The M249 Squad Automatic Weapon; 1000 Rounds per Minute Can’t be Wrong

M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, My Experience

The M249 Squad Automatic Weapon was issued to the Marine Corps Infantry circa 1984. It was designed as the replacement for the bipod mounted M16A1 automatic rifle. The push for the introduction of the SAW was mainly to fill the gap left by the Browning Automatic Rifle, (BAR) that was used in WW I through Korea.
The M249 SAW is quite the impressive weapons system. It currently fills the gap between the M16A2 and the M240G machine gun for the team and squad in infantry units. Given enough experience, SAW gunners come to understand they are real machine gunners. They must act together as machine guns do to provide mutual support and create the “wall of steel” necessary to take out troop concentrations, provide cover fire for maneuver elements, and engage enemy machine guns.
The lesser experienced SAW gunner act alone, not allowing the squad leader to take advantage of the full power of the weapon. I can not blame the improper use of the weapon the gunner alone. I ran into, and continue to see, squad leaders who do not properly employ the weapon to the squad’s advantage.

I carried the SAW for about two years. That may seem like a long time, but consider this: From the official Marine doctrine point-of-view, the senior member of the team, other then the team leader himself who carries the M203, carries the M249. I was not the senior member of the fire team for two years. When I came in, I was thrown the M249 SAW and told not to fall behind, loose it, or break it. I was able to do most of that without difficulty, but being a Marine, I did break the weapon a few times.

Browning Automatic Rifle Browning Automatic Rifle

Initially, I thought carrying this 16 Lbs weapon (22 Lbs with ammo) was going to be pure hell. I was partially correct. I did hate dragging SAW up and down hills, through the jungle and sand, cleaning all the nooks and crannies and getting stuck in every tight space. But eventually, I gained strength and heart in my duties and began to really enjoy the weapon. I could reach out and touch just about anything with solid accuracy and watch it chew up the target in mere moments. The system rarely broke down and took one heck of a beating. Plus, I was usually set in a position where I could engage targets to max visibility, be that 5 meters, or 1000 meter. These avenues of approach were magnets; drawing people and vehicles into my sights.

Great marine Corps Training

High Stepping
An E Company 2/24 Marine performs an individual rush toward the objective on the Mobile Attack Course aboard Camp Pendleton, Ca during annual training.

The best freewheeling training I have had with the SAW was in the Philippines and 29 Palms. In the Philippines we were able to see the effect our squad had on a small hut. The hut was made out of cinderblock, bamboo and cardboard. For this luxury, we traded the locals some expended brass. Simply stated, we fired on the hut, under the instruction of our squad leader, until nothing was left standing. It took all of about 3 minutes. It was an incredible display of the concentrated power a Marine rifle squad can expend on a single target. Definitely a confidence booster.

29 Palms can hold some of the best weapons training in the continental United States. I say can because, every time I go there, the rules change slightly, restricting the Marines just a bit more in the name of safety. There is a saying in the Marine Corps, “For every stupid rule, there was a stupid Marine.” In civilian-speak that means: Every time some Marine pulls the trigger in error, sometimes killing other Marines, rules are put in place to ensure that it can never happen again. This regularly results in restrictions of training. Its not that we can’t train, its how we train that is restricted, so some of the more daring or chancy training is limited or completely excluded.

The range 400 series is quite a ball-buster. It is notorious for weeding out the weak hearted and sucking the wind out of the most physically fit Marine, but it is also a core component in brining squad, platoon and company training together. This range series is especially hard because it is in the desert. I have never been to 29 Palms when it was cool during the day, it was always blistering hot. The heat beating down on you, combined with a tough range can really challenge the best.

Opportunities for Improvement

My complaints against the M249 are with the Blank Firing Adapter (BFA), the bipods, the sling attachment and finally the weapon design, as it relates to cleaning.

Blank Firing Adapter (BFA)

For years Marines have been complaining about the BFA on the SAW. It never seems to fit right. This means you don’t have a solid block on the end of the barrel to cause enough blowback to keep the weapon moving through the cycle of operation. What I ended up doing was pulling the cotter pin out of the BFA to allow the block to sink deeper into the BFA, thereby getting a tighter seal on the end of the weapon. Now this is not a problem as long as you have a multi-tool, or pair of pliers available during training. Once the BFA latches on securely, it does not want to come off.

The manufacturer should either create a longer screw assembly for the BFA, or come up with one specifically for the SAW. The disadvantage in specially designing one for the SAW is that it is another piece of gear that is only good for one weapon system. The current program allows for either the M16 or the M249 to use the same BFA.


The bipods on the saw are weak. I like the way the bipods telescope, but once they are extended, the gunner must lean into the weapon to “fix” the bipods into a stationary position. Granted, we don’t want the system to increase in weight much, but a few more ounces would not hurt if it were put into the thicker bipods.

Sling attachment

The sling for the SAW is well designed, but the attachment to the SAW was a problem until recently. Now most SAWs have a heat shield over the top of the barrel to protect both the gunner and the sling from burns. Prior to that little invention, most gunners would try to remove their sling prior to firing because the weapon would heat up and melt through the sling that would inadvertently get tossed on top of the barrel. It is interesting that the manufacturer and the Marine Corps are willing to increase the weight of the saw to prevent burns, but not to strengthen the bipods.

Weapon Design

The SAW is built like a box. The receiver assembly has more nooks and crannies for carbon, dirt and brass to build up in then necessary. The manufacturer could take a lesson from the car builders: something a little smoother and sleeker would be nice. I am not talking the elliptical design of a Jaguar, but even Jeep figured out the Box was not the best design. It is a pain to clean the receiver assembly. An experienced SAW gunner can pull carbon out of the best-cleaned weapon. To really clean the receiver assembly, you need a dunk tank with solvent. And since that is not available to most Marines, unless you hit Quantico, Virginia or the School of Infantry, most weapons are picked at, scraped at and illegally disassembled in order to get the weapon clean. Smoothing out those box corners would also likely lighten the weapon a bit too.

M249 Nomenclature

An individually portable, gas operated, magazine or disintegrating metallic-link belt fed, light machine gun with a fixed headspace.

The characteristics of the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon

Primary function: Hand-held combat machine gun
Manufacturer: Fabrique Nationale Manufacturing, Inc.
Length: 40.87 inches (103.81 centimeters)
With bipod and tools: 15.16 pounds (6.88 kilograms)
200-round box magazine: 6.92 pounds (3.14 kilograms)
30-round magazine: 1.07 pounds (.49 kilograms)
Bore diameter: 5.56mm (.233 inches)
Maximum effective range: 3281 feet (1000 meters) for an area target
Maximum range: 2.23 miles (3.6 kilometers)
Rates of fire:
Cyclic: 725 rounds per minute
Sustained: 85 rounds per minute
Unit Replacement Cost: $4,087

Works Cited

Now See the Saw, by Peter G. Kokalis, http://remtek.com, (first published in the August 1982 edition of Soldier of Fortune Magazine)

FM 23-14 Headquarters Department of the Army, Washington, DC, 26 January 1994

USMC Factfile, http://www.hqmc.usmc.mil, 12/15/95