A Visit with Vltor - Part 3 - Bring out the Belt Feds
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There's just something about belt-fed weapons that holds people's fascination that other weapons don't. Maybe it's the image of exposed links of ammunition that cast no doubt about what these devices are fed. Whether it be the cloth belts of the Vickers, or belts of 7.62mm slung around the necks of M60 gunners in Vietnam, we've grown up with images of what we think machine guns are supposed to look like. And they all have belts. Seeing a seemingly unending belt of ammunition hanging from a feed port of a machine gun has the intimidation factor that magazine fed rifles don't. Belt feds look like they're just waiting to unleash hell.
The PKM is a Kalashnikov-designed and manufactured GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) that is in use all over the world, most visibly recently in the middle East. Copies of the PKM are produced in other countries (mostly Eastern-bloc). Its reliability, simplicity, and relative light weight (20 lbs with bipod) has made it very especially popular in 2nd and 3rd-world nations, and has seen use by PSCs (Private Security Contractors) in Iraq. The availability of relatively inexpensive parts kits makes it a logical choice for agencies or companies that are looking for a medium or lightweight machine gun that might otherwise be too expensive. It's gas operated and fires from an open bolt, using non-disintegrating metal belts. Vltor manufactures PKM receivers for building up complete weapons from parts kits to qualified organizations, and also complete weapons. Vltor made improvements to the original PKM receiver design including strengthening in problem areas and machined receiver rails instead of stamped.
The PKM fires the 7.62x54mmR (rimmed) cartridge, one
of the oldest military cartridges in the world. The famous Russian
sniper rifle, the Dragunov SVD, uses this same round. Contrary to
most belt fed weapons, the PKM feeds a non-disintegrating metal belt
from the right side of the receiver, which suited me just fine since
I'm a lefty. If the barrel and gas piston tube of the PK look like
an upside-down AK, that's because it's basically an AK-action turned
upside down. The feel of the PKM is familiar to those who've handled
Soviet-designed weapons. The pistol grip and stock are characteristic
to that genre, as is the stamped metal construction.
A familiar sight to those in the U.S. military is the FN M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) made in the U.S. by FNH USA, derived from the Minimi (no relation to Austin Power's Mini-me) in its Belgian-manufactured form. It's currently in service and manufactured under license by a number of NATO and non-NATO countries. In a nutshell, the M249 is an open-bolt, belt or magazine fed, air-cooled, fully automatic-only light machine gun that was designed to use the 5.56x45 NATO SS109 round. It can use both a 200 round disintegrating linked belt, or a standard M4/M16 magazine. There's a well on the left side of the receiver that accepts M4 magazines in case of an emergency. The one shown here has an SPW-type Picatinny rail on the top cover, in addition to the iron sights, for the mounting of an optic. The M249 is available in various configurations, including the Para, which has a shorter barrel and retractable buttstock.
Weighing about 16.5 lbs in this configuration, the M249 is relatively easy to keep on target firing from the prone position and using the bipod. I didn't try to shoot it offhand, although it is light enough to do so. The rate of fire is middle of the road - approximately 750 rounds per minute.
Old, but good article on the M249 by Kokalis.
The FN M240B was adopted as the US. Army's successor to the "pig" - the M60. Used for decades by other countries as the FN MAG, it is probably the most recognizable western GPMG in the world. The NATO equivalent of the updated M240B is known as the MAG 58. The MAG has a reputation for being reliable under a wide variety of conditions, and is used in various configurations including co-axial versions on tanks and other vehicles. The M240 can be pintle or tripod mounted, as well as fired off the bipod. It fires the 7.62x51mm NATO round from an open bolt, is gas operated and uses disintegrating metal links. Like the PKM mentioned above, that uses an upside-down AK operating system, the MAG draws it's operating system heritage from an upside down BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle). It's not a graceful looking weapon, but looks entirely functional. It's got a boxy receiver with rivets all over, and it's a hefty weapon. The M240B has a Picatinny rail on the top cover, to which an EOTech was mounted, and rails on the handguard/heat shield for mounting accessories. The USMC has replaced the M60 with the M240G (of 'Golf') that lacks the handguard and heatshield of the B.
It's a long and pretty heavy weapon to shoot from standing, as I'm not a big fella. Without a sling, I wouldn't be able to hold it up for any length of time to fire it from the hip, nor would I hit much. The 'Rambo' pose below consisted of me yelling to Eric "Take the damn shot - I'm starting to shake!". Forget firing offhand from the shoulder unless you're on the burlier side; it was just a bit too heavy for a wuss like me. It was great when shooting from prone with the bipod, though. Solid feeling and stable, it allows you to concentrate on where the rounds are hitting versus trying to control the weapon. The feel of the .308 rounds going off give the sense of authority that you don't get with a 5.56mm.
The FN M240D is the pintle-mount variant of the M240, shown here mounted on a tripod. It has spade grips instead of the regular pistol grip, and lacks the handguard and heatshield of the M240B. Loading is identical to the M240B. Mounted on the tripod, you could lock and dial in the elevation and traverse in very small increments. By firing single or double shots, and observing where they hit, it was possible to dial it in to hit at a certain spot and concentrate the rest of the fire on it without looking through the sights. As accurate and stable as a tripod is, I don't get the feel that I'm actually shooting the weapon - just pulling the trigger, and missing out on the experience of recoil and movement. Of course, that's looking at it purely from the fun aspect of it - not the practical one.
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