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Why the M2 .50 Cal Machine Gun Might Not Ever Be Retired

M2 Machine Gun
U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Joshua Dewalt, platoon commander, Weapons Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, shoots an M2 .50 caliber machine gun at a range in Kajaki District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan Oct. 6, 2013. The shoot was intended to keep the platoons machine gun proficiency sharp. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Sean Searfus, 1st Marine Division Combat Camera/ Released)

The M2 machine gun is clearly old but has a utility that makes it unique and highly sought after. But when will technology make this obsolete and prevail? It’s a great machine gun, but it’s very heavy. And the U.S. Special Operations Command is looking for something lighter. It would be hard to fill the shoes of what many soldiers and marines call the “Ma-Deuce,” if it were to be replaced. Very few people survive a hit from the .50 caliber round fired by the Browning M2 Machine Gun. You’ve seen it in World War II moviesVietnam flicks, and on the nightly news. There is hardly a combat unit in the U.S. military that doesn’t use the M2.

What’s the Problem With the M2?

But this gun weighs more than 80 pounds. The ammunition weighs a lot too. It’s usually attached to a tank, vehicle, or airplane. On the ground, troops will emplace the M2 first, usually in a fortified position. And there it stays, because at that weight, it’s not very mobile. But it’s still the most important weapon in an infantry unit. The M2 shoots a heavy round that is almost 6-inches long, and about an inch in diameter, so you could imagine the damage it can do.

It was introduced at the end of World War I and came into broader service in 1933 – one of the oldest weapons in the infantry arsenal. It can hit a target at around 8,000 meters and can fire at a rate of 600 rounds per minute.

Replacements for the M2 Are Cropping Up

Despite all the advantages of the M2, the U.S. Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) began looking for something more manageable to transport. MARSOC operators were one of the first SOF units interested in adopting the SIG Sauer 338 machine gun system or the General Dynamics Light Weight Medium Machine Gun. The Regular Army and infantry units of the Marine Corps are also interested in the Sig Sauer 338 to replace the M240B 7.62mm machine gun too. U.S. Special Operations Command, prodded by the testing of MARSOC, finally went ahead and ordered the SIG Sauer 338 for the entire special operation community in January of 2020.

There are drawbacks to the SIG. The good news is that it weighs only 21 pounds, which is even lighter than the M240B, but its maximum effective range is only 2,000 meters compared to the 8,000 meters of the Ma-Deuce.

Let’s Keep the M2 Anyway

As an infantry guy, I don’t want the M2 to go away. It’s too powerful and too versatile to retire, despite the weight. The same goes for the M240B. In fact, the M240B is my favorite weapon in the Army. I’ve never fired the SIG 338, but it looks great, and I can see why the SOF community is excited about it. I bet regular Army and Marine units will eventually go with the SIG 338 too because the M240B is on the chopping block. But as for the M2, it’s a big military in dangerous times, so someone somewhere is always going to need it.

1945’s new Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.