These Marines are Military Police stationed on Okinawa (would Marines say aboard Okinawa?):
CORRECTION: The MG in the picture above is a 5.56mm M249. We originally misidentified it — following the original PR — as an M240. Yeah, that’s a pretty embarrassing screw-up, and for the Marine photog in question, but he’s just a Lance and we’re supposed to be the freaking weapons experts around here… d’oh! The article below has been thoroughly edited, extended and corrected. Added content is underlined. We will now beat our face, and then beat our boots just for Airborne variety. -Eds.
Marine MPs on Oki recently trained with crew-served weapons, including (among others) the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, being supplanted in the Marine rifle squad by the M27 IAR, and the excellent M240, the infantry company’s all-purpose MG.
The M249 is the US variation on the FN Minimi. Unlike its bigger brother, there are some more significant changes in the design between the US and original version. The Marines have never been thrilled with it as a squad automatic weapon, preferring a true, magazine-fed auto rifle. The issues with the M24 which they finally adopted in the form of the M27 — a Marine-spec HK416 — in 2010. Selection and procurement of the M27 took five years of RDT&E beginning with several (primarily) commercial, off the shelf ARs. For a while at least, infantry companies equipped with the M27 will also have 9 M249s available, but the IAR is a better fit for Marine infantry doctrine and is getting good reviews from field Marines. For one thing, it’s a lot lighter than the 22-lb. M249.
The M240 is the US version of the venerable, proven and excellent all-round FN-MAG general purpose machine gun, which the US finally adopted to correct the 1950s error that rejected this weapon in favor of the inferior M60. The name MAG stands for Mitrailleuse À Gaz, “Gas-Operated MG” in the gun’s native Walloon (French). There are several versions, but the current M240B is somewhat typical of current ground forces weapons. It’s light, for a 7.62mm MG. (There’s even a lighter, titanium-receiver version, the M240L, which has a shorter service life). It’s very reliable. Before the 240B, the Marines converted tank guns as the M240G. (In the armor world, the reliable 240 was a quantum leap in reliability over the alternatives that preceded or competed with it, including a dreadful tanker version of the M60 and the Rube Goldberg M37). The Army never used the 240G; it’s never been as tight with a taxpayer dollar as its Marine brethren.
The M240, in all its versions, is actually a great-grandson of John Moses Browning. To make the MAG, Browning’s Belgian co-worker and protégé, Dieudonné Saive, took the tipping bolt and op-rod of the BAR and flipped it over so that, instead of locking into a recess in the top of the receiver, it locked into the bottom — freeing the top for a belt-feed mechanism which Saive, no casual reinventor of wheels, lifted from the German MG-42. The MAG was a great success; even nations that passed on the companion FAL rifle bought MAGs. Even the US finally climbed on board the MAG train.
The US made one error when converting the MAG to the 240. They eliminated the satin-chromed interior of the gun, which added strength and durability and makes a Belgian-made MAG a joy to clean. But other than that, it’s the good old MAG; parts interchange, and have the same Nato Stock Numbers. It’s never happened yet, but if we need a part, we can get it from the Danes or Brits, or vice versa. It will even feed NATO’s other standard belt, the nondisintegrating, reusable type used by German machine guns and preferred by Germany and Italy. If it’s NATO ammo in a belt, the MAG will eat it without a murmur.
There was a time when MPs didn’t do a lot of heavy weapons training, and support and service-support troops in general never took up these weapons. As the press release from which we lifted these great photos makes clear, today’s MPs train with the full spectrum of crew-served guns: M249, M240, M2HB, and Mk19. Not just MPs; this is increasingly common for even service-support troops, who might find themselves on a gun on an FOB’s perimeter wall or a truck’s weapons station, and it’s as true for the Army and other services which deploy to Derkaderkastan as it is for these Marines.
This wasn’t always the case. In the 1980s it wasn’t unusual for a roomful of soldier, even NCO, students to contain exactly zero who knew how to load, unload, and maintain the crew-served guns of the day, the M60 and M2HB. The peacetime services (especially the Army) tend to elevate other priorities over combat skills — until the next war happens, and you have a 507th Maintenance Company that shows you why even rear-echelon techs and clerks need to have firepower and the skills to make it run.
Now if they only could get out from under the small minds fixated on safety glow belts…