Commandos serving with US Special Operations Command will soon be taking delivery of two of FN America’s latest and greatest variants of its longstanding M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.
The SAW, a derivative of Fabrique Nationale’s FN Minimi light machine gun, has faithfully served American infantry units since the 1980s.
Chambered for the 5.56x45mm NATO round, it affords infantry squads the ability to law down a blistering wall of accurate suppressive fire both from mounts and while handheld.
The special operations versions of the SAW, known as the Mk 46 and Mk 48, take the proven platform of the M249 and build on it, adding capability while boosting the machine gun’s firepower to fit the needs of USSOCOM’s various teams and units.
According to Guns.com, FN America was recently awarded a $13 million USD contract to manufacture and deliver a bulk order of Mk 46s and Mk 48s to USSOCOM, with deliveries specifically earmarked for the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana — likely headed towards the Navy’s SEAL teams.
The Mk 46, like the M249, is chambered for the 5.56x45mm NATO round, and sports the same plastic buttstock. However, the barrel changing handle, magazine insertion well, and vehicle mounting lugs are left out of production Mk 46s, all for the purpose of minimizing weight and adding maneuverability in close spaces.
The Mk 48, on the other hand, uses the larger 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge. Designed as a replacement for the special ops versions of the venerable M60 machine gun, and as a much more portable alternative to the M240 general purpose machine gun, the Mk 48 packs a devastating punch into a frame barely heavier than the M249.
Both the Mk 46 and Mk 48 far outmatch the M249 in terms of effective range and rate of fire, and were originally developed for the US Navy's Special Warfare Command, home to the service's SEAL and Special Boat teams.
Both platforms have additionally already seen considerable action overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Mk 48 was known to have a number of operational hiccups including rapid overheating during sustained fire, and carbon quickly fouling up its gas system, leading to untimely jams in combat situations.
USSOCOM’s massive multi-million dollar purchase could be a clue that its armorers may have come up with a solution to the Mk 48′s perennial woes.