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Lightweight .50-Caliber: Lethality at half the weight

A Soldier at Fort Hood, Texas, test fires the LW50 lightweight .50-caliber machine gun. Photo by PEO-Soldier

Oct 02, 2008
BY Debi Dawson, Special to the Castle.

FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Army News Service, Oct. 2, 2008) -- As Soldiers training for combat look to lighten their load, they can look forward to the Lightweight .50-Caliber Machine Gun.

The LW50, an addition to the Army's arsenal of machine guns at one-half the weight of the M2 .50-Caliber Machine Gun and with 60 percent less recoil, does not require the setting of headspace and timing. The LW50 provides Soldiers with the punch of a .50-caliber machine gun in the footprint of a 7.62mm weapon system, allowing them to bring .50 caliber lethality to the fight in situations where using a light to medium machine gun is the only available option.

The LW50 is still in the early stages of system design and development and officials at the Program Executive Office Soldier at Fort Belvoir said they expect the weapon to be fielded in 2011. They said a limited two-part Early User Assessment for the weapon was conducted with Special Operations Command personnel in March and May.

The LW50, a technological spinout from the 25mm XM307 Advanced Crew Served Weapon program, is capable of firing all current .50-caliber ammunition in the inventory, including the standard M33 ball; the M8 armor-piercing incendiary; the M903 saboted light armor penetrator; and the MK211 multipurpose round that combines armor-piercing, explosive, and incendiary effects.

"A major benefit of the LW50 is the weight and recoil savings and no requirement to adjust the headspace and timing," said Shailesh Parmar, a product director for Product Manager Crew Served Weapons in the office of Project Manager Soldier Weapons. "The LW50 is expected to weigh less than 65 pounds, including tripod and traversing and elevation mechanism, compared with the M2 system's weight of 128 pounds, a savings of 63 pounds or more," said Parmar. He also noted that the LW50 can be set up faster than an M2 because it does not need ballast to weigh down the tripod due to less recoil.

The LW50's greatly reduced recoil enables Soldiers to use weapon-magnified optics and maintain sight picture of the target, which was unthinkable and potentially painful with the M2. "Lower recoil also means less dispersion of rounds and better accuracy," Parmar said. "That, in turn, makes it easier to qualify with the LW50, allows Soldiers to use rounds more economically, and reduces the logistical burden."

Staff Sgt. James Tyus of the 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery was quick to notice the improvements while training on the weapon at Fort Hood, Texas. "It absorbs more recoil now. Given that, it makes the weapon more accurate. I like it for its accuracy," Tyus said.

The LW50's weight savings, reduced recoil, and increased accuracy allow for its use in places that were not feasible for an M2, such as in light infantry operations.

Once the LW50 is deployed, all vehicles that mount the M2 will be able to mount the new system. Tests have been successfully conducted mounting the system to the Stryker Combat Vehicle and the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station.

Other benefits of the LW50 include safety and training applications. The LW50 eliminates the need for the operator to adjust the headspace and timing and for any special maintenance tools, reducing the amount of training required. The current LW50 has 131 parts, compared with 244 for the M2.

"It's a very unique weapon. You don't have to worry about timing," said Pvt. Michael Zinns with 1-82 Field Artillery, who, like Tyus, was introduced to the LW50 at Fort Hood. The teardown, too, "is actually a lot easier, and the barrels are much more easily interchangeable," Zinns said.

The Army recently issued a requirement for a lightweight .50 caliber machine gun. Furthermore, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is developing lightweight vehicles that will need armament. SOCOM recognizes that a lightweight, low-recoil weapon suitable for these vehicles could see expanded use within dismounted units. The LW50 has the potential to satisfy those three needs in one package.

According to the current program cycle, the LW50 could be fielded at the end of FY11. Light units, such as the 82nd Airborne Division, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), 10th Mountain Division, 25th Infantry Division, and SOCOM forces, are expected to benefit most from the new weapon.

"I think that's what a lot of us look for, a lighter weapon," said Tyus. "I'm really excited about it."

Seeing what PEO-Soldier is bringing to bear in the Global War on Terrorism "inspires and sustains our young Soldiers" as they prepare to deploy to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, said Command Sgt. Maj. Neil Ciotola of III Corps, Fort Hood, Texas. "Many of our first-term troopers and even our veterans who have one tour can look at that and go: 'That's what's waiting for me.' "

(Debi Dawson serves as the PEO-Soldier Strategic Communications Officer.)


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21 Comments

As much as it pains me to say it, the M-2 is an old school machinegun and requires a different kind of care and feeding than the newer systems.  A lighter weight system, particularly if it is of simpler design is a welcome improvement, but I have serious concerns about the durability of a system that is half the weight of the Ma Deuce.  I'd also like to see the Mk19 get this kind of treatment - even though it's not nearing its 100th birthday like Mr Brownings design, the lube requirements are pretty finicky - LSA/LAW (the old military weapons lubricants - not widly in use anymore) are a lot harder to find now compared to back in the day...
 
Used to work with the 50s on my ship, and I had the luxury of the "soft mounts," which made them very nice for firing.  And since I'm a bit a of a small guy, I always had trouble carrying one unless the barrel was out.

This one looks nice, my only question is the barrel itself.  The M2 barrel would get very hot very quickly, and this barrel looks very thin.  Some sort of alloy, stand up to the heat better?
 
The article doesn't explain how the light units are going to carry the ammo to feed the lightweight .50 cal.  The same ammo can that holds 860 rounds of 5.56mm ball will hold precisely 100 rounds of .50 cal MG 4+1.  When I was a tanker, we didn't really worry about the ammo weight because the tank was desgned for all that.  But in the light infantry, I've seen missions where every man in a rifle company, the Old Man and Top included, moved out carrying at least one extra belt of 7.62mm 4+1 and at least one mortar round, in addition to what they were humping for personal use.

Our guys who have their boots in the mud are carrying way, WAY too much load as it is.  It is not helping things to come up with systems that will encourage commanders to add yet more weight to the load.
 
I second the concerns about the durability of the weapon, the thin looking barrel, and of course, the weight of the weapon.

I know that there's a quick change barrel program out there for the M2, which would solve a lot of issues with the M2 (though setting headspace is easier than adjusting timing).
 
I'll send along your observations to PEO-Soldier and see what we get for a response.
 
In a COIN fight in an Iraq-type environment, most likely the vehicles - HMMWVs, MRAPs, or their successors - would most likely be carrying the ammo.

In a place like Afghanistan, where the terrain forces a large number of dismounted ops, I see this weapon being a lot less useful, for the reasons noted - weight of the ammo - as well as the fact that, since it can only be fired from a tripod, it's not as useful in a running gun fight as a weapon like the M240 or M249 that can be fired from a bipod as well as a tripod.

In a conventional fight, where you can set up your MGs on the SBF when attacking, or dug in in the defense, this gun would be great, although the ammo issue would lessen the utility in the offensive role.

And I thought they were making stuff up talking about the Mk211 AP-HE-I round on Sarah Connor Chronicles last night.
 
I can see an aircraft application for it, but my hunch is it'll still be limited due to recoil. The airflow would help cool off that dinky little barrel, though...
 
I wonder why putting a 3-round burst option on a Barrett M82, and reconfiguring the receiver for linked-belt ops, wouldn't have saved the Army a ton o'cash? The Barrett looks like it could handle some upgrade in firing rate.
 
High tech stuff, but am I the only one that thinks that flash suppressor is old school.  As in Lee-Enfield No. 5 Jungle Carbine from WWII?  :-)


 
If we're just gonna mount it on a Humvee, why replace the M2? Even if we're talking mounting on a tripod in a perimeter, why bother replacing the gun that we know works?
 
It looks... fragile.
REALLY fragile.
Anyone else ever had to stick washers under the buffer of a sixty because the reciever had stretched?  this looks like it's going to have THAT problem with use.

and the whippy barrel's kind of a head-scratcher too.  The whole point of the HB on the M2HB is that it doesn't deform as much when you fire, so your shots will scatter less with use, and it can dump more heat without warping.

I see a stack of disadvantages here-and could someone tell me if the weight issues on an armored Humvee really require that you shave off fifty pounds somewhere?  Or on, say, an MBT?  It might be okay as a door-gunner's weapon on a medium Utility helicopter (weight actually IS an issue on a chopper,  right?) but just looking at the picture I see a bunch of complicated bits that can fail through normal use-and-abuse.
 

Speaking as a former grunt that served back when the USMC was training heavy in the maneuver war methods (long humps of several day duration with everything we were going to us carried on our backs), I think this weapon as described is do-able.

Take away the tripod and T%E weight from the 65 lbs listed, and it's not significantly heavier than the Dragon tube or the old M29 base plate or tube. As for ammo weight, such a weapon system would be a battalion level asset as part of the weapons company. The gun would have a team and the team would be configured to include the necessary men to carry sufficient ammo. The ammo carriers would also serve as gun security and replacement crew in the event of casualties.

Also, in gun teams, trading off the load during humps is part of the process, so no one man would be saddled with the heaviest elements of the system for the entire duration.

This isn't something that would be put down into the rifle squads of a line company. So there's not much to the argument that having to hump the heavier rounds would displace rounds carried for the rifleman's use.

This would be something at battalion level, part of a weapons company. And weapons company is all about carrying heavy a**ed support weapons. I did it for years. In mountain training, jungle training, desert training, urban training and even, on occasion, in training in terrain that didn't totally suck. But I suspect that last bit was due to some training officer not reading the map properly.

 
Good piont Grim.  As a (former) Brad/Stryker guy, I always forget about the weapons/AT company in a light battalion.  Although, in the Army, they're usually mounted on HMMWVs, IIRC.
 
Heartless Libertarian:

First, just making sure.. but I'm not Grim. Grim is Grim Beorn of Grim's Hall.
I'm Grimmy. We're easy to tell apart. Grim is all educated and poeticy. I'm usually foul mouthed and knuckly draggy.

Second:
Yeah, the Army and the Marines are a bit different in TO&E at the infantry level. I think I remember marching past a truck, once.
 
FWIW, the Army just announced that it was going to buy nearly 30,000 more M2s. It isn't going anywhere.
 
But ... But. ..But ... it's not a Browning!  Thank Heaven (and face Ogdon) that the Army has ordered 30,000 more M-2s. I like to think my nephew (and his grandchildren) will be using M-2s well into the 22nd Century. Now off to clean my 1911s, Woodsman, M-1894, M-1895 and Auto-5.
 
I absolutely do not believe that the barrel in the pic is for a .50 cal.  7.62, maybe. Looks like you could almost stick that barrel inside a real .50 barrel.
 
Kind of looks like an M240 on a bad hair day, sorta.
 
I've got it!  The dude just shot the barrel downrange and that thing sticking out the front is the gas piston, right?
 

Don't yuz guyz know nothing?
That gun obviously has a trans dimensional transference gizmo that displaces the mass of the bullet into someone else's universe while it travels down the barrel.

You'd think yuz never watched SciFi or sommat.

 
The barrel CAN be .50 across the grooves,  I've seen some custom-works that cut that much meat off.  It's the size of the reciever assembly and the suppressor that makes it look too small, along with what appears to be a very "lightweight" barrel contour probably achieved by using expensive, low-bulk alloys.  The contour being that thin is kinda disturbing nonetheless-I just sit here imagining a lot of barrel whip with each shot, and there's not a lot of sinking or radiator surface to prevent heat-warping on the barrel in the picture.  I suppose a very high Ti-Moly-Manganese blend in the steel might account for it, but... the chemistry would have to be VERY controlled at the point the steel stock is rolled, the hammer-forging processes would have to be very well controlled as well, just to get comparable levels of consistency to the old M-2 HB units. 

Exotic and Expensive, in other words.  You're not going to get decent performance out of 4350 cut that way, nor 4150 Stainless.  Even pre-stressed with the right hammer-forging, you're not looking at a barrel in the pic that's going to last very long in use, and it's going to cost out the ass.