HK's MG43: Torture Test at the Cibola Dust Range

By Dan Shea

In previous issues of SAR, your faithful correspondent has brought out the stories of the Yuma Proving Ground torture tests performed by HK on their new weapons. Oberndorf would not dream of presenting a new weapon system without adequate testing and trials. The Germans do not like to present an unproven concept to their customers. This means they beat the hell out of their systems, trying to make them fail. Other manufacturers do this as well, but far too many end up going to the marketplace with either untested or inadequately tested product, and in the military small arms arena, this can be fatal for your customers. Aside from the natural pride HK has in their quality, those surviving customers tend to be annoyed by these incidents, and to take it out on the manufacturer, so thorough testing is prudent.

In August of 2001, HK did their desert testing of the new MG43 machine gun system in 5.56 x 45mm. As usual, this was a torture test of the testers as well as the weapons. The 116º f ambient temperature does not begin to describe the actual temperatures out in the noonday sun. The dust and sand is everywhere, gets into everything, and is a great environment for finding out where the weak points in a system are. We did not find many in the MG43. There were far more weak points in your faithful correspondent than in anything that HK tested on the Cibola Dust Range those weeks in August of 2001.

The United States is not the only country that has requirements for a lightweight belt fed weapon. While this writer is a dyed in the wool, true believer, old school (Readers may insert more clichés) curmudgeon on the caliber issue- I believe that a machine gun should be in 30 caliber in order to perform all of the functions that a machine gunner needs it to do out to 1200 meters +, there is definitely a demonstrated need for an intermediate belt fed weapon. After Action reports (Yes, those modern day “Lessons Learned” reports) have demonstrated at what short ranges most modern combat happens at, and emphasizes the need for a lightweight, portable, reliable belt fed weapon in a 5.56 caliber, allowing each squad to have a belt fed operator. To this point in time, the FN Minimi / M249 system has been the predominant offering, accepted in many armies around the world. There have been other offerings ranging from the well known HK23 series, to the famed Stoner 63, to the mysterious Israeli Negev, to the very sexy but totally unreliable Spanish Cetme Ameli. I love that Ameli’s miniature MG42 looks, but wouldn’t want to bet the farm on it.

Lately, there have been many more requirements written, reaching for ever lighter weight, and ever more reliable and ergonomic designs. Some of these have moved into the 30 caliber range - 7.62 x 51mm NATO- and there are presently trials that SAR will be bringing you updates on. However, the current offering is in 5.56 x 45 mm NATO.

In this present requirement, the German firm of HK GmbH in Oberndorf has been working on a new weapon, the MG43. SAR was given an early look at this interesting and innovative weapon last year. We were asked to keep this quiet until the new system was unveiled at the NDIA Small Arms Symposium in May of 2002. I have chosen to present the features of this weapon as a photo essay in the issue that will be at the NDIA, and if you read through the captions and look at the photos, you will get a working view of this new design.

HK has taken some things from the old, and added a lot of new features. The goal of the German designers has been to make an extremely reliable system, as usual. And they have succeeded, as usual.

For our testing, the Germans fired 102,000 rounds of US Milspec 5.56x 45 ammunition. There were minor glitches here and there, but the two guns made it through the tests in one piece. It was most amazing to watch the testing cycle- fire a belt, toss the barrel into a barrel of water, slap another barrel on the gun, load a belt, and repeat. Endlessly. The barrels stood up to the rapid temperature changes, as did the MG43 system.

I observed the firers for quite a while to determine the controllability issue- and the MG43 was easy to handle. This is a subjective part of the report- what’s it like to shoot it? Well, the 750rpm cyclic rate is smooth for the weapon, an appropriate compromise between what the end users want for burst hit probability, and what is probably the natural harmonic of the weapon- I suspect it to be just above 500 rpm. I found it to be very easy to control, and keeping on target was quite easy. A negative would have to be the flash hider- it was opened at the bottom, I immediately went to bipod supported prone position and in that sandy environment it raised a cloud of dust- however, HK has corrected that situation. Shoulder fire was relatively easy to accomplish and the ambush busting “Hip fire” was easy to control as well. (God save me if Peter K reads this and thinks I advocate “Hip Fire”).

Please read through the accompanying picture captions for a better view of the HK MG43 machine gun. I am certain that we will be hearing a lot more about this new offering.- Dan

HK MG43 Machine Gun Specifications

Caliber: 5.56 x 45mm NATO
Operating System: Gas Operated
Bolt system: Positively locked, rotary two lug bolt head
Mode of fire: Sustained fire
Rate of fire: 750 Rds/ minute
Overall Length: 1050 mm, 810 mm with buttstock closed
Width: 90 mm
Height- bipod folded:....250 mm
Barrel Length: 480 mm
Weight: 6.4 kg
Bipod Weight: 0.43 kg
Barrel Weight: 1.72 kg
Standard Sights: Adjustable rear sight with range marks from 100 to 1000 meters in 100 meter increments.
Optical Sights: Picatinny rails on the top cover allow for the installation of various day and night sights.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N9 (June 2002)
and was posted online on February 14, 2014


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