By Dan Shea
FN Manufacturing Inc (FNMI), located in Columbia, South Carolina, is the U.S. contractor to build the M249 SAW machine gun. They have been in production since 1990. The M249 has an excellent reputation with the soldiers who are using it- as a 5.56 caliber squad automatic weapon it is a very reliable design. That record notwithstanding, FN is always looking at ways to improve their product. Military groups are usually coming up with one requirement or another for special operations, and the combination of the new requirements and FN’s innovative engineering has led to the new M249 Paratrooper model. Lighter and more compact than it’s predecessor, the “Para” still delivers that extra edge of belt fed power that a squad leader may need to call on in combat.
Changes include a telescoping buttstock, a shortened barrel, and a foldable carrying handle. These parts are readily interchangeable with the parts on standard M249 SAW’s, so a field conversion is easy to accomplish on existing M249’s. There is no heat shield on the barrel of the “Para” model, but it is available on request with an order to FNMI.
SAR had the opportunity to test fire the M249 “Para” recently. FNMI graciously provided “All the ammo I could want”. That could be a LOT of ammo, and moving targets, and explosives in the targets, and a barbecue set up at the range, but reason prevailed- so in this tester’s courteous fashion I requested 500 rounds. This would be enough to get a good feel for the weapon.
There is a marked difference in the felt recoil between the Minimi and the M249, which I attribute to the different buffering systems. While the Minimi has a reputation as being very controllable, the M249 is even more so. I was curious to see if the changes in barrel length and buttstock style would affect this. There was no perceived recoil change in firing the “Para” model. In fact, the controllability went up for me- especially from the shoulder-fired position. While I advocate the prone bipod supported firing platform, it is necessary for the machine gunner to understand hip firing advancing (Ambush busting), as well as firing from the shoulder. While the stock was not particularly ergonomic, it sufficed for a good shoulder contact.
The shorter length made the “Para” extremely comfortable to carry. Pulling the buttstock slightly to the rear, then twisting it 90 degrees allows the stock to slide on it’s rails along the side of the receiver. Paratroopers and Special Operations personnel should find this compact model to be of great assistance in reducing bulk and weight.
Overall? I was favorably impressed with the M249 “Para” and would recommend anyone with a 5.56 caliber requirement look into it, not just the SpecOps personnel. Since it’s a simple retrofit, it might be worth looking at for all M249s in inventory, unless your specific requirement would be affected by the change in barrel length. I don’t see this as a problem in the 5.56 SAW role. If you have a distance issue, then the 7.62 caliber machine guns might be of more interest.
Military and law enforcement users may contact: FN Sales North America PO Box 24257, Dept. SAR, Columbia, SC 29224 Tel. 803-736-0522 ext 241 Fax 803-736-9949
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N7 (April 1998)|