M249 Saw Squad Automatic Weapon

The M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, or M249 SAW, was first manufactured by the famous Belgian company, Fabrique Nationale, for U.S. troops in the late 1970s to replace the M60 Machine Gun. Known internationally as “Minimi, ” short for mini-machine gun, the M249 SAW was created as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) adoption of a newer, smaller round fire arm (standard 5.56mm cartridge). U.S. troops began using the weapon in the late 1980s.

The M249 SAW is an infantry weapon. It can be fired from the shoulder, held in the hands or mounted on a tripod. Primarily valued for its portability, the M249 SAW is used mostly as an automatic rifle, but is also used as a light machine gun. When used as a machine gun, the M249 SAW requires a tripod and some additional equipment for stability.

In the U.S. military, the automatic rifle has traditionally been a squad leader ‘s weapon, supporting the squad in offense and defense. The M249 SAW is well-equipped for this duty because of its accurate, effective and sustained fire.

In part, the M249 SAW was developed to fill the void left by the termination of the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). After its creation, the M249 SAW was fielded as the replacement for the other automatic rifles in the military’s fire teams. Early on, the Army identified the need to enhance the weapon. Enhancements resulted in a “PIP kit ” which modifies the:

  • barrel
  • buffer
  • handguard
  • pistol grip
  • sights
  • stock.

Minimi is a gas-operated automatic weapon. The gas piston is located below the barrel. The M249 SAW is air-cooled and belt-fed. It fires from an open bolt position. The M249 SAW has two speeds for firing:

  • normal (750 rounds per minute)
  • maximum (1,000 rounds per minute).

Since its introduction, a number of variations on the gun have been developed.

Unique M249 SAW features

One of the unique components of the M249 SAW is that it has an alternative feed system, which allows the shooter to use M16 magazines as back-up ammunition in addition to the 200-round ammunition. Because it can be belt or magazine fed, this versatile weapon allows for more continuous fire before reloading. The preferred ammunition for the M249 SAW is a four-ball (M855) and one-tracer (M856) mix.

The SAW also has a greater effective range and higher rate of fire than any other weapon in the present rifle squad. This adds more firepower without extra manpower.

Retiring the M249 SAW

Despite the M249 SAW ‘s excellent reputation, many of the rifles in combat are 10 years old or more. Many of M249 SAW ‘s failures in Iraq can be attributed to the age of the weapons. Many other NATO nations employ the M249 SAW. Research for a replacement for this versatile weapon is ongoing.

The M249 SAW is just under 41 inches long and weighs about 15 pounds. The Short Squad Automatic Weapon shortens the M249 by about 10 inches. This version is more maneuverable and better for air-born jump ability.

Since the purchase of machine guns for private use was outlawed in 1986 (importation of machine guns for private use was banned in 1968), essentially no civilians are permitted to own a M249 SAW. Consult local law enforcement or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for more information. For the United States Armed Forces, the replacement cost of this gun is over $4,000.