Is U.S. Special Operations Getting a New Light Machine Gun?
A Marine with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, fires rounds at a target 300 yards out with an M240 Bravo medium machine gun during a machine-gun shoot aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 27, 2015. “We have some guys that just came out of School of Infantry,” said Lance Cpl. Brett Collum, a fire team leader with the unit. “So it’s their first time doing a range in the fleet. It’s good to evaluate them, see where they’re at and correct them, so we can be better.” (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Justin T. Updegraff/ Released)

The U.S. Special Operations Command is selecting a new light machine gun to provide .50-caliber-like firepower in a more manageable and portable format. This decision is part of their ongoing efforts to enhance the lethality and effectiveness of special operators in the field. The selection process is set to conclude by October 1st, and the new weapon is expected to be fielded by fiscal year 2026.

The need for this new weapon was recognized during operations in Afghanistan, where the limitations of the current M240 machine guns, chambered in 7.62 mm and with a maximum effective range of about 1,500 meters, were noted. In contrast, the new machine gun will utilize the .338 Norma Magnum caliber, which provides a significantly extended range and increased lethal capability.

Three main competitors are in the running to supply this new weapon: Ohio Ordnance Works, Sig Sauer, and a collaboration between True Velocity and Lonestar Future Weapons. Each contender has submitted designs that promise to meet the demanding specifications required by the special operations community.

This move represents a significant shift in the military’s small arms landscape, aligning with broader trends toward adopting more powerful yet lightweight weapon systems capable of delivering enhanced performance across various combat scenarios.

RELATED – What We Know About The 6.8×51 | 277 SIG Fury [UPDATED]

Competitors and Weapon Specifications

As the selection process heats up, the contenders vying to provide the new light machine gun for the U.S. Special Operations Command have submitted their final prototypes. Each company has approached the challenge with unique innovations and design philosophies to meet the military’s stringent requirements.

Ohio Ordnance Works

Ohio Ordnance Works has put forward a design emphasizing ruggedness and reliability, essential for the harsh conditions in which special operators often find themselves. Details about their specific model and features remain closely guarded, but expectations are high given their reputation in the defense manufacturing sector.

Sig Sauer

Sig Sauer, already well-regarded for its firearms, including the recent wins of the Modular Handgun System and the Next Generation Squad Weapon contracts, is offering two models. The first, the MG 3r38, is described as a Recoil Enhanced Automatic Precision Rifle (REAPR), weighing 26.8 pounds and measuring 54.5 inches in length, with a variable rate of fire between 550 and 660 rounds per minute. The second, the MG 338, is slightly lighter at 24.1 pounds and shorter at 50 inches, with a consistent fire rate of 600 rounds per minute.

True Velocity and Lonestar Future Weapons

The collaboration between True Velocity and Lonestar Future Weapons has resulted in the Recoil Mitigation 338 model. This weapon is designed to be lightweight at 25 pounds and compact at 49 inches long, with a rate of fire exceeding 500 rounds per minute. This entry is particularly noted for its advanced materials and engineering, which may offer an edge in durability and performance.

These developments mark a significant evolution in the capabilities of light machine guns. The .338 Norma Magnum caliber is expected to extend the effective range and impact beyond current standards.

The .338 Norma Magnum: Revolutionizing Military Firepower

The .338 Norma Magnum is a relatively new entrant in military calibers but has quickly gained recognition for its exceptional performance, particularly in sniper platforms. Its inclusion in the selection process for a new light machine gun reflects its growing importance and potential in military operations.

Origins and Characteristics

The .338 Norma Magnum was developed in Sweden to optimize long-range accuracy. It is a caliber that bridges the gap between the traditional 7.62 mm and larger .50 caliber rounds, offering a balanced solution with long-range accuracy and manageable recoil. The cartridge is specifically engineered to maintain a flat trajectory over extended distances, which is crucial for hitting targets beyond 1,500 meters—the typical operational range of the 7.62 mm rounds.

Is U.S. Special Operations Getting a New Light Machine Gun?
A Marine with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, fires an M240 Bravo medium machine gun during a machine-gun shoot aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 27, 2015. Lance Cpl. Brett Collum, a team leader with the unit said the range will consist of zeroing the M240’s, conducting an unknown distance range, day and night shoot as well as tryouts for billets. Zeroing is the process of aligning the scope on the weapon to the barrel, which is normally done with a target placed 100-200 yards away. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Justin T. Updegraff/ Released)

Current Use in Military Operations

Initially adopted for sniper rifles, the .338 Norma Magnum has proven effective in extending the reach and lethality of marksmen. It is currently used in the MK22 Precision Sniper Rifle system by U.S. Army snipers, allowing for engagements at distances previously unreachable with smaller calibers. This capability significantly enhances the role of snipers in surveillance and combat, providing them with a greater safety buffer and the ability to shape the battlefield from afar.

MK22 Precision Sniper Rifle system
A U.S. Army Soldier, with the New Jersey Army National Guard’s 44th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, fires the MK-22 Precision Sniper Rifle as part of a weapon familiarization range on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Oct. 22, 2023. The MK-22 replaced the Army’s existing M2010 and M107 sniper rifles. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Michael Schwenk)

Benefits of Machine Gun Application

Integrating the .338 Norma Magnum into a light machine gun platform offers several benefits:

  • Extended Range and Enhanced Lethality: The caliber can effectively engage targets at greater distances with higher accuracy, vital for maintaining superiority in open and varied terrains.
  • Reduced Carry Weight for Troops: While offering capabilities close to heavier .50 caliber weapons, guns chambered in .338 Norma Magnum can be lighter, increasing troop mobility and endurance.
  • Ammunition Commonality: Using a standard caliber across different weapon systems (sniper rifles and machine guns) simplifies logistics and ammunition resupply, a critical advantage in extended and complex operations.

Adopting this caliber in a new machine gun could transform the operational dynamics for special operators, providing them with a tool that significantly extends their tactical options without the burden of heavier equipment.

Ballistics and Maximum Effective Range of the .338 Norma Magnum

The .338 Norma Magnum is renowned for its superior ballistics, particularly in accuracy, range, and terminal performance. These characteristics make it highly suitable for sniper rifles and the new class of light machine guns considered by special operations forces.

Is U.S. Special Operations Getting a New Light Machine Gun?
Norma Match King .338 Norma Magnum 300gr (Photo: Norma)

Ballistic Performance

The .338 Norma Magnum is designed to fire a heavier projectile that retains more energy at longer ranges than traditional calibers like the 7.62 mm. The typical bullet weight ranges from 200 to 300 grains, and it is often loaded to achieve a muzzle velocity of approximately 3,000 feet per second. This high velocity, combined with the ballistic coefficient of the heavier bullets, results in less wind drift and drop over distance, enhancing the shooter’s ability to hit targets accurately at extended ranges.

Maximum Effective Range

One of the most significant advantages of the .338 Norma Magnum is its extended effective range. While traditional 7.62 mm rounds typically have an effective range of up to 800 meters, the .338 Norma Magnum can effectively engage targets beyond 1,500 meters, with some sniper systems reporting effective ranges close to 1,800 meters or more under ideal conditions. This extended range capability is particularly beneficial in open terrain where engagement distances often exceed the effective range of more conventional calibers.

Terminal Performance

The .338 Norma Magnum’s terminal ballistics are also critical to its effectiveness. The caliber’s ability to deliver larger, heavier rounds at high velocity ensures that it maintains kinetic energy over longer distances, resulting in more significant impact and penetration capabilities upon reaching the target. This is crucial for neutralizing threats effectively, especially in a military context where engagement through barriers or light cover may be required.

Integrating such a high-performance caliber into light machine guns would significantly increase ground forces’ firepower, enabling them to engage threats at longer distances and with greater impact than ever before.

Conclusion: A New Era for Special Operations Firepower

The impending selection of a new light machine gun for the U.S. Special Operations Command marks a significant milestone in military armament evolution. This decision reflects the continuous pursuit of technological advancement within the armed forces and the strategic necessity to adapt to modern warfare dynamics. The introduction of the .338 Norma Magnum caliber light machine gun is poised to revolutionize the operational capabilities of special operators, offering unprecedented range and firepower in a lightweight, more maneuverable package.

The upcoming selection, due by October 1st, will determine which competing companies will have the honor of enhancing the combat effectiveness of some of the most elite forces in the world. This decision will undoubtedly influence future procurement and development strategies across the military, heralding a new era of tactical superiority powered by innovation and foresight.

As the U.S. military continues to innovate and adapt, the ripple effects of this new machine gun will resonate throughout the defense community, underscoring the critical link between technological advancement and strategic military success.