Army Working on Lightweight .50 cal

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The Browning .50 Cal is an iconic weapon whose guttural “thump-thump-thump” inspires confidence that whatever it’s shooting at is going down.

But for the first time since World War II, the Army is working on a fundamental redesign of the venerable M2 .50cal machine gun, cutting its weight in half, increasing its

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accuracy and making it a lot easier to shoot for Soldiers on the move.

Dubbed the XM806, the new version of the “Ma Duce” is being developed in response to the Army’s concerns about the weight and mobility of the current M2. With a greater emphasis on light infantry tactics since 9/11, officials wanted a weapon that can be as easily mounted on a Humvee as it can a hillside.

“It is designed to augment the M2 .50 caliber machine gun, but can also be used to replace the M2 in select operational locations,” the Program Executive Office for Soldier Weapons said in an email to Military.com. “The weapon is ideal for light infantry and

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special operations forces, as well as for vehicles demanding more lethality but lighter weight.”

Talk about taking a diet – the XM806 with its specially-designed tripod weighs a little over 60 lbs. That’s compared to the current M2 Heavy Barrel which comes in at a portly 120 lbs. But the General Dynamics-made XM806’s advantages go deeper than its waistline, Army officials say.

With recoil 60 percent less than an M2, the new lightweight .50 allows Soldiers to fire the weapon with tactical optics, making for a more accurate shot within the first few rounds.

“Safety is improved through a manual safety and a quick change barrel that eliminates the requirement for the operator to adjust headspace and timing,” Army officials added. “The reduced recoil permits the mounting of an optic for greater lethality through increased first-burst accuracy and control.”

The Army is midway through testing the new machine gun at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. The service has four weapons on hand and has so far fired almost 90,000 rounds through each test weapon.

Officials say the XM806 will not replace all the Army’s M2 machine guns, but will instead be fielded to light infantry units such as the 101st Airborne, 10th Mountain and 82nd.

“There are also some discussions regarding the issue of weapons to units where a traditional heavy machine gun was impractical but long range fire is still needed, such as on tactical vehicles where weight is an issue,” Army officials added.

It is still unclear how many weapons the Army will buy, but if all goes according to plan, the service will begin fielding the bantam-weight .50cal in late 2012.

The Army also plans to field a new version of the M2 tripod that’s 30 percent lighter than the current one, which comes in at a hefty 44 pounds.

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