The American military has seen heavy weapons come and go. Yet, some seem perennial. The M240 machine gun is one of those weapons that have stood the test of time. Weighing in at about 30 pounds, with a rate of fire ranging from 650 to 950 rounds per minute, the M240 can throw out a wall of lead and undoubtedly wreak havoc on those on the receiving end.
The M240 came into service with the U.S. military in 1977 and over the years, several variants have been developed. The M240 is an open bolt, gas-operated weapon, and shoots a 7.62 mm x 51 mm NATO round. It often serves as a crew-served weapon. It is commonly being mounted on boats, trucks, and aircraft, but can also be carried in the field and mounted on a bipod or tripod. The M240 is built by FN America, a subsidiary of FN Herstal.
The M240 has served in every major combat conflict since its inception. It has undoubtedly proved its worth for the Unites States and foreign militaries.
Battle of the Beasts
Generally speaking, the U.S. utilizes three different heavy weapons platforms: the M2 Browning .50 caliber machine gun, the Gau-17 Minigun, and the M240. Each weapon has its role and purpose and excels in certain environments.
The M2 Browning .50 cals are obviously cool and sling a huge round that can pierce armor and literally destroy anything it comes in contact with. But, these benefits come with a price. First, the weapon system is huge, and changing out a hot barrel in the dark sucks — there’s just no other way to say it. Newer versions have corrected this issue, but historically, the weapons had to be head spaced and timed after putting a new barrel on, which is also a huge pain. Lastly, I’ve seen these weapons jam more than I’m comfortable with.
The Gau-17 Minigun is about as badass as it gets, but it has its limitations. For one, it requires electrical power, which creates obvious barriers. Additionally, when it jams, it typically jams hard and cannot be easily cleared. It is a very high-maintenance weapon that is no fun to clean.
But the M240 Rises to the Top
In my opinion, the M240 meets all the requirements that you would expect of a high-performance, heavy weapon. First, it’s extremely reliable: In my experience with it, jams are not common and when they do occur, they are usually easy to clear — an important aspect of survivability. The M240 is also easy to jam feed, which allows you to keep your barrel on target and get back in the fight quicker. The barrels are light and easy to change out. Finally, their internals are not very complicated, making cleaning and maintenance a breeze.
I mostly shot the M240 from a mount, but we did do some training carrying them around. The point is, if your vehicle or boat is put out of service, you can take the M240 off the mount and keep going if need be. With an effective range of 1,100 meters, an M240 can reach way out.
After spending extensive time with each of these weapons systems, I would choose the M240 every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Its reliability, accuracy, and easy operational use are unparalleled.
This article was originally published in November 2020. It has been edited for republication.