Squad Layout: SAW vs Crew-Served Machine Gun?

Jan 2018
15
SC
A big reasons for the adoption of the SAW is the rise of urban fighting. The SAW is much shorter than the M240g and also lighter. The weight of one 5.56 round and one 7.62 round is minuscule but if you multiply by 1000 it makes a huge difference. Like Aggienation said it’s all about mobility.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,599
Dispargum
Don't most modern armies, at least the advanced ones, give their squads a heavy machine gun or even a cannon mounted on their AIFV? The only time a squad is without its HMG is when terrain forces the squad to leave its AIFV behind.
 
Jan 2018
15
SC
Sometimes you need that firepower in that terrain. The SAW and the m27 allow for that, but in a package that still allows for maneuvering inside of a house. The 240g which is basically a 7.62mm version of the SAW but is a lot longer and heavier which doesn’t allow for that mobility.
 
Apr 2017
1,655
U.S.A.
Of note is that when the M16 was adopted in Vietnam they removed all other weapons from the squad including the BAR. This left the squad without a dedicated machinegun, frequently they had to breakup the platoon's M60's between the squads (but there were only two M60's for the three squads). To help with this two of the M16's in the squad were given bipods and designated light machineguns. However they could not realistically function in this role as they didn't have the heavy barrels or ammunition capacity for this. Flash forward a few years and they were given the SAW but some still complain the 5.56 ammo doesn't provide sufficient range/power to cover the advance of a squad.
 
Jan 2018
15
SC
The SAW was to bridge the gap in between taking fire and getting the big guns up. In the Marine Corps the SAW is issued into a 4 man fire team, 3 fire teams to a squad and generally 1 gpmg to squad. The SAW is there to suppress and maneuver until you can get the real firepower.
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
A big reasons for the adoption of the SAW is the rise of urban fighting. The SAW is much shorter than the M240g and also lighter. The weight of one 5.56 round and one 7.62 round is minuscule but if you multiply by 1000 it makes a huge difference. Like Aggienation said it’s all about mobility.
The term is American, but the concept goes back as far as WW1, when most countries (France then British being the first) altered squad or platoon makeup to include very mobile automatic rifles or light machine guns down the squad for many, if not the platoon. By WW2, every combatant nation was fielding a SAW, Germany, Japan, italy, USSR, French, British, and Americans.

Post war, due to budget cuts, the US Army and Marines were still stuck with WW2 inventory weapons, so the M1918 BAR was still the support weapon of the squad until 1960, or thereabouts, when the new M60 machine gun was developed.

However, the idea was that the M60 replaced the M1919 Browning Light Machine Guns, while a specially designed M14 would replace the M1918 BAR.

But the problem was that the M14 automatic rifle wasn't produced in enough numbers (due to major production problems) for it to work, and still wasnt very good as an automatic support weapon, especially in comparison to various GPMG machine guns being developed at the time.

During the Vietnam War, the SAW concept was developed. A few units played with their platoon and squad organization and added an M60 to the squad. But that's a 20 lb MG, whose ammo weights 7 lb for 100 rounds, so heavy. So the powers that be in the US Army wanted a 5.56 LMG.

By the time they figured out what basic type they wanted to host a trial, the Vietnam War ended and the budget was slashed again, so the Army sat on it until the late 70s when finally it got rolling again.

Of all the LMGs submitted, the FN Minimi, designed in late 60s, was the best, it was chosen. At the time, they only knew they'd get definitely one per squad, and the program was for a SAW, so the name stuck, even after they decided to go to identical fireteam concept, with an M249 SAW in each.

The push for urban warfare training didn't really start until the 90s, after Mogadishu (Blackhawk Down), after watching what the Russians were going through in Chechnya. Before that, the US Army and Marines primarily trained in rural environments, only occasionally urban, and most MOUT Towns (fake towns used for training) weren't even built till the mid to late 90s.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,599
Dispargum
Of note is that when the M16 was adopted in Vietnam they removed all other weapons from the squad including the BAR. This left the squad without a dedicated machinegun, frequently they had to breakup the platoon's M60's between the squads (but there were only two M60's for the three squads). To help with this two of the M16's in the squad were given bipods and designated light machineguns. However they could not realistically function in this role as they didn't have the heavy barrels or ammunition capacity for this. Flash forward a few years and they were given the SAW but some still complain the 5.56 ammo doesn't provide sufficient range/power to cover the advance of a squad.
As late as the 1980s the US Marines with their four man fire-teams would have one M-16 on full auto, trying to do the job that would later be done by a SAW, while the other three M-16s were on semi-automatic.
 
Sep 2012
1,141
Tarkington, Texas
The SAW needs a changeable barrel for sustained fire. You normally get that with most GPMG's. The Squad can only carry so much weight and you need a system of getting extra ammo to the gun. The Minimi had an issue with US use because it was mandated that it had to take rifle magazines. It took several years to get around this issue. I do not see any photos of soldiers or Marines using a Minimi with a rifle magazine. Another issue is the 5.56 ammo has an issue with range. In Afghanistan, the combat range often went out to 1000 yards. The Minimi was only accurate out to about 600 yards (the new shorter barrels?). The M240 GPMG could place accurate fire out to 1000 yards. Use of the M240 in breaking through doors is an even bigger problem than the M249.

By the way the Belgians took the BAR design and improved on it. They gave it an easily detachable barrel and a pistol grip. The US ignored it.

Pruitt
 
Jan 2018
15
SC
The M249 SAW has a changeable barrel and is able to take a rifle magazine but is not often used because the M249 SAW and the Minimi are basically the same it likes to feed its own ammo. As far as range is concerned the AK and RPK are far less accurate at any distance than the SAW and m4. And I also did 2 tours in Afghanistan with 2nd MARSOC and never had engagements at 1000yds
 
Aug 2016
977
US&A
The M249 SAW has a changeable barrel and is able to take a rifle magazine but is not often used because the M249 SAW and the Minimi are basically the same it likes to feed its own ammo. As far as range is concerned the AK and RPK are far less accurate at any distance than the SAW and m4. And I also did 2 tours in Afghanistan with 2nd MARSOC and never had engagements at 1000yds

My understanding is that the feed rate for magazines on the m249 is too high. At least that's what Ian mcCullen claims on his YouTube channel, Forgotten Weapons. Apparently he feels the Israeli Negev is a superior system, he says it has many improvements over the M249.

The magazine comment is at the 2:30 mark here.