Gun Review: IMI Negev LMG

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The M249 is one of the most successful squad automatic weapons ever introduced. Where previously an entire crew was required to set up and run a machine gun, the M249 allowed a single soldier to carry all of the necessary equipment and operate the firearm. It was a major leap forward, but the gun wasn’t perfect. As nice as the FN-produced firearm looks, there are some improvements to be made. Israel’s IMI figured out a way to fix all of those issues and produced a light machine gun that is superior to the M249 in almost every way. They call it the Negev, and I had a chance to get familiar with it this past weekend . . .

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Side by side, the guns are very similar. There are some minor visual differences, but since the guns function almost identically and are built to fill the same role, they share many of the same design elements. The devil is in the details, though, and once you take a closer look at the differences you’ll realize that there’s a clear winner here.

 

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The most obvious difference is the feed tray cover.

With FN’s design, the entire top section of the gun rotates up in order to expose the feed tray and allow the gunner to insert a new belt of ammunition. There’s a problem though — having a feed tray cover that large means working the gun in small places (like a culvert or small bunker) is difficult if not impossible. The design also exposes the bolt assembly to the elements, adding one more route for sand or rain to get in there and screw things up.

The Negev takes more of a “just the facts, ma’am” approach and has a much smaller feed tray cover. The cover is only big enough to perform its job, keeping the gun as compact as possible at all times and minimizing the exposure to dust and other elements.

Speaking of dust, that’s another benefit of the Negev. The M249 has a small dust cover over the charging handle slot, but otherwise the gun is pretty much open to the elements — both sides of the feed tray are left open. On the Negev, there’s a spring loaded dust cover that folds down over the feed tray to keep as much dust and dirt out of the action as possible. It’s a feature that seems pretty common sense for a gun designed to work in the Israeli desert.

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While the smaller feed plate is indeed an improvement, down on the safety selector switch there’s an actual honest-to-goodness new feature. The M249 doesn’t do that whole semi-auto thing — it only runs in “party all the time” mode. The Negev is slightly more conservative with its ammo consumption, and so includes a helpful semi-auto feature in addition to the old fashioned bullet hose setting.

Not only is it functional, but the trigger in semi-auto mode is actually quite pleasant. There’s a ton of slack in the trigger, but the break is nice and crisp and the reset is positive and present. Not exactly Geissele level quality, but better than I expected from a belt fed gun.

Speaking of common sense…

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Machine guns fire a staggering number of rounds of ammunition in their lifetime. In order to keep the guns running and in service, manufacturers have designed them to have easily replaceable barrels. It not only allows for barrels to be changed when they reach the end of their usable lifetime, but if you’re ever in the middle of a firefight and need to cool off your barrel you can swap it quickly and easily for a new one while the old one cools.

On the M249, the barrel replacement process takes two hands. With the Negev, you only need one. Open the feed tray cover, pull back the bolt, and hit one button — the barrel slides free immediately and is quickly replaced. It’s a nice upgrade on a feature that doesn’t seem to get much use when the gun is used properly, but the Israelis nevertheless improved this feature as well.

While we’re talking about taking things apart, I just want to note that cleaning this gun is an absolute snap. That was the deal with the guys who let me play with their machine guns — I can have some trigger time so long as I clean them afterwards. I was able to take down and clean this gun without looking at the instruction manual once, and to be honest it wasn’t really any more complicated than an AK-47. Everything kind of just falls out the back, and then you shove it back in when clean. Grunt-proof, almost.

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The most important difference between the M249 and the Negev, however, is that the gun actually feeds from a magazine.

In theory, the M249 can feed from a standard M16 magazine. Just in case the gunner runs out of belts of ammo to feed the beast, it gives them a second source of ammunition in the field. In practice, however, the thing never works properly. Every gunner that I’ve talked to who used the M249 said that getting a full magazine of ammunition to feed through the gun was as likely as getting an engraved invitation to a night of passionate romance with the entire Dallas Cowboys cheerleading squad.

With the Negev, the gun feeds from standard M16 magazines like a champ. No malfunctions at all even running magazine after magazine through the gun. The configuration actually makes sense too — the M249 feeds from a side-mounted magazine, but the Negev positions the magazine in the bottom of the receiver for easier feeding into the chamber. The controls are also a lot easier to manipulate for ejecting and inserting magazines, instead of the M249’s design which seems like an afterthought that someone tacked onto the gun.

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While the M249 was a great design, IMI took the initial concept and refined it just a little bit more. Slight improvements might not seem like such a big deal on their own, but when you add them all up what you get is a definitively superior firearm. Easier to maintain, easier to feed, and easier to operate in the field, this Israeli masterpiece is a definite improvement over the original Belgian design.

I can see why Robert prefers Israeli models . . .

IMI Negev LMG

Specifications:
Caliber: 5.56 NATO
Barrel: 18.1 inches
Size: 40 inches extended, 35 inches compact
Weight: 16.31 lbs empty
Capacity: 150 round belts, or 30 round magazines
MSRP: $???

Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
All ratings are relative compared to the other weapons in the gun’s category.

Accuracy: * * *
I was able to keep the gun on target even in full auto, but without a scope mounted to the gun to shoot good 100-yard groups it’s hard to really rate this category one way or the other.

Ergonomics: * * * *
The stock is a little uncomfortable and the gun is heavy.

Ergonomics Firing: * * * * *
A heavy gun means the the recoil is excellent. Even firing full auto offhand the gun is controllable and comfortable.

Customization: * * *
Shorter barrels and different stocks are available, but (on this model at least) the lack of a picatinny rail is definitely a big detractor.

Overall Rating: * * * *
Better than the M249, but still a hefty, chunky piece of engineering.

comments

  1. avatar Alan Longnecker says:

    “lack of a rail…”
    EOTech & light/laser combo is a must for any LMG.

    1. avatar Anonymoose says:

      The IWI website shows the regular Negev and NG7 with rails added to the receiver and handguard.

      1. avatar over-educated economist says:

        Plus it has the infinitely-more-comfortable FAB Defense stock.

    2. avatar Hal says:

      I agree completely. We’re not talking about a plinking gun. LMGs must be capable of operating in conjunction with PVS-14 or more recent STANO devices. I would argue that an elcan MGO, TA-11 or even a micro-T1 is more practical for the M249 than an EOTech but that is just my preference.

      “Israel’s IMI figured out a way to fix all of those issues and produced a light machine gun that is superior to the M249 in almost every way.”

      In other news, I was all set and ready to lambaste this statement until I read the rest of the article. Seems like a lot of very functional, well thought out improvements to the SAW.

      I am interested how they engineered the feed tray pawl and assembly with that short cover.

    3. avatar Alex says:

      There is a rail just aft of the tray…it comes on all Negev LMG’s.

  2. avatar Rob Aught says:

    Sadly, I never got to fire the M249, have some trigger time on an M60 though.

    The Negev is very obviously built for the desert, which is why so much of it is open to the elements. The Israeli’s also seem to think that the addition of heat shields is needless weight, which is why the Negev looks much closer to the original Minimi design. Through some US style heat shields all over that damn thing and I bet it looks a lot more like the M249. I also wonder how much the addition of a heat shield compounds the difficulty of barrel swaps.

    Aesthetically I’d say the M249 looks more badass, but having lugged an actual machinegun in a training exercise I’d rather have the Negev if I had a choice.

    1. avatar lolinski says:

      Or a PKM, same weight as the Negev, only chambered in 7.62x54mmR.

      Also, weren’t there other machineguns that only required a single person to operate? before the M249 that is.

      1. avatar Taylor TX says:

        Well, LMG teams with a tripod in the case of something like an MG42 or 1919 need multiple people, smaller things like bren guns or a russian DP (both not fed from a belt) could be operated without the need of an assistant gunner but I imagine (please correct my inexperience in the matter) it would still be nice to have someone helping you load. From what I understand, once drums/boxes of ammo were attached and belts did not need to be hand fed (maybe a C-rat can here and there) etc.

        Just MHO as a history nerd 🙂

        1. avatar lolinski says:

          I saw many people operating MG42s on the lonesome. Also, while i hate to bring it up again, the PKM (accepted for service in 1961) which is also operated by one man (sure, you need comrades to carry a bunch of ammo in addition to the ammo you carry).

        2. avatar Taylor TX says:

          yea 54r is nice and has quite the effective range, but damn that dirty commie mg 🙂

          Where did you see people shooting MG42s? Man I would jump at the chance for some of that shit, I always see videos of people at machine gun shoots etc, and yea I imagine if youre shooting slow enough you wouldnt need an AG to help.

        3. avatar lolinski says:

          Not personally, war footage from the recent war here (about 20 years) ago + I know the guys who did it. Don’t know whether they still have the MGs but I wouldn’t be surprised, case is I don’t know those particular individuals well enough for them to disclose something like that.

          What is not to love about the PKM? Feeds from the right side which prevents the belt from interfering (especially if you use one of those ammo backpacks), reliable and pretty accurate. Also it is pretty easy to get and really lightweight for a machinegun (loaded with 100 rounds in a canvas bag/pouch it weighs less than an empty M60). Also it has that fancy carrying handle which can be used to support it if shooting from the hip.

      2. avatar Hal says:

        Does the BAR count?

        1. avatar lolinski says:

          No, since the DP and the Bren didn’t count.

        2. avatar Hal says:

          Fair enough.

    2. avatar Anon in CT says:

      Barrel swap on the SAW – cock the weapon, then pull (and hold) the retaining lever back with one and hand remove the barrel with the other hand. Not too tricky. Our SAWs had the more skeletal stock with the vertical handgrip and an honest-to-god shoulder thingy that went up!

      http://www.eme421.com/c9mg.html

  3. avatar Anon in CT says:

    We could sometimes get the SAWs to feed from a GI metal mag. They used to EAT the Thermold plastic mags. Their their credit, the SAW will keep firing even while caked in carbon and covered in dust. At worst, just set the gas to “adverse”.

    1. avatar DBM says:

      Anon,
      The reason 249’s won’t fire from metal mags is because the US military buys cheap Aluminum Mags. Use Steel mags and they feed like a champ. After one use the aluminum mags retainer lips spread causing double feeds and failure to feed. And if any of you guys are in the army you would know all MG’s are crew served weapons. An additional soldier is needed to carry the spare barrel and and ammo. The assistant gunner also s supposed to carry the tripod and spots targets for the gunner. He also takes over if the gunner is hurt.

  4. avatar Anon in CT says:

    Oh, and Nick – THANK YOU!
    I don’t know if I was the only one reqesting a side-by-side (probably not) but so glad you did it.

  5. avatar Mud says:

    Rate of Fire seemed a little faster than the SAW I carried in ’03-04. With a little range time it was easy to get 1 and 2 shot bursts with the SAW. Shooting through an ELCAN made hits easy.

    Your right about the magazine port on the SAW. Even in infantry school, we never got briefed on that specific capability. Every tried it in the field, and it would never feed more than 3-4 rounds without having to recharge the weapon.

    1. avatar lolinski says:

      So you essentially had a burst firing bolt action?

      That is interesting, (/not sarcasm)

      1. avatar Anon in CT says:

        First time the BFA worked its way loose due to vibration and we didn’t diagnose the problem, we had a belt-fed, bolt-action single-shot.

  6. avatar Taylor TX says:

    Its so ugly it reminds me of the Galil. But then again I have a soft spot for ugly things that work like phenoms

  7. avatar Sixpack70 says:

    I’ve played SAW gunner before. It’s like an oversized assault rifle and I loved it. Fire from prone, no problem, fire from the shoulder, also no problem. I also spent a week hauling a pig(M60) around(training only). I love that MG also. It could be fired from the shoulder but was a lot heavier. I fired my AG because he sucked. I could never find him when I needed ammo or other parts. I humped everything myself after that. It sounds awesome when you open up with a few bursts or hold the trigger down like an idiot.

    The Negev looks like a great machine gun. The upgrades to keep dirt out are nice. One Reason I like the feed tray cover on the M249 is so you can see the entire bolt assembly if you have a malfunction or brass decides to crawl in there. Of course in my job the last time I saw a SAW is when I inventoried them back in 2009.

    1. avatar IdahoPete says:

      Roger that … the key function of your AG is to be there to ASSIST the gunner – carry extra ammo, be ready to pass the belts, help dig the hole (if time is available), carry extra ammo, have the spare barrel ready, carry extra ammo …

      1. avatar Anon in CT says:

        Piss on the hot barrel after the change.

        What?

    2. avatar Mud says:

      It was supremely satisfying to be able to open up a can of whoop-ass when contact was made. It made lugging an extra 800 rounds of ammo in addition to the 100rnd nutsack worth it in fact.

      Never did a barrel change while in a fight, only at the range. Shot one till it was white hot in 04. No one carried extra barrels.

  8. “Easier to maintain, easier to feed, and easier to operate in the field…”

    For a second I thought you were trying to get me to buy a shotgun.

  9. avatar Skyler says:

    The M-249 was the best light machine gun ever except that the army hated it when it first came out, and the Marines bought it despite the army. Now the Marines are getting rid of it and replacing it with the decidedly smaller M27.

    So why was it you call it the best light machine gun ever? I think there are many that have been more successful. It’s not a bad gun, but it’s hardly had a great or uncheckered history.

    1. avatar Lord Wulfgen says:

      I understand the concept of the M27, but I don’t fully understand replacing the SAW with it. It seems to me that lumping the gunner and the DM into one guy is a poor choice. We worked very well with a SAW and an EBR working together, so I guess I just don’t understand throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

      That being said, I have never seen an M27 in the field, but I do have very fond memories of our SAW gunners laying down some serious fuck off.

      1. avatar Skyler says:

        I am not a big fan of the switch, but the logic is that because the SAW is so heavy, it has become a de facto practice that the junior fire team member gets to be the lucky one to lug it around. Apparently the Marine Gunners have failed to instruct properly and the platoon commanders and squad leaders have failed to lead properly to ensure that the SAW is in the hands of the most experienced Marine besides the team leader.

        Because of this leadership failure, the Commandant has decided that a lighter, less capable weapon, which is essentially a heavy barreled M-16 of sorts (but not really the same mechanism) with a full auto mode is a better idea. The reasoning is that a less capable weapon that is used properly and by the best Marine for the job is better than a more capable weapon handled poorly.

        I think our Commandant has made a few decisions that I don’t agree with. This is one of them.

        1. avatar Lord Wulfgen says:

          Interesting perspective from the Marines. It is sad that they are making a such a change of doctrine based on poor deployment choices, but I suppose the Army is no better. It was, however, practically SOP for the SAW to be in the hands of the ATL for us.

    2. avatar Lord Wulfgen says:

      (I guess my first post is stuck in moderation limbo because of the F word, so I’ll repost with some fancy stars)

      I understand the concept of the M27, but I don’t fully understand replacing the SAW with it. It seems to me that lumping the gunner and the DM into one guy is a poor choice. We worked very well with a SAW and an EBR working together, so I guess I just don’t understand throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

      That being said, I have never seen an M27 in the field, but I do have very fond memories of our SAW gunners laying down some serious f**k off.

    3. avatar lolinski says:

      Late to the party but I would mention the PKM.

      1. avatar DBM says:

        The people in the Corps who made the decision to get rid of the 249 are clueless idiots. The general quoted in the army times said it was to heavy and inaccurate. I will excuse his stupidity on the fact that most Generals are not combat arms and so never learned that MG’s are area denial and suppressive weapons. MGs are also not rifles so as nice as a single shot position on the selective switch may seem its basically useless. San until they come up with transparent aluminum (star trek) the stress’s place on a weapon firing large volumes of ammo have to be built from strong and heavy materials. Follow the money.

  10. avatar Mercutio says:

    granted my eyes are bad, but that sure looks like 6.66mm in the pic of the receiver…. sorta appropriate.

  11. avatar FoRealz? says:

    Just get an HK21E and call it a day.

  12. avatar Ross says:

    Great write up Nick, the only think you missed was the date we will be able to purchase a semi-auto version here in the US.

  13. avatar Kirk says:

    Guys, for the love of God, if you don’t want to look stupid, get someone who is at least semi-familiar with machine guns to either write these articles, or at least review them.

    First off, there’s a huge mistake in just the basic conception of what you’re trying to say in your first paragraph–The M249 is not the first weapon to be capable of being run by one man. You’ve fundamentally missed an entire swathe of history and doctrine, and you’re not even into the main body of the article.

    First, let us review a couple of pertinent doctrinal terms, which are necessary to understanding the differences between weapons within this class. Do also note that I’m speaking from a strictly American point of view–The same terms are used in other nations, but to describe different aspects of weapon categories.

    First, we have the machine gun as “Automatic Rifle”. This is an archaic term, developed from the original French conception of the squad support weapon, which was supposed to deliver automatic fire in support of the advancing infantry squad by means of something they termed “walking fire”. The US adopted this concept, and developed the Browning Automatic Rifle to support it. The original BAR included a cup on the ammo belt issued with this weapon, in order to facilitate it being fired from the hip. This whole idea was rapidly discarded in the latter half of the Great War, being entirely discredited by the fact that automatic fire being delivered by men firing from their hips while dodging Maxim MG08 fire and artillery didn’t do much good. Although, it greatly benefited the casket and headstone industries.

    The term “Automatic Rifle” applies to a weapon run by one man, generally is magazine fed, may or may not have a bipod, and is intended to supplement the fires of a squad with automatic fire. During WWII and Korea, that was the BAR, modified with a bipod and a few other changes. During the 1950s, there was supposed to be a weapon called the M15 for this role, but it never achieved success. So, the Army and Marines started issuing a GPMG, which was the M60, in order to provide this fire. In theory, the MTOE also had “Automatic Riflemen”, who were simply regular riflemen issued the M16, a clip-on bipod, and a few more magazines. They were also supposed to keep their weapons on full-auto, when firing, while the rest of the squad remained on “semi”.

    Now, we come to the confusing part: The term “LMG”. A light machine gun is not the same as an AR, but an LMG can be used in the role of an AR, although not necessarily in the opposite direction. Pertinent characteristics of the LMG are generally a belt feed, the ability to be operated off of a tripod (important for delivering repeatable fires on pre-planned targets), changeable barrels in order to enable sustained fire, and the ability to be crew-served. A BAR is not an LMG; it has no changeable barrel, the weapon can’t be tripod-mounted, and it’s not suited to crew-served operation. The BREN, however, is a true LMG, as it has all of those characteristics, aside from the belt feed. The top-loading magazine allows the weapon to be classed as truly crew-servable, because the AG can change the magazines for the gunner without disrupting his focus on the target. The current Marine M27 is not an LMG, but it is an AR. The LMG will also generally be issued in the same caliber as the individual weapon in the organization, and will not be intended to deliver long-term sustained fire.

    The M249 is issued in both the AR and the LMG roles–You have to look at the MTOE in order to understand which role it’s filling. If you have the tripod and T&E mechanism, along with spare barrels, it’s an LMG-roled weapon. None of the above, just the weapon? It’s an AR. The Negev in 5.56mm is the same thing as an M249–An LMG which is capable of being used in the one-man AR role, as well as being a crew-served LMG.

    A medium MG would be a weapon which must be mounted on a tripod, and which required a crew for general operation. The old Browning M1919 series was a medium MG, although it lacked a quick-change barrel. Generally, an MMG is a support weapon issued in a heavier caliber than the individual weapon, and held separately from the lower-echelon units, either at platoon or company HQ level. It will almost never be a magazine-fed weapon, strictly a belt-feed affair.

    In the old days, there was another category, and that was the water-cooled version of the same gun–Since it could deliver some seriously sustained fires with that water cooling, it was considered the HMG, or heavy machine gun, in comparison to the MMG M1919 with the air-cooled barrel. These days, if the term “HMG” is applied, it’s talking about the air-cooled .50 cal M2HB class of weapons.

    The other category is the GPMG, or General-Purpose Machine Gun, which is a weapon capable of being used in all roles across all these categories. That class included the first iteration of this weapon, which would be the MG34, followed by the MG42. We implemented this class of weapon with the M-60 MG, and used it in all roles outlined above. The M240B is the modern equivalent. It can be used as an AR, an LMG, or a MMG, dependent upon which accessories and missions are assigned to it.

    Now, it’s important to understand these terms, because they enable you to understand the intent and design of the weapons you’re discussing and using better. The M249 is not some ground-breaking new idea, nor was it the first expression of the concept. The Negev is simply an improved Israeli conception of the same weapon for the same role, with some heavy influence from the South African SS-77. If I remember right, they both use the rotary Goryunov-style feed system, instead of the shuttle-style system adopted from the original MG34/42 series in the M60, M240, and M249.

    None of these weapons really break new ground. If anything, they’re perfected versions of previous art, with a few improvements of their own.

    1. avatar Lord Wulfgen says:

      Excellent post. Give this man some internetz.

    2. avatar Skyler says:

      Your post is well written but I think your insistence on rigid definitions doesn’t jibe with reality. The terms are much more fluid than your comments would require.

      1. avatar Kirk says:

        No, my terminology is straight from the doctrinal manuals and the history books.

        The only “fluidity” in the discussion of what these terms mean stems from the ignorant and uninformed using terms they don’t understand–Which was a huge problem for me, when conducting training in the Army. Words have meanings, and if you willy-nilly make up your own terms for things that are already rigorously defined, well… You’re an idiot. Just like the dipshits describing an M14 as a “Main Battle Rifle”, which is a made-up term some idiot gunwriter came up with back in the days of the HAC-7. The term never existed in any sanctioned format within the military, although that may have changed.

    3. avatar Philthegardner says:

      I agree completely. Nick may be good at some things but factual, well-researched reviews about light machines guns is not one of them. Terms and names are there for a reason. History is written and can be researched. You don’t do a gun review with an overriding “I think so” factor thrown in. While the gun is cool, we don’t go to this website JUST for gun porn. We come here because, as the masthead says, this is “The Truth About Guns”
      If we have to rate your review, it’s just two stars for you. Not up to snuff.

  14. avatar Broken 3ight says:

    My god Nick, I’m beyond jelly at this point.

  15. avatar Skyler says:

    Kirk, my phone won’t seem to let me reply directly. I think when your precise terms require the oh so precise additional epithets of “idiot” and “dipshit” then you have lost your credibility and your argument.

    Your staff work may have appreciated such exactness but the rest if the world need not comply with those rules.

  16. avatar seans says:

    So let’s see, the M60, Stoner 63, MK43 were all weapons that were one man operated depending on your unit. Just cause big army wasn’t using them as individual weapons doesn’t mean no one else was.

  17. avatar Ben Dynan says:

    A friend of mine from high school carried the Negev when he was in the IDF. I talked to him about it and he loved it.

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