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M60 7.62mm Machine Gun

The M60 machine gun was the result of a series of designs started near the end of World War II at Springfield Armory. The first of these was the T44, essentially a combination of the belt feed mechanism of the German MG42 with the operating mechanism, rotating bolt, of the FG42 automatic rifle. In turn, certain features of the FG42 were taken from the US designed Lewis Gun used in World War I.

A less extensively modified version of the T44 was the T52, from which evolved the T161 series after the wooden stocks were replaced with plastic. The T161 was originally chambered in the .30-06 cartridge then standard in the US military. A product improved variant of the weapon was designated as T161E1. The design was subsequently modified to accomodate an improved .30 caliber catridge design, the T65, with the new variant being designated as the T161E2. The further development of the T65 catridge into the NATO standard 7.62mm cartridge, led to further refinement of the weapon, resulting in the T161E3.

The T161E3 was type classified in 1957 as the M60, intended as a companion to the then new 7.62mm M14 rifle. The M60 was lighter than the .30 caliber M1919A6 and only slightly heavier than the .30 caliber M1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle. The M60 machine gun began to enter service in 1959 and subsequently became the US Army's standard general purpose medium machine gun. The weapon effectively replaced existing M1919A4 and M1919A6 machine guns in US Army and USMC infantry units, as well as replacing similar weapons across the services in a variety of different roles. USMC Infantry Companies were issued a total of 6 M60 machine guns.

In the early 1960s there was a great deal of experimentation with armed helicopters. A wide array of weapons were evaluated, including standard infantry type M60 machine guns. As development progressed 3 specialized variants of the M60 were developed for use on rotary wing aircraft. The first of these was the M60B, which featured a modified rubber end cap instead of the standard stock, allowing it to be more maneuverable as a weapon for helicopter door gunners. The M60B proved to offer few advantages over the standard M60 in this role, but the rubber end cap was carried over to the M60C. The M60C was specifically designed for helicopter armament subsystems, fitted with a solenoid for remote firing. The weapon was also utilized on fixed wing aircraft and the M19 gun pod. The M60D was a further attempt to develop a M60 for use by helicopter door gunners. The weapon was fitted with spade grips, no handguard, and improved sights. This weapon became the standard defensive weapon for US Army helicopters until the adoption of the M240.

Reliability and other issues led to an attempt to improve the M60 in the 1970s. The M60E1 was developed to help simplify barrel changes and decrease the overall number of parts. The improvements were not adopted. Maremount, the primary contractor, also developed a fixed variant for use in armored vehicles, designated the M60E2. This weapon was intended to provide an alternative to the M73 machine gun. The M60E2 machine gun for tank use was basically an M60C with a barrel extension and a gas evacuator system. The US Marine Corps made limited use of the M60E2, before both it and the M73/M219 series were replaced by the M240 machine gun.

The M60 machine gun had been the first US machine gun to have a quick-change barrel. The original system did not work well because the gas cylinder, the barrel, and the bipod were permanently attached to each other. Attempts to rectify this drawback resulted in the M60E3 in the 1980s. The new weapon featured a number of improvements, including a redesigned handguard with integral bipod and vertical forward grip. A short barrel kit was also supplied for special operations forces. Elite forces had made similar modifications to standard infantry type weapons as early as the conflict in Vietnam.

After the type standardization of the M240 in the late 1970s as a fixed armor machine gun, parties in the US military became interested in the weapon for infantry use. In 1991, the US Marine Corps decided to adopt a variant of the M240, designated the M240G, as a replacement for their M60E3s. In the late 1990s, the US Army pitted a variant of the M240, the M240E4, with a variant of the M60, the M60E4. In the end, the US Army selected the M240E4, which was standardized as the M240B. Aircraft variants of the M240 were also developed to replace the M60D.

While the M240 series became the standard infantry weapon in the US Army and US Marine Corps, special operations forces desired a lighter weight weapon. The M240B/G, though more reliable than the M60 and M60E3, was also heavier. The M60E4 was subsequently adopted by Naval Special Warfare as the Mk 43 Mod 0. The weapon, fitted with a short barrel similar to that offered for the M60E3, was visually similar to that weapon. It featured a number of product improvements, including a new handguard with forward grip and bipod. A redesigned flash hider wa also fitted. A variant with increased MIL-STD-1913 accessory rails was also developed, designated as the Mk 43 Mod 1.

Even with the continuing improvements, the Mk 43 machine guns had proven to be less than reliable, and Naval Surface Warfare users were said to have lost confidence in the weapon by the end of the 1990s. Furthermore, the weapon was becoming logistically unsupportable. US Special Operations Command approved a Mission Need Statement/Operational Requirements document on 21 March 2001 for a new lightweight 7.62mm machine gun. This development resulted in the Mk 48 Mod 0 machine gun, which subsequently replaced the Mk 43 series.




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