Have you ever heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?

Well, this adage comes to mind when I think about the M2 Browning .50 caliber machine gun and the M79 grenade launcher. Both of these weapons have a very long, respected history and are still in service. They have been used by thousands of Americans in battle and have reigned terror on the enemy. To this day, these two weapons are still on the inventory list for many United States special operations units.

The Browning .50 caliber machine gun was created in mid-1917 by the hands of John Browning. The U.S. Army wanted a machine gun that could fire a larger and more powerful round. John Browning answered the call and designed and built the .50 caliber machine gun, which was an upgraded version of his M1917 .30 caliber machine gun. The first versions fell short of the desired outcome: the rate of fire was too slow and the round did not have enough power to penetrate armor. Colt redesigned the weapon and placed the M2 into service in 1933.

Special Forces operators shooting the M2HB Browning (U.S. Army photo by Photo by Sgt. Steven Lewis).

By the time WWII began, this weapon could be found in all branches of service. The M2 was used on aircraft, boats and ships, vehicles, and by soldiers on foot. Since then, it has seen service in every major conflict. The Browning .50 caliber shoots 450-600 rounds per minute, with a maximum effective range of 2,200 yards, and the ability to penetrate up to a 1.34” thick steel plate. With this kind of lethality, it comes as no surprise that this weapon is still standard issue in the special operations community. It is common to see the .50 cal mounted on vehicles and SWCC boats.

The M79 grenade launcher is another weapon that has stood the test of time. The Springfield Armory introduced it in 1960 and was immediately put on the front lines in Vietnam. The birth of the M79 was due to the U.S. Army’s need for a weapon that could shoot an explosive round with respectable accuracy and range, while still being light enough for an individual infantryman to carry. The M79 became a beloved weapon during the Vietnam War and earned itself the title, “the platoon leader’s artillery.” The M79 shoots a 40 mm grenade, with an effective range of 350 meters. The 40 mm grenade comes in many variants, including high-explosive, high-explosive dual-purpose, buckshot, smoke, and illumination.

A standard SEAL Team 6 loadout. Notice the modified M79 in the middle.

Nowadays, the M79 is a specific mission tool and has been largely replaced with its M203 counterpart. With that being said, the accuracy and range of the M79 can’t be beaten. In recent years, it is still seen being used by SEALs, SWCCs, and Special Forces. Up until my last deployment, we were still carrying the M79 grenade launcher, which we liked to call the “Pirate Gun.” In my opinion, it looked like something out of a museum. But, that’s where the jokes ended: when it’s put in the right hands, the M79 is a very deadly weapon.

Both of these weapons have stood the test of time. It wouldn’t be surprising if the .50 caliber machine gun is still in service a hundred years from now. The M79 may not stay around forever, but the people that have used it in the past and the units that still keep it on their inventory list, are well aware of its special and irreplaceable capabilities.