automatic rifle is a squad leaders weapon. Though the
automatic rifle has changed, the role of the automatic
rifleman has not since its conception circa World War I.
The automatic rifleman supports the infantry squad in the
offense and defense. The M249 SAWS is a lightweight,
gas-operated, magazine or disintegrating metallic
link-belt fed, individually portable machine gun capable
of delivering a large volume of effective fire. The M249
AR provides accurate fire approaching that of the rifle
yet gives the heavy volume of fire common to a machine
gun. The M249 replaces the two automatic M16A1 rifles in
the rifle squad on a one-for-one basis in all infantry
type units and in other units requiring high firepower.
Fielded in the mid-1980s, the SAWS filled the void created
by the retirement of the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR)
during the 1950s because interim automatic weapons (M14
Series/M16A1 Rifles) had failed as viable "base of fire"
The Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) is
an air-cooled, belt-fed, gas-operated automatic weapon
that fires from the open-bolt position. It has a regulator
for selecting either normal (750 rounds per minute rpm)
or maximum (1,000 rpm) rate of fire. The maximum rate
of fire is authorized only if the weapon's firing rate
slows under adverse conditions. Although the M249 AR
is primarily used as an automatic rifle, it is also
used as a light machine gun. It can be fired from the
shoulder, hip, or underarm position; or from the bipod-steadied
position. When employed as a light machine gun, it has
a tripod with a T&E mechanism and a spare barrel;
however, barrels must not be interchanged with those
from other M249s unless the headspace has been set for
that weapon by direct support personnel.
The M249 is interesting because while
its standard ammunition feed is by 200 round
disintegrating belts, it is also capable of firing
ammunition from standard M16 magazines inserted in a
magazine well in the bottom of the SAW. Ammunition is fed
into the weapon from a 200-round ammunition box holding a
disintegrating metallic split-link belt. The SAW also has
an alternating feeding method using 20- and 30-round M16
rifle magazines. The weapon has a quick-change barrel;
however, barrels must not be interchanged with those from
other SAWs unless their headspace has been set for that
weapon by direct support personnel. The M249 SAW is used
to engage dismounted infantry, crew-served weapons,
antitank guided missile (ATOM) teams, and thin-skinned
vehicles. The SAW has become the standard automatic rifle
of the infantry squad and has proven useful with the
changing of the M16 to a three round burst weapon.
Automatic rifles allow rifle squads to
take a light automatic weapon with them in the assault. In
the defense, they add the firepower of 10 or 20 riflemen
without the addition of manpower. Characteristically,
automatic rifles are light, fire rapidly, and have more
ammunition than the rifles in the squad that they support.
Each squad has three automatic rifles. No additional
equipment configuration is needed, because the automatic
rifleman fires the M249 either from the bipod mode or from
various hand-held positions. In either the offense or
defense, automatic riflemen must restrict themselves to
firing three-round bursts to maintain their effectiveness
against enemy targets. The M249 in the bipod or hand-held
mode moves too easily off its point of aim after three
rounds and automatic riflemen must readjust their aim. In
the offense, the automatic rifleman is limited to what he
can carry and fire on the move. Hence, while the automatic
rifle affords a high volume of fire, it also rapidly
consumes ammunition. Conservation and careful logistic
planning become important.
When used as a machine gun, the M249
requires a tripod, a T&E mechanism, and a spare barrel.
These items increases the stability, the ability to make
minute adjustments in aiming, and the ability to fire
greater than three-round bursts. Because machine guns are
not as mobile as automatic rifles, they normally remain
with and form the key weapon of the base-of-fire element.
It is possible to bring a machine gun with the maneuver
element for added firepower in the assault. But once it
has set up, it becomes another base of fire and is quickly
left behind by the rest of the element as it sweeps across
the objective. It will spend more time displacing than
firing. Machine guns target enemy automatic weapons, key
weapons, and command and control elements. Once the enemy
deploys, machine guns engage his supporting automatic
weapons. As the enemy closes, if the machine guns have
destroyed all of the enemy's supporting weapons, they can
engage the assaulting troops with enfilading fires across
the platoon front.
Hand-held combat machine gun
Manufacturer: Fabrique Nationale Manufacturing,
Length: 40.87 inches (103.81 centimeters)
With bipod and tools: 15.16 pounds (6.88
200-round box magazine: 6.92 pounds (3.14
30-round magazine: 1.07 pounds (.49 kilograms)
Bore diameter: 5.56mm (.223
Maximum effective range: 3281 feet (1000 meters)
for an area target
Maximum range: 2.23 miles (3.6 kilometers)
Rates of fire:
Cyclic: 725 rounds per minute
Sustained: 85 rounds per minute
Unit Replacement Cost: $4,087
Features: The Squad Automatic
Weapon (SAW), or 5.56mm M249 is an individually portable,
gas operated, magazine or disintegrating metallic
link-belt fed, light machine gun with fixed headspace and
quick change barrel feature. The M249 engages point
targets out to 800 meters, firing the improved NATO
standard 5.56mm cartridge.
The SAW forms the basis of firepower for
the fire team. The gunner has the option of using 30-round
M16 magazines or linked ammunition from pre-loaded
200-round plastic magazines. The gunner's basic load is
600 rounds of linked ammunition.
Background: The SAW was developed through an
initially Army-led research and development effort and
eventually a Joint NDO program in the late 1970s/early
1980s to restore sustained and accurate automatic weapons
fire to the fire team and squad. When actually fielded in
the mid-1980s, the SAW was issued as a one-for-one
replacement for the designated "automatic rifle" (M16A1)
in the Fire Team. In this regard, the SAW filled the void
created by the retirement of the Browning Automatic Rifle
(BAR) during the 1950s because interim automatic weapons
(e.g. M-14E2/M16A1) had failed as viable "base of fire"
weapons. Early in the SAW's fielding, the Army identified
the need for a Product Improvement Program (PIP) to
enhance the weapon. This effort resulted in a "PIP kit"
which modifies the barrel, handguard, stock, pistol grip,
buffer, and sights.
The preferred combat ammunition mix for
the M249 is a four-ball (M855) and one-tracer (M856) mix.
There are other variations of 5.56-mm ammunition
available; however, the four-and-one mix allows the gunner
to use the tracer-on-target (TOT) method of adjusting fire
to achieve target kill.
light materiel targets and personnel.
Observation of fire, incendiary effects, and
training when simulated live fire is desired. (A
blank firing attachment must be used to fire this