Ma Deuce Still Going StrongNov 01, 2012 13:51 UTC by Defense Industry Daily staff
Built since the 1920s, the reliable, powerful, air-cooled .50 caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning Machine Gun (aka. “Ma Deuce”) is still one of the world’s most effective heavy machine guns. It can be carried by a team of soldiers, or mounted on vehicles and aircraft. Despite its age, its combination of reliability, durability, and kick-butt firepower has made it one of the most requested weapons on America’s front lines, and it remains popular around the world. Modern alternatives like FN’s M3M/GAU-21 have been introduced, and so have R&D efforts like the XM307/312 and XM806, but the M2 remains, as one of our correspondents put it, “the mounted lance of the US cavalry.” The USA has even had to ramp up .50 cal ammunition production, in order to keep up.
This article covers the venerable, and valuable, M2 machine gun, and associated contracts. The US government is still buying more, using both a multi-year contract, and a small business secondary supplier contract. They’ve also broadened the product line.
Ma Deuce: the M2 Heavy Machine Gun
The base M2HB (heavy barrel) crew-served 12.7mm/ .50 cal machine gun features a rate of fire of 450-600 rounds per minute, a maximum effective range of 2,000 yards (1,830m), and a maximum range of 7,440 Yards (6,800m). Muzzle velocity with M33 is 2,910 Feet Per Second (890 Meters Per Second). As has become standard in modern machine guns, it is air-cooled and belt fed. The complete gun weighs 84 pounds (38.2 kg), not counting any tripods or mounts, with a barrel weight of 24 Pounds (10.88 kg). Air-cooled guns will have their barrels heat up as they fire, so it isn’t uncommon to have an extra on hand as well.
The M2′s slow rate of fire isn’t necessarily a disadvantage. Though it limits the gun’s anti-air effectiveness, it makes the weapon more controllable against ground targets. That has even led to combat situations where the M2 has been successfully employed in one-shot sniper mode, using a telescopic sight. Discovery of the M2 sniper option is widely credited to legendary USMC sniper Carlos “White Feather” Hathcock in Vietnam.
The M2HB comes in 2 variants, fixed and flex. The fixed version is generally used on tanks, and has different mountings and a different trigger mechanism.
A Better Ma Deuce
M2A1. After 25 years of manufacturing the M2HB, General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products has developed an M2E2 version for the U.S. Department of Defense. The enhanced M2E2 is officially known as the M2A1. Enhancements include a quick-change barrel system that can be switched in seconds, rather than forcing gunners to try adjusting the headspace and timing while in combat. Other key features include a flash hider, and a manual trigger block safety. The M2A1 is currently in production, and the Army is ordering some conversions of existing guns, but the M2 and M2HB remain the mainstays of the force.
M2CQB. Secondary supplier U.S. Ordnance has also developed its own M2QCB design, alongside the M2HB. It includes additions like M1913 Picatinny Rails for mounting an array of combat optics and other gear, weapon options that include a flash suppressor, a trigger positive safety selector to prevent accidental discharges; and a Quick Change Barrel (QCB) that maintains fixed headspace, allowing the barrel to be safely changed in seconds.
XM806. The Lightweight .50 Caliber (12.7mm) Machine Gun (LW50MG/ XM806) began its development phase in 2008. It was meant to have significantly less recoil, and to be almost 50% lighter than current weapons: just 60 pounds with its tripod. It was also expected to demonstrate more accuracy and lethal fire in combat, thanks to reduced recoil that lets soldiers fire the weapon using tactical optics.
A lighter HMG that simply maintained the M2HB’s accuracy and lethality would still be valuable, but initial figures are encouraging. The XM806 finished Phase 1 development testing in summer 2011, and Phase 2 testing in fall 2012. Base weight without tripod is 45 pounds, which is lower than the 49 pound requirement, and recoil is reduced by “at least” 60%. Limited user testing is the next step, with a Milestone C Low-Rate Initial Production decision expected by spring 2012. Initial deployment is envisioned with light infantry units such as the 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne, and 10th Mountain divisions; and with special operations forces.
Unless otherwise indicated, all contracts are issued by the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command at Rock Island, IL to General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products Inc. in Burlington, VT. Actual production takes place in the Saco, ME facility, which employs over 400 people and has manufactured M2 machine guns since 1979.
Work will be performed in Saco, Maine, with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/14. The bid was solicited through the Internet, with one bid received (W56HZV-13-C-0027).
March 2/12: M2E2. A $7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to covert M2 machine guns into the M2A1 (M2E2) configuration. Work will be performed in Saco, Maine, with an estimated completion date of May 31/13. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W52H09-09-D-0175).
Nov 15/11: M2HB. GD-ATP announces a $6.9 million contract for about 600 M2 heavy barrel (M2HB) machine guns. The release adds that this the 7th delivery order under their 2009 contract (vid. May 8/09 entry).
Production work will be completed in spring 2012, and program management will be performed at General Dynamics’ Williston Technology Center in Williston, VT.
Nov 29/10: OWEK. An invention related to the M2 wins one of the US Army’s Top 10 Inventions awards for 2010. The Objective Weapon Elevation Kit raises the entire assembly by 5.25,” and raises maximum elevation angle from 67 to 80 degrees. This is very useful in mountainous terrain, like Afghanistan’s.
The kit can be used on any existing tactical vehicle, including MRAPs, and it is said to be “very popular with both conventional and nonconventional units.” Research was led by Sanjay Parimi, from the Armament Research and Development Center at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ. The Army fielded 700 kits from January to August 2009.
Sept 3/10: M2E2. A $17.4 million firm-fixed-price contract to convert 6,000 M2 machine guns to M2A1 (M2E2) machine guns by April 30/12, with work to be performed at Saco, Maine. One bid was solicited and one bid received (W52H09-09-D-0175).
July 14/10: M2E2. A $35.2 million firm-fixed-price contract for 6,180 M2E2 quick change barrel kits, which let troops in the field quickly change out the barrel and resume firing, without resetting the headspace and timing.
Work is to be performed in Saco, Maine, with an estimated completion date of Dec. 23/12. For the original contract, 3 bids were solicited with 3 bids received by the US Army Contracting Command, Joint Munitions and Lethality Life Cycle Management Command in Picatinny Arsenal, NJ (W15QKN-09-C-0060).
April 6/10: A $6.8 million firm-fixed-price contract for 8,000 M2 machine gun barrels. Work is to be performed in Saco, Maine, with an estimated completion date of April 30/11. Two bids were solicited with two bids received by US Army TACOM Rock Island, CCTA-AR-SA in Rock Island, IL (W52H09-04-D-0108).
July 15/09: Do they feel lucky? U.S. Ordnance, Inc. in Reno, NV received a $6.75 million firm-fixed-price contract for 548 M2 machine guns. That number is the exact small business set-aside difference noted in the May 9/09 entry. The Pentagon announcement noted a potential for a maximum order of 30,678, but that is only likely to happen under extreme circumstances.
Work is to be performed in Reno, NV, with an estimated completion date of Aug 31/12. The TACOM Contracting Center in Rock Island, IL solicited 6 bids, with 6 bids received (W52H09-09-D-0249).
May 8/09: M2HB. General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products Inc. in Burlington, VT wins a $24.2 million 4-year firm-fixed-price indefinite-quantity/ indefinite-delivery contract, including an initial order for 2,193 M2HB Flex machine guns. This initial order is the multi-year contract’s minimum order quantity. Work is to be performed in Saco, ME, with an estimated completion date of Aug 31/12. Six bids were solicited, with 6 received (W52H09-09-D-0175).
The DefenseLINK release lists a potential contract maximum quantity of 39,452 guns over the 4-year period, but TACOM initial solicitation information [PDF] lists 40,000 guns. The difference is attributable to a small business set-aside, which will be issued as a follow-on contract.
Since the contract is firm-fixed-price, its maximum value to General Dynamics can be inferred as being around $435 million. TACOM personnel told DID that the contract may modified in subsequent years, however, to include the M2E2 variant. If that comes to pass, final totals may change.
April 3/09: M2HB. A $29 million firm-fixed-price contract for an additional 2,414 M2HB machine guns. Work is to be performed in Saco, Maine with an estimated completion date of April 2/09. One bid was solicited and one bid was received (W52H09-07-C-125).
According to GD-ATP’s April 25/09 release, this option brings this 2007 contract’s total value to date to more than $100 million. It adds that deliveries from this award are expected to begin in December 2009, which further suggests that the DefenseLINK completion date should read April 2/10.
Oct 7/08: M2HB. U.S. Ordnance of Reno, NV won a $14 million firm fixed price contract to purchase “M2HB nonstandard machines for Afghanistan.” The work is being performed at the contractor’s Reno plant and will be complete by Sept 30/09 (W52H09-08-C-0218).
One US Ordnance M2HB feature that might be very useful in Afghanistan is an optional positive safety selector for the trigger mechanism, to prevent accidental discharges when manning the gun and traveling over rough terrain. A quick-change barrel is also offered – from their site:
“US Ordnance’s most recent improvement to the time honored M2HB machine has been the addition of a quick change barrel with fixed headspace. Our innovative Quick Change Barrel (QCB) maintains fixed headspace and allows the barrel to be safely changed in seconds, allowing accurate pre-operational set-up and improving sustained fire support in battle.”
Sept 24/08: M2HB. General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products Inc in Burlington, VT receives a $10 million firm-fixed-fee price contract for 829 M2HB machine guns. Deliveries on the contract are expected to begin in late 2009, and to be complete by the end of 2009.
Production work will be performed at GDATP’s Saco, Maine, facility, which has delivered more than 25,000 M2 heavy barrel machine guns to the U.S. government since 1979. Program management will be performed at the company’s Burlington, VT based Technology Center, which is GDATP’s Engineering Center of Excellence. One was solicited and one bid was received (W52H09-07-C-0125). See also General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products release.
May 14/08: Lightweight MG. GDATP announces a $9 million contract from the U.S. Army Joint Munition and Lethality Life Cycle Management Command to develop a Lightweight .50 Caliber (12.7mm) Machine Gun (LW50MG). The contract will fund development of the gun and system components such as the tripod, vehicle adapter assembly and Blank Firing Adapter (BFA).
The LW50MG is expected to have significantly less recoil, and to be lighter than current weapons. It is also expected to demonstrate increased accuracy and lethality in combat, though an LW50MG that simply maintained the M2HB’s marks in those areas could still be valuable.
Nov 26/07: A $36.6 million firm-fixed price contract to purchase 3,048 M2 machine guns for foreign military sales. The work will be carried out at the company’s Saco, Maine, facility for completion by June 30/09. Army Public Affairs can be reached at (703) 692-2000. (W52H09-07-C-0125).
July 27/07: A $26 million firm-fixed-price contract for M2 Machine Guns. Work will be performed in Saco, Maine, and is expected to be complete by Feb. 28, 2009. This was a sole source contract initiated on April 11, 2007 (W52H09-07-C-0125).
July 27/07: A $5.1 million modification to a firm-fixed-price contract for M2 Receiver Cartridges. Work will be performed in Saco, Maine, and is expected to be complete by Sept. 30, 2008. There were 2 bids solicited on March 23, 2006, and 2 bids were received (W52H09-06-C-0155).
Jan 18/07: GDATP announces a $6.9 million contract modification from U.S. Army TACOM in Rock Island, IL to produce M2HB Machine Guns. This option modifies a contract originally awarded in October 2006, bringing the total contract value to date to $27.5 million.
Oct 25/06: An $18.4 million firm-fixed-price contract for M2 machine guns. Work will be performed in Saco, Maine, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/07. This was a sole source contract initiated on Aug 21/06 (W52H09-06-C-0223).
Aug 30/05: A $6.6 million delivery order, as part of a $56.1 million firm-fixed-price contract for M2 Machine Guns – the limit and numbers appear to have been raised. Work will be performed in Saco, Maine, and is expected to be completed by Jan 31/07. This was a sole source contract initiated on June 23/99 (DAAE20-00-D-0075).
July 19/04: A $14.7 million delivery order as part of a $42.9 million firm-fixed-price contract for 1,035 M2 machine guns. Work will be performed in Saco, Maine, and is expected to be completed by March 20/07. This was a sole source contract initiated on June 23/99 (DAAE20-00-D-0075).
June 15/04: A $2.85 million delivery order, issued as part of a $28.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for 3,000 M2 machine gun barrels. Work will be performed in Saco, Maine, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/07. There were 2 bids solicited on Jan 15/04, and 5 bids were received (W52H09-04-D-0108).
May 18/04: A $5.2 million delivery order, issued as part of a $28.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for 6,000 M2 Machine Gun Barrels. Work will be performed in Saco, Maine, and is expected to be completed by Oct 31/05. This was a sole source contract initiated on June 23/99 (DAAE20-00-D-0075).