I used the M240B when I was in the U.S. Air Force. Here is my own personal experience using this machine gun: How does one replace an icon?
After entering into service with the U.S. Armed Forces in 1957 and appearing in many renowned Vietnam War movies like Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket and memorable 1980s action films like Rambo: First Blood Part II and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando, the M60 machine gun AKA “The Pig,” certainly attained iconic status, and for a while, it looked as though it might stick around in U.S. military service every bit as long as the M-16/M-4 rifle series and the Browning M-2 “Ma Deuce” .50 caliber machine gun.
However, while the M60 hasn’t been completely phased out yet, it has been replaced for the most part by the M240B general purpose machine gun (GPMG), which hasn’t yet earned any sort of catchy nickname but has nonetheless earned its place in the U.S. military arsenal.
Supplanting the Pig
Hard as it may seem to believe, the M240 medium machine gun actually first entered U.S. Army service back in 1977, initially as a coaxial tank gun. However, it wasn’t adopted in more widespread numbers until the 1990s and was first “blooded” in combat during 1991’s Operation Desert Storm. Like the M60, the M240 is belt-fed and gas-operated. It employs the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge.
The weapon was designed by Fabrique Nationale (FN) Herstal of Belgium – the same company that was the primary manufacturer of the venerable Browning Hi-Power 9mm autopistol – and manufactured by the company’s U.S.-based subsidiary, FN USA. FN USA’s official info page on the gun makes the following claims:
“The FN M240 (also known as the FN MAG or FN MAG 58) family of medium machine guns (7.62x51mm NATO) has long been employed by all services of the U.S. Armed Forces. The FN M240B is the “go to/can do” medium machine gun for all branches of the U.S. military, offering absolute reliability, extended range, and an exceptional service life … This weapon’s high volume of fire makes it the principal suppressive fire instrument for the infantry platoon and company. The M240 is one of the most essential and widely used small arms in Iraq and Afghanistan … The M240 B’s cold hammer-forged MIL-SPEC barrel has a hard-chromed bore for longer life and improved accuracy. The receiver is machined steel and is equipped with a top-mounted MIL-STD-1913 optical rail. The crossbolt safety and curved trigger help enhance operator control.”
Unit cost is listed at $6,600.00. The gun weighs in at 27.6lbs, has a total length of 49 inches, and has a barrel length of 24.7 inches. The rate of fire is 650 – 950 rounds per minute (rpm), producing a muzzle velocity of 2,970 feet per second and an effective range of 600 meters – 1100 meters (1,968.5 feet – 3,608.9 feet).
Back in the day, “The Pig” had its occasional reliability issues, reportedly jamming every 800 or so rounds, whilst the M240 has evidently been remarkably superior in that regard. As noted by John Temple Ligon in an April 2006 issue of the Columbia Star, “Cited as the world’s most reliable machine gun, FN’s M240 fires 26,000 mean rounds between failure (MRBF). The Army’s Lt. General Senn, responsible for procurement, said the M240 got a grade of A, but the only reason the gun got an A was because there was no higher grade than A.”
Personal Shooting Impressions: M240B Pros and Cons
I got my own personal taste of the M240B back in 2004 during the Airbase Ground Defense (ABGD)/Ground Combat Skills (GCS) portion of the U.S. Air Force Security Forces Officer Course at Camp Bullis, Texas. Shooting it was a lot of fun, but I couldn’t say the same thing for disassembly, cleaning, and reassembly. The most memorable experience with the gun was getting to hump it as the designated machine gunner during our Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) training day. It’s a good thing that I was doing plenty of upper-body exercises back then, as it definitely came in handy for lugging the weight of the weapon for an extended period of time. Roughly halfway from the initial point to Bullis’ actual MOUT training area, I slipped and fell on my derriere, but thankfully I landed in soft mud and was, therefore uninjured and able to get right back up and complete the mission. Maneuvering that so-called “medium” machine gun within the tight confines of the MOUT training buildings was definitely a challenge – especially when negotiating stairways and ladders – but somehow I managed.
Suffice it to say that in retrospect, I’m glad the M240 didn’t become my assigned duty weapon for the remainder of my USAF career. But for our current servicemembers who are designated machine gunners, the weapon is serving them well and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011. In his spare time, he enjoys (besides shooting, obviously) dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports.