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How a M240 B works
The M240, officially the Machine Gun, Caliber 7.62 mm, M240, is the US military designation for the FN MAG ("Mitrailleuse A Gaz" = Gas operated machine gun; alternatively, "Mitrailleuse d'Appui General" = machine gun, support, general), a family of belt-fed, gas-operated medium machine guns that chamber the 7.62×51mm NATO cartridge.
The M240 has been used by the United States Armed Forces since the late 1970s. It is used extensively by infantry, most often in rifle companies, as well as on ground vehicles, watercraft and aircraft. Despite being heavier than some comparable weapons, it is highly regarded for reliability and its standardization among NATO members is a major advantage.
All variants are fed from disintegrating belts and are capable of firing most types of 7.62 mm (.30/.308 cal) NATO ammunition. M240 variants can be converted to use non-disintegrating belts. There are significant differences in weight and some features among some versions which restrict interchangeability of parts. The M240s used by the US military are currently manufactured by FN America, the American subsidiary of FN Herstal.
The M240B and M240G are usually fired from an integrated bipod, a tripod, or a vehicular mount; regarding tripod use, the U.S. Army primarily uses the M192 Lightweight Ground Mount, while the U.S. Marine Corps uses the M122A1 tripod, a slightly updated M2 tripod.
Manufactured by Fabrique Nationale d'Herstal, the FN MAG was chosen by the U.S. military for different roles after large worldwide searches and competitions. The MAG is a belt-fed, gas-operated, air-cooled, crew-served, fixed headspace general-purpose machine gun. Its versatility is demonstrated by its ability to be fired effectively from its integral bipod, mounted on a tripod, on ground vehicles, watercraft and aircraft.
It was first adopted by the U.S. Army in 1977, as a coaxial tank gun, and slowly adopted for more applications in the 1980s and 1990s. The M240 and M240E1 were adopted for use on vehicles. This led to further adoption in more uses, especially for the Army and Marine Corps infantry. While possessing many of the same basic characteristics as its predecessor, the durability of the MAG system results in superior reliability when compared to the M60. The MAG actually has a more complex gas system than the M60, but gives better reliability combined with lower maintenance requirements, though this comes at greater manufacturing cost and weight.
Compared to other machine guns, its rating of 26,000 mean rounds between failure (MRBF) is quite high for its weight—in the 1970s when it was first adopted it achieved about 7,000 MRBF. It is not as reliable as some very heavy older designs, but it is quite reliable for its mass.
The US adoption of the MAG has its origins in the late 1960s/early 1970s as a project to procure a new coaxially mounted 7.62 mm machine gun for tanks to replace the M73 and M219 machine guns then being used. The 1950s-era M73 had been rather troubled, and the derivative M73E1/M219 was not much of an improvement. A number of designs of the period from various countries were considered; the final two candidates were the M60E2 and the FN MAG. They underwent comprehensive testing alongside the older M219 for comparison.
The MAG itself underwent some improvements and the M60E2 was a specialized coaxial variant that differed from some of the other types. The qualities of the M60 variants vary considerably, such as between the M60E4 and the M60C. The clear winner was the MAG, which was designated as the M240 in 1977 after the Army competition.
The M240 was adopted as the U.S. Army's standard vehicle machine gun in 1977. The Marine Corps also adopted the M240 and M240E1 for use on vehicles like the LAV-25. It then went on to replace many older types of vehicle machine guns in the 1980s. U.S. Navy SEALs continued to use the "CAR-60" (M60E3) version of the M60 machine gun due to its lighter weight and slower rate of fire, which allows a more effective duration of fire with allowable levels of ammunition carried.
The M240 proved popular enough that it was adapted by the infantry later on, as the M240G and M240B. The USMC adopted the M240G for this role in 1991, where it not only replaced the original M60s used by the Marine Corps infantry, but also the upgraded M60E3 that the Marines had started using in the 1980s. In the late 1990s, the Army adopted the M240B for the infantry role – they had considered the M60E4, which (though lighter and cheaper) did not offer commonality with the vehicle-borne M240, other FN MAG users within NATO, or the USMC.
The various versions of the M240 have entirely replaced all the M60 versions, though they have for most main applications and roles. The M60 is still, in some cases, used by the Navy.