As a parallel to the ongoing NGSW program SIG has fielded a few of their MG338’s through USSOCOM for the Marine Raiders. MARSOC has 11 of the trend setting new weapons that greatly enhance what a general purpose machine gun is capable of.
The MG338 is notable for several reasons, it’s a modernization on the proven M240 series, a variant of the FN MAG design has international renown as what a solid GPMG should be. The SIG takes many of the lessons learned on the 240 as it evolved and implements them to great effect and benefit for the machine gunner and machine gun team.
Caliber: .338 Norma Magnum
The most obvious difference between the MG338 and the M240 is the caliber. 338 Norma Magnum has a far greater effective range and far better terminal ballistics than the 7.62×51 NATO/.308 Win. The increase is so drastic that the MG338 can operate in roles that previously would require the much heavier M2 or M2A1 heavy machine guns.
System Weight: ~20lbs
Despite its ability to bridge the significant range gap between the M240 series and the M2 series the MG338 is a lighter system than the 240 by a few pounds. The “standard” variant of the M240 is the M240B or “Two Forty Bravo” with 240L’s coming out for weight savings later on. Both systems are above 20lbs with the B at 27.6lbs and the titanium receivered 240L coming out at 22.3lbs.
“Variants” ‘The M240_?”
The M240 comes in several different models for different purposes. Some are for vehicles, some are for aircraft, some do both… It’s kind of a mess actually. There is the M240, M240B, M240C, M240D, M240G, M240H, M240N, and M240L, and the unofficial Barrett TDP M240LW and M240LWS…
Many of these are mission specific “kits” of parts so that the 240 could go from a mounted role to an infantry mobile role in fairly short order… “fairly” being the operative word.
With the MG338 mounting and dismounting the system for mobile use will be a significantly simplified process that in most cases won’t even require parts to be changed. If there’s enough room, the buttstock on the MG338 can simply be folded instead of removed. If it needs to be removed, the stock is attached via picatinny rail and doesn’t require a replacement buffer piece of any kind.
Ancillary attachments from inception.
The M240 was designed in the 1950’s and fielded in 1977. Every optical system, rail system, grip module, or other ancillary attachment was a bolted on afterthought around the core of the gun. This has led to problems. The feed tray, while robust, was never designed to wear an optic. It was designed to open and close while wearing an optic. The front of the M240 was never designed to wear rails, aiming modules, or any of the extraneous force multipliers we run in 2020. They had to be worked around.
The MG338 integrates these from inceptions. M-LOK, side opening feed trays, feed from a closed tray, removable ‘magazine well’ for soft ammo carriers, and a redesigned and rebalanced barrel change handle to better carry the weight while swapping barrels. Ergonomic lessons learned and implemented can be see throughout the MG338’s design from muzzle to stock. Everything we’ve learned from five decades with the 240.
More machine guns are implementing this feature (the IWI Negev series are another notable select fire MG) and the MG338 takes a hint from the Kalashnikov on this one. Safe – Automatic – Semi, the MG338 is an automatic weapon but for zeroing, low volume suppression, suppression at great range, and any number of other applications a semi-automatic selector setting is present on the ambidextrous AR-style safety selector lever. It brings the MG338’s controls far more in line ergonomically with the service carbines the squad will be moving with.
Streamlined, simplified, expanded capabilities.
Lighter is hard. But farther… that we can do.
The NGSW Program is showing us pretty succinctly that an 8-10lb rifle and 12-22lb machine guns are about what we’re going to be dealing with for the foreseeable future. That’s honestly fine in portable individual and small team small arms. We’re reaching hard material limits in most circumstances. So instead the NGSW-R, NGSW-AR, and MG338 seek to open the direct fire envelope by about roughly 40% with increased terminal effects. Individual weapons that can control a kilometer and a portable GPMG that can control a mile.