment. For most GPF gunners, this includes NODs, NODs BII, IFAK/medkit, comms, pistol mags for your M9, and a holster. Holster and mags wont be an issue for SAW gunners.
The belt lets you spread the load.
For belt mounted pouches, I utilized a 100 round/GP pouch on both left and right sides, along with a dump pouch and designated IFAK pouch.
The GP/100 round pouches allow you to carry either your NODs and BII along with random shit you need, (compass, GPS, batteries, etc…), and also allow you to scale up and add ammo if needed. I recommend a tearaway IFAK if you can swing it, but that comes down to your command.
Holsters and mag pouches should be of good quality. Safariland and the usual suspects make good stuff. Don’t settle for an issued flap holster or Blackhawk Serpa. We all know this.
Additionally, in a light infantry environment, you can completely fill the belt with ammo, (using the pouches from your chest rig), and add a good set of suspenders if you need a “patrolling” set up, reminiscent of the British LBV setups or old school ALICE. With suspenders, go for something padded if being used as a standalone rig, unpadded if they will be under armor.
The dump pouch works well for water bottles, as well as stowing excess gear, (mortar rounds, whatever), or alternatively a storage place for empty 100 round nutsacks.
I strongly recommend investing in the 100 round nutsacks if you are a SAW gunner. I only used the 200 round soft nylon sacks for mounted/turret shit. The bulk just isn’t worth it otherwise.
Issued drums, (plastic), are absolute garbage. The noise penalty is immense with them, and the locking mechanism often breaks due to it’s turdlike nature.
The last, and most crucial piece of load carrying gear is every other warfighter in your formation. Make those dummies carry ammo. Even 100 rounds a piece makes your life that much better if you get embroiled in an extended TIC where Charlie wants to play for blood. The old adage is that the M240 is 70% of the platoons overall killing power. Feed that pig, and make sure your platoon/squad knows that it’s important.
One additional method of carrying ammo in a pinch is the “Pancho Villa” belt. This isn’t ideal, but works great if you need a couple hundred extra rounds for an ambush or whatever.
For this method, use just enough rounds to firmly contour to your body, break off the rest. Clip the rounds together so that they fit your torso tightly, and align them in a way that allows you to simply snap a link open with your left hand, and pull it straight into the feed tray. So essentially the rounds should be facing towards the right side of your body, brass towards your chest, (open link side), closed link side facing outward. With the quick flick of the wrist you can break a link open, and simply pull the whole belt off your body and into the gun.
ISSUED EQUIPMENT SUCKS.
I don’t buy into the freaking transformer belt fed backpacks. They look cool, but screw carrying 8000000 rounds of 7.62 on my back, with a CROWS feed chute hanging out the side. Be a normal person. Buy some good gear and learn how to use it.
Train reloads and drills in your down time, and work on efficiently working the gun when fully encumbered.