By George E. Kontis, PE –
A new ammunition bag called the “Balanced Ammunition Delivery System” (BADS) is poised to revolutionize combat deployment of the MAG58 (US M240) and MG3 machine guns. Although these machine guns have been around for more than 60 years, there has never been a good way to feed them because they eject fired cases from the bottom. Feeding solutions have been limited to ammunition boxes hung far out on the left side of the gun to avoid impact with ejected fired cases. The offset load makes the gun unwieldy and difficult to control. It’s not unlike trying to steer a small boat with all the passengers sitting on one side and continually shifting their weight. These unwieldy bags have never been user friendly, so the best solution to date has been to provide the machine gunner with an assistant to hand feed in the linked belts.
Like ammunition boxes of the past, the BADS connects to the machine gun’s box mounting features located on the left side of the weapon, but the similarities end there. Unlike the old boxes, the BADS cradles the ammunition directly under the ejection port. From a weapon handling standpoint, it’s an ideal location for the 100 to 125 rounds of linked ammunition as the weight is located precisely on the gun’s center of gravity. Fired cases and links impact the top of the BADS but are directed out and to the right by a metal deflector plate located above the stored ammunition. Older ammunition boxes were never very popular because they continually jabbed the shooter’s mid-section which made the gun uncomfortable to carry and maneuver, but the underslung BADS does not have this problem.
“Why has it taken so long to develop an ammunition box with the weight of the ammunition along the gun’s CG,” you ask? It’s primarily because bottom ejecting guns are very fussy about anything blocking the path of ejected brass and links. Whenever the bottom of the machine gun gets close to the ground, a rock or the deck of a vehicle or ship, it will eventually result in a fired case bouncing back up through the ejection port to cause a malfunction called a “spinback.” The gun will be firing normally, then come to an abrupt halt. The operator finds a mangled case in the action, but he cannot positively attribute the stoppage as a fired case that suddenly bounced its way back up into the operating mechanism. For this reason, a spinback stoppage is hard to identify without high speed photography.
You might expect the design of an ammunition box to be a simple task. It is not. Linked ammunition does not like to be folded against itself. The round tips from one row have a bad habit of finding their way in between the tips of the rounds in the adjacent row. Put your palms together and interlock your fingers slightly, then try to slide your palms apart. See what I mean? When this happens in an ammunition storage system, a feed jam—or at minimum a feed hesitation—occurs. Unlike other storage systems for linked ammunition, BADS has no separators or other provision to prevent this. I have witnessed thousands of rounds fired through numerous design evolutions of the BADS, and there was never even a hint the ammo wasn’t feeding smoothly.
Considering how easily linked ammunition can jam during feeding, it’s quite surprising how little effort is required to load the BADS. The inventor, Mr. Joe Moody, told me he spent a lot of time working out the size and shape of his ammo box for ease of loading and jam prevention. It was a significant design challenge to determine the correct shape and angle of the deflection plate. I timed the bag being loaded several times. It never took the loader more than 10 seconds, regardless of whether he was standing, kneeling or in a crouched position.
The deflection plate serves another important purpose besides preventing spinbacks. Ejected fired cases are hot enough to burn the skin. When the BADS is fired, both ammunition and links go spewing out to the right—well away from the gunner. Spinbacks can even occur when ejected fired cases strike a mound of links and fired cases that have accumulated under the weapon. Eliminating both the spinback and burn hazard from fired cases is a welcome design feature.
One of the best features of the BADS is the belt holding pawl. In order to keep the belt from falling back into the box, a triangular steel spring drops into the space between linked rounds each time a new round of ammunition is fed. Since the belt holding pawl blocks the feedway, it must be disabled during loading. To do this, the soldier takes a fired case or live round and inserts it between the pawl and the outside wall of the box. This action holds the belt holding pawl out of the feed path so ammunition may be loaded. After loading, the round or fired case is removed, and the pawl springs into action.
Mounting the BADS on the MAG58 or M240 is simple. With the feed cover and tray raised, a keyhole slot on the BADS mounting pad engages a feed box button found on every U.S. and Belgian made gun. Returning the feed tray to the fire position and latching the feed cover closed securely clamps the BADS to the receiver. The feed box button and other engagement with the receiver prevent the BADS from being wrenched away from the gun during maneuvers. Mounting the MG3 BADS variant is much the same.
Another one of the surprising features of the BADS is its height. Normally, you’d expect an underslung ammunition bag like this to be an obstruction to achieving maximum elevation of the machine gun. FN’s plastic underslung ammunition box for the M249 SAW, for example, contacts the ground well before the pistol grip does, limiting how far the gun can be elevated. Even when the BADS is fully loaded, the first thing to contact the ground when shooting at elevated targets is the pistol grip.
While the bag was originally designed for 100-round belts, Mr. Moody found he could easily add an extra 25 rounds. This is accomplished even without compromising box length or limiting the maximum elevation of the weapon. It’s surprising to see that the pistol grip, and not the BADS, comes in contact with the ground first. Although U.S. 7.62mm ammunition comes packed in 100-round belts, we might imagine some tactical scenarios—particularly defensive—where having a few more rounds available would be an advantage. When the BADS is loaded to maximum capacity, only three magazine changes would be needed to fire a 500-round compliment.
Prior to the BADS, the newest ammunition bag for the M240B was developed by the U.S. Army. Like the old FN and German bags, the weight of the ammunition was again far out on the left side of the machine gun. Holding only 50 rounds, the Army bag opens with a button for easy loading, but loading is anything but easy. Layering a 50-round belt in the open bag seems like it would be simple, but the ammunition kept falling out when I tried it. I suppose there is some trick to it, but I have yet to find it.
The design intent of the Army’s small capacity bag is to minimize the annoying offset weight while providing the machine gunner a few rounds of ready ammunition until the assistant gunner arrives. Other than to stick around to help spot the enemy and to bring up extra ammunition, it would seem with the BADS the assistant gunner could be doing other things. Providing suppressive fire with his M4 while the gunner reloads, for example, would offer a tactical advantage on the battlefield.
Since the time I first witnessed the BADS in action, Mr. Moody has been refining his design for production, which is the current status. There are about 120 countries around the world using the M240 or MAG58 as their principal medium machine gun. About 30 countries still use the MG3, and the balance uses the side-ejecting Russian PKM. Ammunition boxes with capacities of 100 and 150 rounds are centrally located under the PKM to provide perfect balance, which the MG3 and MAG58/M240 will have with the BADS.
Mr. Moody says he has interest from a number of foreign users, and the U.S. military will soon be evaluating the BADS. The BADS improves weapon feeding and handling and eliminates a major drawback of the MAG58/M240 and MG3 when compared to the PKM. Overall, it’s a simple design, is long overdue and offers a new opportunity to reconsider how these medium machine guns are manned and deployed.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N9 (November 2017)|