The M249 SAW has been a common sight on the battlefield for nearly 50 years. Originally designed in the 1970’s as a lightweight replacement to the M60, the military was thrilled at the idea that the gun could use the same ammunition as the rest of the M16-equipped squad.

But that was back when engagement distances were relatively short, and weight of fire was more important than long range accuracy. Now that the battlefields of today have moved out of the claustrophobic jungles of Vietnam and into the wide open spaces of the Middle East it seems that the military is looking for something with a little more accuracy and long distance stopping power.

notice was posted by the Army about a week ago outlining the military’s plans:

The Next Generation Squad Automatic Rifle (NGSAR) is a single incremental program to meet future force warfighting needs. It is the planned replacement for the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) in Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) and select support units during the next decade. It will combine the firepower and range of a machine gun with the precision and ergonomics of a carbine, yielding capability improvements in accuracy, range, and lethality. The weapon will be lightweight and fire lightweight ammunition with improved lethality. The NGSAR will help to reduce the heavy load that burdens Soldiers and that has a significant negative impact on their mobility, survivability, and firing accuracy. Soldiers will employ the NGSAR against close and extended range targets in all terrains and conditions. The NGSAR will be compatible with and dependent on legacy optics and night vision devices to meet required capabilities. It will also be compatible with the Small Arms Fire Control system currently in development and possess back-up sights. It is anticipated the NGSAR support concept will be consistent with (comparable to) that of the predecessor M249 SAW involving the Army two level field and sustainment maintenance system. The NGSAR will achieve overmatch by killing stationary, and suppressing moving, threats out to 600 meters (T), and suppressing all threats to a range of 1200 meters (O).

Noticeably absent: any specification of ammunition. It says the ammo needs to be lighter than the ammunition currently in use, but it doesn’t specify the caliber.

Could we be seeing a .22WMR machine gun in the field sometime soon? Probably not. But it would be interesting to see if one of the participants decides to wildcat something specifically to meet the spec.

The notice goes on to give the specific requirements that the gun must meet, including:

Better reliability
Improved accuracy
Light weight even with an included suppressor

That last one is particularly notable. The M249 was designed to be compact, not quiet. For this new gun, the specification requires both a compact and quiet package with an included suppressor.

We should start seeing the first hints of what companies are proposing to fill this role within the next few months, as the military is holding an industry day at the end of July to go over the proposal in more detail. My bet is that 1) FN will submit a variant of their venerable SCAR design, 2) Colt will once again half-assedly bastardize an AR-15 platform rifle to fit the requirement while trying to spend as little money on R&D as possible, and 3) H&K will throw the MG5 out there again.

The wildcard here is SIG SAUER, who re-engineered their company specifically to fulfill contracts like these that require the vendor to supply both the firearm and the ammunition. I can’t imagine they’d sit on the sidelines for this, but I also don’t see anything in their arsenal ready to meet the requirement. Stay tuned.

64 Responses to US Army Considers Replacing M249 SAW With Bigger, Badder Suppressed Machine Gun

  1. Might want to change the title since this is supposed to be a smaller and lighter gun, not bigger 🙂

    Lots of talk going around on how the marines M27 or the LSAT fit the bill for this. A modified SCAR already lost to the HK 416 M27 with the marines. FN will need to try harder.

    Oh to dream that the GCA gets axed just in time for thousands of SAWs to hit the surplus market in a couple years.

    • “Sweet! …waitaminute, these things are all clapped out and terrible, and heavy, and big…”

      • Think fixed position home defense. Kinda like the sailing navy equivalent of pivot guns 🙂

        Repel boarders, yarrr

      • The important thing is a legal receiver. You can have a qualified gunsmith replace the entire rest of the gun as long as you have a legal receiver.

  2. also, it requires the new weapon to be magazine fed which means it’s not really meant to be a suppressive fire weapon

    • Haven’t you heard, we’re “suppressing through precision fire” now, and at ranges beyond what our opposition can 😉

      Maybe we’ll just adopt the RPK74 we’re building towards for some unknowable reason.

    • Possibly not. Word is that 60+ round mags are reliable enough now that some may be adopted by the military. The marines have managed to effectively work the M27 with only stanag 30rd. Go read up on it.

      The ringer is that a switch to caseless ammo is in the works.

    • My guess is they want it to have the ability to be mag fed in a pinch, though primarily belt fed.

      • Sadly, the M249 SAW isn’t really reliable being fed with magazines. And adding a suppressor makes it heavier.

        I think the Army is looking for their own “M27”. It’s heavy for an “AR”, but it’s lighter than an M249, and technically loose ammo is lighter than linked ammo. Soooo….. who knows.

      • Technically it can be fed from a mag, but good luck getting it to fire more than once or twice in a row without immediate action. It becomes a manually operated firearm. They’re better off making a new one belt-fed only. Too much complication kills combat arms.

    • I haven’t seen that requirement. As primary or secondary ammo source?

      The SAW is primarily belt fed but can take a standard mag in a pinch so that if belts run out/are not available basically anyone can toss the machine gunner a mag and the gun is back up and running.

  3. What about the LSAT program and its LMG? It shows considerable promise as far as ammo weight savings. How does that program relate to this NGSAR program?

  4. You know, every now and then some HR or manager will ask that question: “In 10 years, how do you see your place within our company”. And the proper (albeit not welcome) response is: “Laddie, who told you the company will survive those 10 years?”.

    I mean what if theaters shift, or something? We’ll see yet another RFP seeking multi-caliber support weapon, I guess 🙂

    On more serious note, I’ll add slightly upgraded Negev or Mk.48 (slimmed if possible) to the list. It has to be 7.62×51, after all.

    • The one positive, is that in any conflict facing “near peer” capabilities & armor this gun is designed for, the national debt accumulated to pay for it will likely be voided (i.e. we’ll be fighting China in WWIII and destroying the global economy, probably in direct response to the ramifications of that debt)

    • If we get a caseless 6.5 creedmore type round that actually works out of all this we are all gonna love the lower prices.

      Bout damn time NATO added a modern round with all the improvements made in bullet tech.

      • You do know that none of the M855A1-type rounds will be available to us civvies so we can benefit from that economy of scale, right? At least, not unless El Jefe takes five minutes out of his day to sign some executive orders regarding AP ammo classification at the ATF and surplussing practices of the military.

        • Didn’t mean just the new EPR rounds but a whole new class of caliber/case. If we can get a 6.5 or 6.8 adopted I think great things will happen on the civvy side.

          But yeah, I don’t hold much hope of effective action from Trump on 2nd A matters.

      • 6.5mm Creedmore would take DOD 25years.

        If going to move back to a real machinegun (Medium) you’re right back to 7.62mm It has the range and power that a rifle platoon needs. Perhaps have Speer etc come up with a modern projectile.

  5. It needs to be lighter, it needs to be quieter, it needs to be smaller…also it needs to shoot puppy kisses and unicorn farts.

  6. Why is it that when I read these military requisition releases I think of one of two scenarios?

    1) A bright, degreed enlisted staffer writing a nice draft and then having all the proof changes from admin turn it into the FUBAR of the written word.
    2) Beavis and Butthead writing it in one take.

    • This is Uncle Sam; he’ll spare no expense & 3D print every silencer from Stellite if he has to, so long as an arbitrary req gets satisfied.

  7. “But that was back when engagement distances were relatively short, and weight of fire was more important than long range accuracy. Now that the battlefields of today have moved out of the claustrophobic jungles of Vietnam and into the wide open spaces of the Middle East it seems that the military is looking for something with a little more accuracy and long distance stopping power.”

    F the What???

    In Iraq there were instances where the good guys were told not to return fire due to what MAY be behind the target. But let’s give the grunts something else to lug to their next “Cease Fire” call.

    • Not to mention, wasn’t the entire Iraq ground-war (at least the part not involving artillery and airstrikes) conducted in their crummy cities? Afghanistan is the *only* place we seem to be having this ‘ambush from range’ problem, and frankly, it’s largely due to tactics and restraint we have chosen to impose on ourselves (i.e. not shelling the holy hell out of the origin location regardless what it is/who is there & going medieval on the complicit townsfolk, not escorting foot patrols with some kind of airborne ordnance than can be called down like thunder on short enough notice)

      • This is what I’ve been saying. There was combat in the rural areas of Iraq, but it also included close quarters combat. Around the Tigris and Euphrates river it is actually very green and over grown, more like the jungles of India. Lots of palm trees and groves and tall grass. This is where I was when I was there, along the Tigris. There were rice patties and very thick overgrowth. This part of the war was really never reported, I guess. But the combat was for more “Vietnam style” than what people typically picture combat in Iraq looked like. I never fought or patrolled in the desert or any big cities. It’s was all small towns, farms houses, rural, muddy and wet.

        • The reason the marines went to a rifle sized automatic was exactly for MOUT. The saw gunners fell behind and were not effective for room clearing. The marines will now have the M27 rifleman with each squad for door kicking and the 249 guys stay on overwatch and fire teams deployed by the company CO.

          Pretty much the M27 is close to why us civvies buy HBAR rifles. We use them for precision shots and/or mag dumps. Marines are using a HBAR 416 to do the same thing and it’s working. Each company still retains the regular machine guns for long range open fire and vehicle mounts, so they are back to being fast, light, and mobile.

          C’mon, what marine wouldn’t like the job of being a designated marksman who also gets to rock’n’roll
          🙂

  8. Why aren’t all military light arms suppressed? They obviously can’t wear hearing protection in a fire fight, but a little suppression could sure help them with allot of problems later in life.

  9. “But that was back when engagement distances were relatively short”…. they’re still short. I get why our experience in Afghanistan has brought back the concept of reach out and touch back to the battlefield. But I just don’t agree here. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The next war WILL be in Europe. You can take that to the bank. It will be an Iraq style conflict. Our militaries current load our is actually suited perfectly for combat in Europe because most of it was designed during the Cold War. Now, I served in Iraq and carried the plethora of weapons in an infantry platoon. The saw needs improvement in reliability or replacement with a more reliable system. The 240 needs to be lighter. But to straight out replace these weapons with new ones based Primarily on long range engagements is a HUGE mistake. There were plenty of close range “Vietnam style” fire fights in Iraq. When my son is slugging it out in the streets of Paris I’d rather him have a 249 or 240 type weapon then 1200 meter range magnum MG. Close range combat is not somehow now “outdated” and to design the military’s platform around such thinking will result in unnecessary casualties.

    • Theoretically, I could see North Korea being like Afghanistan, since it is so rural and mountainous (more so than the south). Weather’s a way bigger factor than ammo, though. I also see that fight being more likely China’s than ours. The fight will be in the Mid East for the forseeable future; it is the nucleus of literally all our foreign power problems that aren’t directly with China (and China’s influence is big over there in an indirect way). Whether it’s Iran, or some proxy conflict nearby between their puppets and Saudi’s (i.e. Iraq or Syria), it is guaranteed to be an urban setting. This won’t be WWII fighting through hedgerows and bean fields, or Vietnam jungle-crawling, it will be a couple Stalingrad-style-holdouts full of suicidal psychopaths bent on their own destruction.

      • “Theoretically, I could see North Korea being like Afghanistan, since it is so rural and mountainous (more so than the south).”

        My money’s laying on China taking bad-haircut boy out and installing someone the Chi-Coms consider politically reliable. To them. That was apparently China’s plan for Jong Nam.

        Kim’s priority is thinking of his neck first. What concerns me is China going along with the ratcheting up the economic sanctions as pressure when NK pops off another of his physics experiments, and Kim responding by selling one of his firecrackers for a pile of gold.

        To someone like Iran. Recent news is Qatar paid Tehran 1 billion in cash for some Qatar royal family members held hostage:

        https://www.ft.com/content/dd033082-49e9-11e7-a3f4-c742b9791d43?mhq5j=e1

        The one being backed into corner now is China, and they have to consider that an unacceptable position to them…

    • Clearing house to house? Whose brilliant idea was that? A napalm drop would solve either problem. So would carpet bombing. Get rid of the PC mindset and forget the term “collateral damage”. Now have at it.

      • I believe there is an easier way: cordon the affected area, leaflet it well in advance, filter the people out through check points, segregate anyone interesting, then raze the area and repeat on the next set of blocks. Casualties for friendlies: Minimal. Enemy combatants neutralized: Nearly 100%. Defensive area left behind for reoccupation: 0. Message about the viability of fighting in urban terrain: Sent.

        The downside? A serious refuge crisis. However, I don’t think it would take long before the enemy couldn’t hide among the civilian populace. The locals would gladly lead you right to them to avoid having their neighborhood razed. It’s ugly, nasty stuff, with billions of $ in infrastructure damage. However it is also incredibly effective, fairly simple, and frankly, if we aren’t in it to eliminate our enemies, what is the point in what we are doing? I, for one, don’t much care how bad it hurts. Coddling potential terrorists and extremists doesn’t work well. Denying them support, infrastructure, logistics and manpower does work. It’s harder to set up a meaningful defense of a refugee tent city than a built up urban area, and it’s hard to resist when all the military aged males in a given area have been conscripted, interred, or killed.
        It’s strong medicine to be sure, but it also sends the message that resistance equals complete and utter destruction of political, tribal and family bonds, and relocates any resisters to areas where they lack organized support. The thing is that insurgents need the population and they need the economy or they run out of logistical support. This denies them both, as well as shuffling the deck on them location and association wise.
        The idea is that not only do you deal with the enemy immediately in front of you, but you deny this support system to the ones you haven’t gotten to yet, and to the ones who would attempt to move back in after you have moved on.
        Plus, it puts the pain back on the enemy. If they evacuate, nobody gets homeless. If they don’t, everyone gets homeless. I don’t think that would play well for long among their less ardent supporters.

  10. Use aluminum cased .243 Winchester that shoots a polymer coated bi-metal bullet to reduce barrel wear. Make it a bullpup and the barrel 22 inches long and thicker than the M249’s.

  11. Military requirements are often made by so called logistical experts, that haven’t been there done that and least of all had too pack and carry all the superfluous BS an 11 Bravo carries as mainline gear,!
    Army will make big noises about cutting 20 lbs out of gear but not say a word about putting 50 lbs. back.
    or make more Ammo mandatory, soldiers already have to walk like penguins

  12. Next big war is indonisia. Largest muslim nation in world by population and size. 17k plus islands. Hard to use drones in triple canopy… near perfect location for new headquarters of isis.

    We cant have a war with north korea, there artillery would kill millions of people in seol in the first week.

    Fighting with russia or china is maad. That is why proxi cyber warfare has already been going on for the last decade.

    The sunnis can handle iran on their own. Shias are only 10% of muslim pop, sunnis are 90, that and saudis have more oil than iran is why we back the saudis.

  13. Back in the 80’s when the USMC issued the M249 it was fielded at the fire team level for the automatic rifleman and not as a replacement for the M60. All our training and written doctrine had the M249 at the FT level as an automatic rifle–not used in the same role as the M60. The Marines replaced the M60 with the M240. I mention this as it might be important in understanding the type of weapon and caliber the Army is looking for.

    • This is it Dennis: the 249 is a great squad support weapon, but sorely lacking as a GPMMG. Proper MGs are heavy, and thus lack the mobility of a compromise weapon like the 249, but the 249 is a serious force multiplier for small units while maintaining high maneuverability. Really both sorts of weapons are needed.

      The thing is flexibility of doctrine and tactics. A SAW supports a squad, while a squad supports an MMG. It would seem to me that replacing one 249 per company with the option of replacing one per platoon, or reinforcing a platoon with a MMG sqaud/crew on mission specific criteria with a 240 or something similar would balance this. You give up a little mobility, and frankly a little manpower, but you gain range, power and sustainable fire.

      The US Army seems to vasilate without ever settling on this: Do you want heavy infantry, with all its power but poor maneuverability, or do you want light infantry with all ll the maneuverability but with less effect? The army keeps answering ‘Yes’, and the game continues.
      Mixed use covers a lot of this, and with some doctrinal changes, I really think it might be what we’ve been searching for.
      All that said, because of the nature of our current enemies, and our own ROE, what we seem to be looking for are small, highly maneuverable units that have, somehow, large amounts of sustainable firepower, embedded marksmen, and all the other benefits of larger, heavier units.
      At some point one has to accept that there sometimes isn’t an equipment solution, and that doctrine must flex to suit the reality on the ground. In this case, I can’t imagine what that solution is, but I think it might involve committing a lot more troops than we are willing to commit.
      Moreover, this growing commitment to limited war, in which our casualties are negligible, in which civilians are not harmed or displaced, and where infrastructure is maintained, and where the massive firepower of the US isn’t brought to bear either frequently or in sustained fashion isn’t apt to ever ‘win’ a war. It is however a good plan for a never ending, grinding fight that may drag on for generations. The lack of decisive action, and the idea that changes to TOE are somehow the answer is disheartening to me. The answer has always been right there in front of us, we are just unwilling to implement the required solution: The last time we definitively ‘won’ a war, 5 million German soldiers an over a million German civilians were dead, Over 2 million Japanese soldiers were dead and pushing 1 million civilians. There were also millions of homeless, and the infrastructure in those countries was almost entirely destroyed. That’s about 8.5 percent of the entire German population, and about 4.5 percent of Japan. When we are prepared to do the same In Afghanistan, kill 2.6 million Afghans, and leave the rest without a road, bridge, power plant, factory, water treatment plant or a home, then we are serious about winning. Until then, a fight like this is a tethered goat, to keep the jihadis fighting us there instead of someplace less palatable.

      • agreed. My comment was refering to the original article which stated the M249 was a replacement for the M60. It wasn’t. It was meant to replace the M16 AR position.

        • There is no perfect weapon or caliber for every situation. That is why we have light and heavy weapons. When it comes to small arms, money rules the day. Not so much with the heavier weapons. Don’t know why subjects like this are always an argument but I guess it passes the time with many gun enthusiasts. Thanks for the reply it was thoughtful.

  14. The military always says that they want something more powerful (which gets the 7.62 fanboys all excited) but then they say they want a round lighter than the current 5.56 (which means in the end, they comprise by keeping the 5.56).

    Clue: There ain’t gonna be no magical wildcat caliber. NATO has too much invested in the 7.62 and .50 BMG for vehicle mounted small arms and the 5.56mm and 9mm for personal weapons. So take these military wish lists with a grain of salt.

  15. Somebody correct me if my memory is faulty but didn’t the Army just complain lately that the 5.56 round won’t penetrate the latest version of body armor and they needed to get a rifle that has more oomph to it? Yeah, something like a wildcat round. Yeah, that’s the ticket. What? A supply nightmare when the squad’s rifles and SAW don’t use the same ammo? Let’s not get nit-picky about the details, please.

    I have to admit that I’m prejudiced. I’m “old school” enough that I carried an M-14 in Vietnam, which used the same 7.62 x 51 as our M-60 machine-guns. Yes, the ammo was heavy – but it did the job without having to use 3-4 rounds to achieve the same effect as 5.56 x 45.

  16. .22 WMR, no, 5.7×28 maybe, And no, I am not seriously proposing this by any means, but who knows what ideas stir in the minds of the generals at times.Watch FN offer up this as a solution, just sayin’

  17. Does anybody want to know why we are having this discussion? This next phrase sums up the Army and probably Marine Corps.

    “We fight today’s enemy, using tomorrows weaponry, and yesterdays strategy,”.

    Truth be told, I don’t think the SAW really needs to be replaced. I served in Armor, so we never really messed with them, but the Cav guys lauded them for being lighter than the M240 and the ability to rip off rounds in a hurry. Its a suppression weapon, its not meant to put a rifle ball thru the moon.

    For what its meant for, it works fine. Dump lots of rounds in fairly close proximity so the bad guys keep their heads down, and the rest of the squad can maneuver on the objective. Its when we start trying to make ti do shit it wasn’t intended to do is when the adage “if it ain’t broke, fix it til it is,” comes into play.

    Just like the HMMWV. It was never meant to serve as a primary method of carting troops around a 360 degree battlefield, but someone decided it was just too much to have Brads and Strykers carry everyone around. Instead, lets jerry-rig some Hillbilly armor to a vehicle that was not designed to carry that much weight, destroy the power to weight ratio, and then demand that everyone drive slow…ya know…so you could potentially spot a mine that someone buried with the utmost care. And we all saw how that worked out.

    Anyway, that long drawn out schpiel was to say this; is it the equipment that needs fixing, or is it the strategies/tactics?

  18. Hank,
    You are right.
    There will be no caliber change unless there is some amazing revolution in ammo
    The Army has too much invested in the current calibers in terms of logistics.
    We can expect a product improved gun like the Negev or HK MR 308
    I keep hoping for a phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range

  19. From another website, the following solicitation of interest from SOCOM points to the direction that the military is going. The lighter weight will be achieved through the use of polymer cased ammo.

    http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2017/05/15/usmc-socom-want-general-dynamics-lightweight-medium-machine-gun/

    “LWMMG specifics: The LWMMG should fire the belted .338NM round of ammunition with a polymer case. The LWMMG should weigh less than 24 pounds unloaded with a barrel length of 24in. The LWMMG should have a rate of fire of between 500-600 rounds per minute. Weapon shall be compatible with current rail mounted aiming systems with the ability to incorporate more advanced fire control technology. The system should include both a suppressed barrel and an unsuppressed barrel that can be rapidly changed. The LWMMG should include a tripod that is lightweight and provides the stability and accuracy required to engage targets at extreme ranges. The LWMMG should be able to mount in current machinegun mounts designed for the M240B/C. The weapon should have sufficient accuracy to engage area targets and vehicles at 2,000m.

    • Yep, it came up here, too (http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2017/05/daniel-zimmerman/vedder-holster-daily-digest/).

      I wonder if polymer-cased .338 NM is viable. It is not sedate round at all. Might be interesting – if polymer cased can handle .338 NM pressures, why not .308 polymer cases (yea, I know the case wall ought to be noticeably thinner in this one)? 🙂

      One thing missing in LWMMG is portability. It has weight comparable to (already used) M240, with available (metal-cased) ammo inherently heavier than 7.62×51. And judging from the photos, it is a bitch to lug around, and the only method of using it to clear the building is dumping several hundred rounds right through the walls, killing everyone but baby mouse inside.

  20. Well, waddaya y’know? More organizations talking about going back to 30 cal. Turns out in a war where your enemy is unafraid to die and doesn’t close to engage where you can hit them best, you do need 30 cal. And after we’d spent billions of dollars and thousands of lives trying to prove 22 cal is totes the super duper everything solution.

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