The U.S. Army recently announced that the M2A1 .50 Caliber Machine Gun was among its top 10 “Army Greatest Inventions” for the 2011 calendar year.
The M2A1 includes new modern features and design improvements that make it easier and safer to use including a quick change barrel, fixed headspace and timing and a new flash hider that reduces the weapon’s signature by 95 percent at night.
“The M2A1 builds upon the legend of a phenomenal weapon system,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Ryan, Product Manager Crew Served Weapons.
“Soldiers already rank the M2 among the most effective weapon systems in their arsenal. The upgrades we’ve incorporated will keep this weapon relevant well into the future. We’re looking forward to working with our sister services to put this capability in the hands of even more warfighters across the Department of Defense.”
The original M2 “Ma Deuce” .50 Caliber Machine Gun is a belt-fed, heavy machine gun that mounts on most aircraft and vehicles and can be fired from a tripod. The system is highly effective against light armored vehicles, low- and slow-flying aircraft, boats and enemy personnel.
The Army developed the M2A1 to meet the requirement to increase the warfighter’s lethality and survivability on the battlefield by providing system upgrades to the M2.
Solving the Headspace and Timing Challenge
The current M2 requires Soldiers to manually set “headspace and timing.” This technical procedure is required before firing, after assembly and after required barrel changes when the barrel becomes extremely hot from high volumes of fire.
“Headspace” is the distance between the face of the bolt that houses the firing pin and the base of the ammunition cartridge case when fully seated in the chamber.
“Timing” is the adjustment of the gun so that firing takes place when the recoiling parts are in the correct position for firing.
Improper adjustment can cause malfunctions that could potentially result in injury to the user and damage to the weapon. The M2A1’s fixed headspace and timing configuration reduces risk and eliminates the need for Soldiers to master and execute this time-consuming procedure.
“The M2A1’s fixed headspace and timing enhancement resolves the number one safety issue for Soldiers operating the weapon system,” said Laura Batista, M2 Product Director, Product Manager Crew Served Weapons.
“The M2A1 addresses this concern by moving the adjustment task above the operator-level, thereby minimizing the risk of malfunctions or injuries in the field. This also frees up vital Soldier training time for other critical tasks.”
The upgraded gun delivers other tactical benefits as well. The M2A1 upgrade has a reduced signature as a result of its improved flash hider, which reduces muzzle flash by 95 percent.
This enhances the Soldier’s ability to use the weapon with night vision devices by limiting “white-out” conditions caused by the brilliance of weapon firing. A quicker barrel change also reduces the amount of time Soldiers are exposed to enemy fire and shortens the amount of time the weapon is out of operation.
Barrel Extension Key Upgrade
Not only is the M2A1 simpler and safer to use than the M2, it also incorporates a more durable barrel extension.
“The barrel extension is machined from maraging steel, thus increasing the durability and reducing part breakage over the current M2,” said Robert Sulzbach, M2A1 Project Officer.
Sulzbach works at the Weapons and Software Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal, which is part of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC).
“Maraging steel is a strong, tough, carbon-free iron alloy, which contains nickel, cobalt, titanium and molybdenum,” Sulzbach explained.
“The steel is heat-treated to an extremely high tensile strength, resulting in longer life and greater durability for the component.”
The barrel extension also makes possible rapid barrel change-outs on the M2A1. With the older M2s, the barrels had to be screwed on. To change the barrel of an M2A1, a Soldier simply needs to slightly retract the charging handle, rotate the barrel by its carrying handle and slide the barrel off the receiver.
He then slides the new barrel into the barrel extension, locks it into the J-slot on the barrel support and the gun is ready to fire. A new removable carrying handle also serves to protect Soldiers from the extreme temperatures of heated barrels.
Fielding Under Way
The Army began upgrading its M2 fleet to M2A1s in 2011. The program is pursuing both upgrade kits as well as new procurements to modernize the Army’s entire M2 inventory of more than 54,000 guns.
All currently fielded M2s will be upgraded to the new M2A1 configuration at Anniston Army Depot (ANAD) utilizing Quick Change Barrel conversion kits.
In addition, the Army contracted General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products (GDATP) to manufacture and deliver 9,758 new M2A1s.
As of October 1, ANAD has converted more than 3,700 M2s into M2A1s and GDATP has delivered more than 7,400 new M2A1s.
In August 2011, 3rd Brigade, 1st Armor Division at Ft. Bliss, Texas, became the first unit to receive the new guns before their deployment to Afghanistan.
Since then, M2A1s have been fielded on a one-to-one basis by Total Package Fielders both to deployers and redeployers. Units’ displaced M2s are inducted into the ANAD overhaul/conversion program for conversion into M2A1s. The Army has fielded more than 8,300 M2A1s to date.
A Team Effort
The success of the M2A1 program is the result of various entities working as partners across the Army.
They include lifecycle management by Project Manager Soldier Weapons; engineering and quality assurance by ARDEC; contracting, logistics and sustainment, fielding and new equipment training by Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) and additional contracting support by Army Contracting Command — New Jersey.
“The entire team came together to deliver a significant upgrade that provides added capability for the Soldier,” said Col. Scott Armstrong, Project Manager Soldier Weapons.
“The team can be proud of their accomplishment and well-deserved recognition.”
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