INDIANAPOLIS – Weapons designers with U.S. Special Operations Command and Marine Corps could soon produce a new machine gun that would replace both the 7.62mm M240 in the infantry and the .50 caliber M2 Browning “Ma Deuce” in some units.

The new machine gun would use a powerful, long-range cartridge that’s being integrated into some special operators’ sniper rifles and packs much of the same lethality at similar ranges to the .50 cal — but in a dramatically lighter package.

Officials with U.S. Special Operations Command’s weapons development office say the machine gun could hit the force within three years.

Dubbed the Lightweight Medium Machine Gun, SOCOM and the Marine Corps posted a notice to industry for sources for up to 5,000 of the weapons chambered in .338 Norma Magnum last year.

At the time, military sources remained tight-lipped and most details about the program came from the Sources Sought Solicitation posted in May 2017.

But during a panel at the annual National Defense Industrial Association’s Armament Systems Forum here, military weapons officials indicated the program is going forward.

Lieutenant Col. Mark Owens, program manager for ammunition and weapons for SOCOM’s PEO-SOF Warrior and Christopher Woodburn, who also serves as deputy for the Marine Corps’ Maneuver Branch, Capabilities Directorate, referenced the gun’s development, which is currently in the prototype phase.

Based on information Owens shared with the audience, the new machine gun could be fielded by fiscal year 2022.

The .338 NM round it shoots offers enough of an advantage that it isn’t only being considered to replace the M240 platform within Marine infantry, it is also being considered to replace the M2 machine gun on some vehicles and aircraft, officials said.

Experts say the round has a recoil similiar to the existing 7.62mm but packs a punch approaching the .50 caliber round at extended ranges. The .338 NM can penetrate advanced body armor and outranges the 7.62mm.

The fedbizopps posting dubs the weapon the Lightweight Medium Machine Gun and wants it to weigh 24 pounds unloaded and measure out at 24 inches with a 500-600 rounds per-minute rate of fire.

Any submission must also include both a suppressed and unsuppressed quick-change barrel.

The caliber offers enough added benefits that it is one of three calibers offered in an interchangeable Advanced Sniper Rifle that’s also under development by SOCOM, Owens said.

The .338 NM offers ranges beyond 2,000 meters while the other two calibers of the sniper rifle — .300 Norma Magnum and 7.62 NATO — will be used for shorter range, or in the case of the 7.62 mm, training ranges that can’t accommodate the power of the .338 NM.

The Advanced Sniper Rifle is expected to hit the force in fiscal year 2021 also and will eventually replace the existing Mk13, a bolt-action .300 Winchester Magnum sniper rifle with a 1,200 m range that the Marines recently adopted to replace some of their 7.62 mm M40 platforms.

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.

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