M249 Squad Automatic Weapon
USN, US Army, USMC, USAF
gas-operated, open bolt
The M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, or SAW, is an individually portable, gas operated, magazine or disintegrating metallic link-belt fed, light machine gun with fixed headspace and quick change barrel feature. The M249 engages point targets out to 800 meters, firing the improved NATO standard 5.56mm cartridge. The SAW forms the basis of firepower for the fire team. The gunner has the option of using 30-round M16 magazines or linked ammunition from pre-loaded 200-round plastic magazines.
The gunner's basic load is 600 rounds of linked ammunition.
The SAW was developed through an initially Army-led research and development effort and eventually a Joint NDO program in the late 1970s/early 1980s to restore sustained and accurate automatic weapons fire to the fire team and squad. When actually fielded in the mid-1980s, the SAW was issued as a one-for-one replacement for the designated "automatic rifle" (M16A1) in the Fire Team.
In this regard, the SAW filled the void created by the retirement of the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) during the 1950s because interim automatic weapons (e.g. M-14E2/M16A1) had failed as viable "base of fire" weapons. Early in the SAW's fielding, the Army identified the need for a Product Improvement Program (PIP) to enhance the weapon. This effort resulted in a "PIP kit" which modifies the barrel, handguard, stock, pistol grip, buffer, and sights.