|Standard model||Para model||Mk.46 mod.0 / SPW model|
|Weight||7.1 kg||7.1 kg||5.75 kg|
|Length||1040 mm||914 / 776 mm||908 / 762 mm|
|Barrel length||465 mm||349 mm||406 mm|
|Feeding||belt or magazines||belt only|
|Rate of fire, cyclic||750 – 1000 rounds per minute||750 – 1000 rounds per minute||750 rounds per minute|
The M249 SAW light machine gun was developed by the famous Belgian company FN Herstal, in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s as the FN Minimi.
Mass production began in 1982 in Belgium, and at about the same time it has been adopted by the US Armed forces as the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW). Since its introduction the Minimi has seen widespread service, and numerous variations have been developed. Firstly, the Para (Paratroop) version came out, with a shorter barrel and tubular telescoped buttstock. This gun traded off range and firepower for compactness and maneuverability.
Quite recently, an SPW version was developed, which featured a Para-type buttstock, a barrel of intermediate length (between standard and Para models), and a Picatinny-type rail mount, which allows the mounting of a wide variety of sights and scopes. To save weight, the magazine feed option of the standard and para models has been discarded. This version, in a slightly modified form, was adopted by the US Special Forces Command (US SOCOM) as the Mk.46 model 0 light machine gun.
The FN Minimi has an excellent reputation for reliability and firepower, and the latest reports on failures of M249 SAW weapons in Iraq are attributed to the age of the weapons used – most of the current issue M249 in US Army are more than 10 years old and quite worn out.
The FN Minimi / M249 SAW is an air cooled, gas operated, belt fed, automatic weapon. The Minimi is operated using a conventional gas action with the gas piston located below the barrel. The barrel is locked using a traditional rotary bolt. It is quick-detachable, and has a carrying handle on it, to assist with the quick replacement procedure.
The M249 has an alternative feed system, which allows the use of disintegrating metallic belts as a primary feed option, or M16-type box magazines as a back-up feed option. The belt is fed in by the top feed unit, while the magazines are inserted through the magazine port, located at the left side of the receiver and angled down.
The Flip-up dust cover closes the magazine port when it’s not in use, serving also as a belt guide. When the magazine is in place, this cover raises up and closes the belt-way to avoid dual feeds and jams. Since the belt feed uses additional power to pull the belt through the gun, the rate of fire with the belt is somewhat slower (~ 750 rpm) than the rate of fire with magazine feed (~ 1000 rpm). The latest SPW and Mk.46mod.0 versions of the Minimi have had the magazine feed module removed as a weight-saving measure.
Belts are fed from special 200 round plastic boxes that can be clipped beneath the receiver. All Minimi versions fire from an open bolt to ensure optimal barrel cooling between bursts.
The folding bipod is mounded under the gas chamber, and the gun has provisions for tripod or vehicle mountings. The open sights are standard, with the availability of a wide variety of optical and night sights for SPW and Mk.46 versions with inbuilt Picatinny rails.