M240 7.62mm Machine Gun
By the mid-1970s, it became clear to many that even with constant improvements, the M73 and M219 tank machine guns had proven to be unreliable. The US Army subsequently went about searching for a replacement for these weapons. The M219 was pitted against a wide variety of weapons, both developed domestically and acquired from NATO allies. These included the M60E2, the German MG3, the French AAT NF1, the Canadian C1 (a derivative of the M1919A4), the Belgium MAG-58, and the British L7A2 (a variant of the MAG-58). All of these weapons were chambered in the NATO standard 7.62mm ammunition. In addition, a Soviet PKM-T was acquired and also evaluated.
By 1975, the field had been narrowed down to the M60E2, then in use with the US Marine Corps, and the MAG-58 produced by Fabrique Nationale. With reliability being the impetus for replacing the existing weapons, the mean rounds between stoppage (MRBS) and mean rounds between failure (MRBF) became the most critical testing points. The threshold MRBS and MRBF were 850 rounds and 2,675 rounds respectively. The objective MRBS and MRBF were 1,750 and 5,500 respectively. Testing showed that the M219's MRBS was 215 rounds, while its MRBF was 1,090. The MRBS for the M60E2 was 846, while its MRBF was 1,669. Only the MAG-58 met the basic threshold criteria, with an MRBS of 2,962 rounds, and an MRBF of 6,442 rounds.
In 1976, the co-axial variant, feeding from the left, was type classified as the M240. The first 10,000 weapons were produced in Belgium, but Fabrique Nationale subsequently established a US manufacturing facility, FN Manufacturing, Inc, to handle production of the M240 and other weapons. The MAG-58 itself had developed in 1958 based on experiences of various European nations during the Korean War. The original weapon was designed to fire the 6.5x55mm catridge then in service with the Swedish military, but was eventually chambered in the NATO standard 7.62mm round for various European nations, both NATO members and otherwise. The weapon had been tested by the United States during the 1950s, but was decided against in favor of the M60 machine gun.
The M240 family subsequently became the standard armor machine gun in the United States military, being used on the M2/M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the M1 Abrams main battle tank, and the LAV-25 light armored vehicle. The Bradley Fight Vehicle required a subvariant that fed from the right, resulting in the M240C. A variant with spade grips for pintle mounting on armored vehicles was developed and designated as the M240E1.
In 1991, the US Marine Corps decided to adopt a variant of the M240 in the infantry role, to replace their M60E3 machine guns, which had also proven unreliable. The M240G was equivalent to the standard infantry variants of the MAG-58 in widespread use by NATO allies.
In the late 1990s, the US Army began to seek a replacement for their M60 machine guns in the infantry role. A variant of the M240, the M240E4, was subsequently pitted against a product improved variant of the M60, the M60E4. After extensive operational and technical tests, the US Army selected and type classified the M240E4 as the M240B in 1996 as a replacement for the M60 machine gun in the infantry role. The M240 featured a buttstock and integral bipod like the M240G, along with a heatshield. Later MIL-STD-1913 accessory rails were fitted to the weapon. While possessing many of the same basic characteristics as the M60 Series medium machine guns, the durability of the M240 system resulted in superior reliability and maintainability when compared to the M60.
Though more reliable than the M60, the M240B was significantly heavier at over 27 pounds. MANPRINT and human factors engineering assessments identified weight as a corrective action. In October 1999, an IMMG ORD was approved that set a series of requirements for weight reduction of the M240B. The threshold weight was set at 24 pounds, with an objective weight of 20 pounds. The requirements also stipulated that there would be no reduction in overall reliability of the system as a result of the reductions.
Milestone B for the lightweight version of the M240B, designated as the M240E6, was approved on 22 March 2005. A system development and demonstration contract was awarded in September 2005. The new design featured an barrel with a lightweight contour and reduced weight gas system, sights, and carrying handle. Most notable, however, was the fabrication of a titanium/steel alloy reciever for use on the new weapon. The system also subsequently leveraged other developments for the M240B, such as a short barrel, improved buttstock, and improved bipod. A new lightweight tripod was also in development to compliment the improvements.
One of the US Army National Guard's (ARNG) critical readiness requirements was small arms and crew-served weapons modernization. As of late 2004, the ARNG still had in inventory 3,753 M60 machine gun, which are no longer supportable in the combat theaters of the Global War on Terror (later referred to as Overseas Contingency Operations). The M240B was issued to units requiring the capability to deliver high rates of suppressive fire. It had become the machine gun of choice for the Global War on Terror.
The RDD validated an FY06 ARNG requirement for 4,163 M240Bs at a cost of $9,000 each. On hand at that time were 1,964 M240Bs, almost all of which were deployed. Future fielding to fill the unfunded requirement of 2,199 weapons had been suspended in order to push the entire weapons production to the combat theaters and to Active Army Modularity requirements. Mobilized ARNG Brigade Combat Teams received approximately 216 additional M240B machine guns prior to deployment. Funded procurement for the ARNG was limited to 400 M240Bs, purchased with FY04 NGREA, that were expected to be delivered in 2005. The remaining unfunded requirement was for 1,799 M240Bs and could increase as ARNG modularity was documented. The only alternative weapon system was the M60E4/Mk 43 conversion of existing M60s, in limited use by the Marines and USAF. This cost effective (approximately $3,000 per weapon) retrofit of the 40 year old M60 design incorporated the key features and improvements of a contemporary M240 at a third of the cost, but it has not been adopted by the US Army.
Funding the M240B would give ARNG soldiers the same capability as Active Army Forces to deploy and operate with maximum effectiveness on all fronts of the Global war on Terror. It would greatly contributed to their ability to rapidly defend themselves with high volume, suppressive fire in adverse conditions. It was seen as essential that the M60s be replaced as soon as possible. Failure to fund the M240B would increase soldier risk and the costs of pre-deployment cross-leveling, which would also degrade the ARNG's ability to train for and execute both its federal and state missions.
Test and evaluation of the M240E6 continued through 2007 through Mar 2008. In the fourth quarter of FY08, the M240E6 was type classified as the M240L and began low-rate initial production. By the third quarter of FY09, a letter contract had been awarded for the initial production deliveries. The first 50 M240Ls were delivered in the first quarter of FY10.
The US Army originally began procuring the Mk 48 Mod 0 to replace the M240B until the M240L could be fielded. Enemy forces in Afghanistan possessing increased firepower and controlling extended ranges forced the replacement of the M249 SAW with the Mk 48 Mod 0 machine gun there by May 2010. Lethality trumped weight reduction when extended fires were required. Leaders subsequently wanted to adopt the Mk 48 Mod 0, while fully recognizing its reduced reliability with regards to the M240B/L.
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