The Army has begun a multiyear study to determine what will replace its platoon-level machine gun, the M240.
The Platoon Arms and Ammunition Configuration Study was referenced during a panel discussion Thursday at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Armaments, Robotics and Munitions event.
Col. Rhett Thompson, director of the Army’s Soldier Requirements Division, said the PAAC Study would be “threat-based” and closely follow the work that was done in recent years in the Small Arms Ammunition Configuration Study.
“It will start at the threat and work our way back to help define our needs for the Next Generation Machine Gun,” Thompson said.
The SAAC Study led the Army to finally move away from the more than half-century reliance on the 5.56mm round and to choose an intermediate caliber round, the 6.8mm for its Next Generation Squad Weapon, which will have variants in the next two years to replace both the Squad Automatic Weapon and the M4 carbine.
Those decisions were also threat-based after front line troops reported that enemy weapons were outranging the 5.56mm weapons of the infantry squad in close combat, especially in Afghanistan, where the majority of adversaries use a 7.62mm weapon such as the AK-47.
The current platoon-level firepower resides in the M240 machine gun, which fires a 7.62mm round. The Marine Corps is currently evaluating the .338 Norma Magnum round as a replacement for its M240 machine gun capability.
But the Corps has also been closely involved with Army development of the NGSW program and is likely to adopt the final version for its close combat units, based on past statements. They are also expected to be aligned with the Army’s work on the machine gun trials.
Early analysis on the lightweight medium machine gun replacement .338NM version shows a similar recoil when compared to the 7.62mm, but with greater range and lethal effects at a distance.
Special Operations Command has also been evaluating the .338NM for its own medium machine gun use, taking on a Sig Sauer version dubbed the MG 338 last year. That variant came in at 20 pounds, which is lighter than the current M240L.
The maximum range for the M240L is just under 6,000 yards. SOCOM wants a machine gun to hit targets out to 6,500 to 8,200 yards.
A decision on that, however, will be at least three to five years away, said Christopher Woodburn, deputy Maneuver Branch head for Marine Corps Combat Development and Integration.
The PAAC Study has just begun, so there was little detail that Thompson could share. He estimated the study would take until at least the late fiscal 2023 or early fiscal 2024.
Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly listed the maximum range of the M240L in the wrong measurements. The correct measurement is in yards.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.