Machine guns are tricky beasts. They are entirely necessary for modern combat, but they tend to be heavy, and not exactly easy for Special Operations troopers to wield in their fast-paced environment — especially when it comes to medium machine guns. The current Big Military General-Purpose machine gun is the M240B and M240L. These 7.62 NATO guns are amazing pieces of machinery but aren’t offering the capability SOCOM needs for their Special Operations Commandos.
So, SOCOM went looking for a gun to bridge the gap between 7.62 NATO and the mighty 50 BMG. It seemingly found it with the SIG MG 338.
I’m a former Marine machine gunner and I love machine guns. I tend to have strong opinions on them. Today was the first time I ever picked up the MG 338. I was impressed at how light the weapon was. The gun weighs a mere 20 pounds, which makes it much lighter than the current M240B and its 27.6-pound weight. It has a bizarrely futuristic design, similar to the Kriss Vector in that it’s all rounded and less edges. The 338 Norma Magnum also outperforms the standard 7.62 NATO by a wide margin.
The M240B has a maximum effective range of 800 meters on a point target when mounted to a tripod. The SIG MG 338 takes that number and punches it up to 1,500 meters for point targets. On an area target or a vehicle, we are looking at at least a 2,000-meter effective range. The gun is lighter, more powerful and more advanced than the 1977 design known as the M240B.
As a machine gunner here is my take:
What I Like about the MG 338
- The Folding Stock – This makes it perfect for vehicle operations. Mount it to a vehicle mount and fold the stock out of the way for easier use. With a folding stock, the need for spade or butterfly triggers is minimized. It’s an easy transition between vehicle and ground operations.
- The Low Firing Rate – 600 rounds/minute is a smart system for a machine gun. It helps with accuracy, ammo conservation, and makes it an easy-to-control gun.
- The Ammo – Besides the powerful 338 Norma Magnum the round uses a hybrid case which reduces weight by roughly 30%. In my experience, carrying a ton of machine gun ammo is a major pain in the ass.
- The Operating System – The MG 338 uses a unique recoil-reducing operating system that relies on a reciprocating barrel to reduce recoil to below that of a 7.62 NATO round.
- Conversion Ability – You can convert the gun to 7.62 NATO which opens up training opportunities and potentially makes you prone to ammo shortages — because you know how logistics can be.
- The top cover – The Top cover is only a small portion of the gun. This means optics can be set rearward or forward of it and aren’t attached to a top cover that springs upwards for reloads. The traditional issue is that larger optics, like thermals and night vision, are at risk of touching a smoking hot barrel and being ruined.
- The Range and Performance – It reaches out and touches targets that the M240 could only plink at. It does bridge the distance gap between the 50 Cal and the M240. It will easily outperform the best guns our enemies have.
What I Don’t Like
- The Stock – It’s small and rifle sized. Machine guns need machine gun stocks to aid in control, pressure, and force.
- Iron sights – They aren’t built into the gun. Optics are cool and valuable, but a machine gun isn’t a precision weapon by any means. Iron sights, on the other hand, are well suited for area and distant vehicle engagements.
- The Bipods – The bipods are very small and very SAW like. They are fine with a 5.56 gun, but for a 338 Norma Magnum I think a beefier bipod would give it a good grip on the earth and help hold it in place. Shooting a machine gun is all about control and bipods are essential to that in unmounted combat.
The MG 338 is a well-made weapon. It’s designed for a specific mission set and seems to fulfill that role very well. I have my nitpicks, but honestly, the MG 338 does reflect numerous lessons learned by using machine guns during the GWOT.
The MG 338 just obtained its safety certificate with SOCOM, so it has completed the first step towards adoption.