View Full Version : Best SAW/LSW

January 11, 2000, 07:52 PM
In theory and practice what is the diffrence between a Squad Automatic Weapon and a Light Support weapon? Should either of these make use of optics? Would feeding from belt or box magazine be most reliable and practical?

Jeff White
January 11, 2000, 11:41 PM
I think the terms SAW (squad automatic weapon) and light support weapon are interchangeable. The American Army calls their weapon the SAW and the British Army calls theirs the LSW. Both terms refer to a light automatic weapon employed at the squad or fire team level. These weapons are usually chambered in the same caliber as the rifle the rest of the squad uses.

They are used mostly to provide the base of fire to pin the enemy down while the rest of the squad maneuvers on the enemy.

I don't see the utility of optics on a weapon of this type. They are not precision weapons. Their value is in their ability to put out a lot of sustained fire to keep the enemy's head down while the rest of the squad or team maneuvers to a position from which to attack from. Belt fed weapons are best in this role. No breaks in fire while you change magazines.

Perhaps you are referring to the GP (general purpose)machine gun when you ask about the difference. The GP machine gun (M60, M240, MAG 58, RPD) is employed at the platoon level, is normally chambered in a full caliber (7.62x51). Normally a platoon will have two or three GP machineguns in most current organizations. These are crew served weapons (SAWs and LSWs are individual weapons)and normally employed from tripod mounts. They are used to form the base of fire upon which the platoon maneuvers.


January 12, 2000, 12:39 AM
Mr. White thank you for the post.

What good is ammo compatibility if one is in mags and the other is linked? I realize it can be delinked but is this realistic?

Is loading a 100 round belt really any faster than three mag changes (3x30)? Assuming that the weapon is individualy supported.

I also realize that the FN MAG is a General Purpose MG, but have seen it mounted with the Elcan scope. What advantage does this configuration offer?

Jeff White
January 12, 2000, 08:42 AM
Belts or magazines....
Each system has it's advantages. Magazines obviously allow you to pass ammunition from the squad to the automatic rifleman, but only if your SAW/LSW uses the same magazines as your rifle. Changing magazines will decrease the volume of fire that you can provide in a given period of time. The 5-10 seconds it would take your gunner to change magazines could allow the enemy to get his head up and bring fire on your troops while they are exposed and moving.

Belts allow you to sustain your volume of fire for a longer time (the M249 SAW uses 200 round belts), but eliminates the massing of magazines to the automatic rifleman to keep him in the fight when ammunition runs low. The US Army has tried to have the best of both worlds by having the M249 fire ammunition from belts or magazines. In reality the magazine function has never worked well on the M249. If you don't hold the magazine into the forward part of the mag well with your left hand, the weapon will quickly jam.

I have seen photos of the MAG 58 with the ELCAN mounted. The US Army version (M240B) has a Picatinny rail on the receiver cover for mounting optics. My personal opinion is that optics on a machine gun are a waste. Machine guns vibrate too much to make use of an optical sight practical while firing. Machine guns are area weapons, not sniper rifles (the M2 .50 in the sniper role is the exception). Much more practical items to issue with a GP machine gun would be a mortar sight, aiming poles, M2 compass and graphic firing tables for the round the GPMG is chambered for to allow the platoon to use them as indirect fire assests when the terrain calls for it.

Edmund Rowe
January 12, 2000, 08:16 PM
To answer the original question:

In theory the LSW takes only magazines, usually 30 rounders, while the US SAW takes either 30 round mags or 200 round belt.

In practice I heard the same thing that the SAW doesn't like magazine fed operation.

One advantage of the magazine is the rounds don't rattle like in the belt fed box/hopper.

Both LSW and SAW are intended for single soldier operation, unlike crew-served guns like the heavier GPMGs.

Jeff White: the RPD is a Soviet design for a 7.62x39 squad automatic (belt fed by the way). It really isn't in the GPMG class. The Russky equivalent of the GPMG is the PK series of 7.62x54 machine guns.

Other than that I agree with everything you said! :)

I read an interview of Peter G. Kokalis after he'd come back from Bosnia or thereabouts training Croat machine gunners. He commented that the choice in MGs is either:
1) Fires a powerful round that punches through cover and works out to a decent range but is too heavy to carry much ammo without help
2) Something easy to carry that doesn't have as much reach or power in the cartridge.

What's the best answer? I dunno. Murphy will see to it you'll bring the wrong one.


January 12, 2000, 10:05 PM
Jeff all you need is a M2 compass or aiming circle, Tripod w/TE, snad bags, gunners quadrants, M17 plotting board and TFTs a good reference is the FMFM 6-15

God truly fights on the side with the best artillery

January 13, 2000, 12:32 AM
What weights more 500 rounds in mags or belts?
Is anyone issuing the new 100 round cloth pouches for the SAW(M249?)? Those 200 round plastic boxes are noisy.
Generally, are belt fed or magazine fed systems more reliable?

January 13, 2000, 02:31 AM
TROW805 - 500 rounds of linked ammo will weigh less than the same quantity in box magazines. As to the reliability of either system, it depends on the system design. The best example of this the FN Minimi (the M249 SAW). When using belted ammo this system is highly reliable, but this same system is about worthless when using box magazines. Even if the gunner does everything right and prevents jams or feed failures, the cyclic rate is too high to maintain good suppressive fire 30 rounds at a time. The SAW is highly UNreliable when using box magazines. The powers that be tried creating a belt fed M16 variant at one time and it was a failure because the system wasn't designed to be a belt-fed weapon.

May your lead always hit center mass and your brass always land in your range bag.


Jeff White
January 13, 2000, 10:06 AM
Thanks for the correction, I couldn't pull PK out of my head yesterday morning. However we both forgot to mention their magazine fed SAW, the RPK series.

I'm not aware of a cloth pouch for 100 rounds of 5.56 linked. They recently have made a minor change to the design of the plastic box. There are now black and green boxes in the system, the black being the new one, but I don't remember what change they made to it. There are good systems in both magazine and belt fed varients. You run into problems when you try to do both in the same weapon. I personally prefer the belt fed systems. But others may have different needs or their logistical tail may support one or the other better.

I'd very much like to see the USMC manual on machine guns. FM 23-67 on the M60 also covers indirect fire but it's just plays lip service to it. I have a good friend who was a GPMG gunner in the Light Infantry of the British Territorial Army and they actually removed the buttstocks of their MAG 58s, mounted a mortar sight and trained in the indirect fire mode. 25 years in the US Army (21 years Infantry and 4 Artillery)and I have never seen this done. Indirect fire was used a lot during WWI but sometime between wars this seemed to go away in our army. I find it interesting that many M2 .50 caliber MGs have the mount for an indirect fire sight on the receiver.


Edmund Rowe
January 14, 2000, 08:13 PM
Jeff White:

I often wonder what Soviet-armed grunts say about the RPK. I've seen that they can have 30 or 40 round curved mags or a 75 round drum. I am curious as to which they prefer.


January 16, 2000, 06:07 PM
Never use M-16 mags in 249's! Not if you want to jam the sucker. The mag's feed the rounds too quickly.

January 16, 2000, 06:38 PM
For you military types who know the scoop
: The M249 SAW has seen a couple of field trials now, Desert Storm being most recent. How does it rate? Reliable? Better than M60? The book I looked at said it has "twice the effective range of the M16." Comments?

When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; IT IS that they shall be destroyed forever...Psalms 92.7

Jeff White
January 16, 2000, 08:31 PM
The M249 is much more reliable then the M60. However I don't think the product "improved" version of the M249 is as reliable as the original version.

I don't know where you get twice the effective range as the M16. It fires the same round.

The M60 is one of the worst designs ever fielded. I'm very happy we are replacing it with the M240B (FN MAG 58).

January 16, 2000, 09:04 PM
Thank you Jeff. The book that makes the questionable claim is "The Vital Guide to Combat Guns and Infantry Weapons" edited by Chris Bishop. That particular claim caught my eye, too. The book also said that the M249 replaced an M16 in each squad, no mention of dropping the M60, just improvement to E3. I don't understand how a .223 can do the same or better than a .308 unless the .308 is jammed more than working. Confirming that the U.S. will go to the FN MAG as GPMG.?..hadn't heard that.

Jeff White
January 16, 2000, 10:14 PM
The M249 did replace two M16s in each squad. We hadn't really had a squad automatic rifle since the BAR. The M14E1 doesn't really count because it wasn't fielded in any quantity.

We are already replacing the M60 with the M240B. Fielding started about a year ago. Ranger Regiment, 82d Airborne and 101st Airborne (Air Assault) already have them. Other units may have them by now. The M240 has been in the American system since the late '70s. It was first adopted as the coax gun on the M1 Abrams tank. It was also the coax on the M2/M3 Bradley Infantry/Calvary fighting vehicles. There was a ground mount kit purchased that allowed the crews of these vehicles to dismount the machine gun and use it in the handheld mode. The kit included a skeleton type buttstock, a pistol grip and trigger group and bipod. I'm not sure if these kits were ever fielded or kept in war reserve.