SITREP: May 2003

By Dan Shea

Doctrine for air-cooled machine gun fire has been five- to seven-round bursts, bipod-supported, prone position, for very good reasons. In the modern training approaches that are in vogue, the machine gun is being used as a belt-fed rifle instead of a General Purpose Machine Gun. These weapons, the M240, the M249 series, the M60 series, etc, are “area target” weapons, not “point target” weapons. If you can in fact attach enhanced vision devices, all the better. However, if you need “point target” accuracy, that is what your riflemen are for. The machine gunner’s job is to provide suppressive fire while the other members of his unit maneuver aggressively to hit the enemy, or, and I think this is even more important, while his men leave a negative Area of Operations.

If the machine gunner is not trained in how to use his weapon in its primary function, then he cannot perform his duties under fire. This leaves his unit compromised. Two-round bursts are excellent for some purposes, and in all probability, they are excellent doctrine for certain special units and their missions. However, to train a “Machine gunner”, he must have all of the aspects of the use of the weapon, or he is derelict under fire. If he doesn’t speak “defilade, enfilade, grazing fire, indirect fire”, then he is missing most of what his weapon can do. That means he cannot perform his role in the scheme of things.

The machine gunner should be covering everyone’s entrance to the area, suppressing the enemy, and saving his own men upon exiting a hot area. If he wants to achieve accuracy, forget the Rambo crap, and get down on the weapon. Shoulder or hip fire should be in training for some forward assault situations, and ambush busting, but aim the weapon, control it, and hit the targets!

The staff at SAR consider that it is a major malfunction to have your machine gunners trained for one small facet of the capability of their weapon.

On another note: up the ammo rations. I mean, military and LE leaders, cut the budget on something else, and give these guys some more ammo! There is no substitute for live fire with your weapons. It won’t “Make them more likely to use them;” it will “Make them more likely to use them correctly when they need to.” It is disgusting to hear of “training” where the soldiers or officers point weapons and say, “bang.” Man, is that realistic. These people put their lives on the line, and other people count on them. Give them ammo, training time, more ammo, and then more ammo.

When we shoot as civilian owners, recreationally, we need not worry about two-round bursts, or five-round bursts, but we really should pay attention to the rules of safety regarding length of bursts. When the barrels achieve a certain temperature, the metal moves into an elastic state. With the pressures that the barrel is trying to contain, expansion or bending of a barrel can and will occur when the gun is too hot. This can cause a round to come out the side, a very dangerous occurrence. We plan on doing some in-depth coverage of the mechanics of these events in the near future.

I believe that the old “Emma Gees” in the shooting community could do a great service to our current military by inviting them to some good old belt-fed competition. Not the kind where piling up the brass is the stated objective, but the kind where bullet placement and tasks are primary. We used to have belt-fed competitions at shoots, and many times the World War II Browning Machine Gun operators who did it in Europe, would come out, get behind a 1919A4, and work the T&E like a dial..... Impressing the heck out of all who witnessed it. When military groups competed and tried the two- to three-round bursts, they found their time on hard targets was compromised significantly. Beaten by some old coot in a lawn chair with an ancient machine gun!

I am not alone in my eccentricity, a group of us are trying to get together a major event regarding John Browning’s gun. Dolf Goldsmith is leading the charge, and we are looking to get a military range to sponsor the shoot, bringing veterans of past wars together to shoot once again, and to share the lore. SAR will keep you posted on this, and as always, to those headed into harm’s way, God Bless, and come home safe.

- Dan

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V6N8 (May 2003)
and was posted online on November 22, 2013


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