ABOVE: Barrett employee in an assault stance with the LWS, in the way that Barrett envisions the LWS being most useful in. The handguards allow for a very comfortable grip while carrying or holding the machine gun. Although the Key Mod slots also allow for other grips to be emplaced underneath the handguards.
The design of machine guns meant to fill the role for a small unit dependent on a more compact yet reliable machine gun has constantly been tackled by various firms the world over, from Belgium to Russia. Instead of “reinventing the wheel” as it were, Barrett Firearms out of Murfreesboro, TN has simply enhanced that wheel; that is the venerable M240 medium machine gun. In this article we take a look at their most recent machine gun design, the Barrett 240 LWS.
A colleague once stated that, “The 240 is the most reliable weapon in the entire Marine Corps arsenal”. Barring bayonets and entrenching tools, the author would imagine that few would disagree. Designed in the 1950s, the FN Herstal Mitrailleuse d’Appui Général 1958 (MAG -58), quickly entered service among a number of NATO militaries, where it remains to this day. Despite many variations in design and usage, the machine gun’s open bolt, gas operated, belt fed operating system has continued to survive into the present. The U.S. Military’s association with the weapon system began in 1977 with the adoption of the MAG-58 as a coaxial machine gun on tanks and armored vehicles. Official adoption of the system, replacing the M60 as the general purpose machine gun began in the 1990s with the U.S. Army and Marine Corps as the M240 Golf, and the M240 Bravo. Since then it has proved its worth in combat many times over, and continues in service today, with no need for a wholesale replacement in sight. However, as the old adage goes, “There is always room for improvement”. Barrett Firearms took the adage to heart, and has introduced what they think is the most up to date and perfected version of the medium machine gun.
The Barrett 7.62x51mm NATO 240 Light Weight (LW) program has its design roots in the original U.S. Army solicitation for a lighter M240 medium machine gun in 2010. The program called for a much lighter version of the M240, while keeping the same familiar open bolt design that the machine gun is world-renowned for. This was formally known as the M240B Weight Reduction Program, or the M240E6. The results of that solicitation ended with the adoption of the M240 Lima by the U.S. Army. By producing the receiver out of titanium, instead of steel, FN delivered a light-weight solution by trimming the weight of the M240B by 5.5 pounds, or an 18 percent weight reduction of the original machine gun, giving it an overall weight of 22.3 pounds. Currently the Lima is in service with the U.S. Army in a limited capacity.
Although Barrett did not participate in the solicitation program, the company felt that it could produce an equivalent weight reduction by more efficient manufacturing methods instead of simply switching to the much more expensive titanium receiver. In addition, the company makes the point that the majority of worldwide titanium reserves are coming from Russia and China. Should relations between the United States and these countries sour, it would become much harder to find sources of titanium. Thus Barrett designed the 240 LW series, keeping the standard 240 technical data package, while more efficiently manufacturing the receiver. The company did this by keeping the steel design but eliminating all the rivets, instead using a welding process to marry the two receiver halves together. Successfully completing this, the company was able to subtract four pounds off the receiver alone. However, not only did the company want to make the iconic machine gun lighter, but they felt that they could make it better by modifying a number of the parts in it.
A variant of that program and the subject of this article is the Barrett 240 Light Weight Short (LWS). The design concept for this variant is to produce a viable medium machine gun that would serve in a special operations capacity, where a small team of operators could maximize a medium machine gun by having it in a shorter and lighter package than its big brother, the 240 LW, or the equivalent M240B. This follows in the footsteps of the Mk48 and the M60E6 medium machine gun ideas, also designed for the small unit role. The FN Mk48 is a completely redesigned M249 SAW in 7.62x51mm NATO and has comes across some issues in its service life; it was never designed to be a general purpose machine gun, while the M60E6 arguably came too late to make a difference in USMC and US Army general machine gun adoption, being that the M240 design was well standardized within the DoD ranks. Both offerings are more focused on Special Operations in US Service.
Rather than produce a machine gun design of their own, Barrett realized the potential of building off the venerable FN M240 design, with the addition of heavily modifying it. After acquiring the technical data package the company got to work in 2011, but have now finally brought the product to fruition. At the time of the author’s visit to the Barrett factory, the program was undergoing a 20,000 round test fire. One might say that this could be nothing more than a machine gun pipe dream, but Barrett has already sold the 240LW to two different standing armies, after much testing and evaluation.
This small unit role has often found itself conflicted between utilizing a smaller caliber belt fed light machine gun, most often the 5.56x45mm NATO M249 SAW or FN Herstal Minimi, or a full blown medium machine gun, such as the M240 or the M60 (The M60E6 and E4 variants certainly condense the package of a GPMG). The designs mentioned above are more reflective of medium or light machine guns scaled up or down to fit this need. The LWS is a variant of its larger brother, the 240 LW, and there are a number of features incorporated into the design that truly set it apart and make it appealing for this small unit role. Adjusting the pistol grip is perhaps one of the largest design changes, and this is what really makes the design shorter and more compact overall. Realizing the potential this could have for these small units such as Special Operations Forces, Barrett made a dream a reality by bringing the ruggedness of the proven 240 design into a smaller package that a small team of troops could depend upon in times of great need, and lead downrange.
The Barrett 240 LWS is a 7.62x51mm NATO gas operated, belt fed, open bolt, medium machine gun in shortened form from the 240 LW. It is 42.5 inches in length with the standard barrel, 38.5 inches with the short barrel, and weighs 20.5 pounds unloaded with the standard barrel, 19 3/4 pounds with the short barrel, loaded with a 50 round belt in a ammunition pouch, it weighs 21.5 pounds with the standard length barrel. It has the ability to attach a 50 round belt in a pouch that connects to the left side of the receiver, below the feed tray. It has a range of 1200 meters with tracer burnout between 800-900 meters. It has a cyclic rate of fire of 500-600 rounds per minute. It may be fired from the prone position, with the bipods extended, from a pintle mount on a vehicle or guard post, or it can be fired from the standing position while assaulting an objective. Length with the standard barrel is 22 7/8 inches, while the shorter barrel is 18 7/8 inches.
Starting from the removable buttstock, it has a 6 position telescoping buttstock that differs from a similar buttstock on the 240 LW in that it is half the size in length, and does not have a polymer cheek piece. There are two telescoping rods that when depressed from the top portion, allow the buttstock to be extended to the desired position. These rods have indentations on them, which lock into positional latches within the rear of the buttstock itself. The hydraulic buffer is permanently encased within this stock and is necessary for recoil reduction from the violent reciprocating movement of the bolt group. Early prototypes had steel QD sling sockets on both sides of the stock, however current production versions will have solid steel sling loops on either side of it. This is to alleviate any damage that may occur to a sling mounted on the QD socket, and the amount of stress that it could take during carry.
The position of the pistol grip and firing control group is what truly allows the LWS to be as short as it is. In essence, Barrett moved the entire grip forward by about 4 inches, to where the front of the trigger guard is at a right angle to the ejection port. Early concerns in the design process were that ejecting brass would be falling on the shooters hand and trigger finger. However after lengthy courses of test fire, this was found not to be the case, due to the inherent geometry of the cases being ejected out from under the machine gun. Moving the grip forward took away the ability to mount the LWS on a traditional M240 T & E mount or a tripod. But the intent of the LWS is for it not to be mounted, and instead being a part of that small man team needing the additional firepower on a foot patrol. The front pintle mount is still on the receiver, so the machine gun could be mounted to a pintle turret mount, it would just have to be free-gunned the entire time.
By moving the fire control group forward, the overall length can be shortened because the machine gunner no longer needs a traditionally longer stock to compensate for the original position of the pistol group, towards the very rear portion of the receiver. Instead of a machine gunner achieving a cheek weld on the stock, the machine gunner is now resting his face against the actual receiver of the machine gun, also allowing for a closer fit of gunner to weapon. But by doing this, the bolt had to be modified accordingly, because the original location of the sear is no longer there. Barrett had to move the position of the sear catch on the bolt to further down the length of it. The bolt group is still the same as the original M240 design, with the exception of the position of the sear catch.
Current production models do not have a permanent rear sight, however they have a Picatinny rail that runs the length of the receiver cover where a Picatinny mounted rear sight can be placed below a scope. The design of the feed tray cover hinge has been altered to be in the shape of a hexagon, thus allowing for the feed tray cover to be able to stay open while at a 45 degree angle to the receiver, while the machine gunner is loading a belt of ammunition. The feed tray has also been altered, with two protruding spring-loaded teeth which can bend in the direction of the ammunition belt. These teeth allow a gunner to securely place a belt of ammunition on the feed tray, while at an upright angle, and not have the belt slip out while closing the cover. In addition they allow a gunner to squeeze the front of a belt into a closed cover. Because the teeth only bend in the direction of the belt, the belt will pass over them, the teeth will click upwards, thus locking the belt in place. Another click forward, and the belt of ammunition will be in place to fire. This allows a gunner to feed a belt of ammunition into his 240 LWS without ever having to possibly expose his position or line of sight, by opening the feed tray cover.
The bolt handle is non-reciprocating, similar to an original M240. The design of the handguard is perhaps one of the more novel contributions to the 240. In an FN Herstal 240, the handguard is attached to the gas tube, and is thus conducting heat from that gas tube when fired. To alleviate this, FN placed a number of insulators around the handguard, in addition to it adding more weight by having a thicker design. Barrett took the approach to this problem by bolting the handguard to the receiver and having it “freefloat” around the gas tube itself. So although the handguard surrounds the gas tube, it never actually touches it during any amount of fire, thus keeping it cool. The handguard itself has Keymod rail sections at the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions, with the side sections being separated from the bottom by a gripping surface for the gunner. At the end of the handguard, the M60-like bipod is attached via a VersaPod style sprocket, which clicks into the handguard. By simply depressing a small latch, the bipod can be removed, and stowed. This allows for a gunner to take the bipod off if the machine gun were to be in a mounted position. With the FN 240 bipod design, the bipods can be taken off, but only through complex disassembly of the gas tube. In addition, they could only be collapsed inward from their position, while the LWS allows them to be collapsed either inward or outward, depending on the gunner’s preference. Barrett currently offers the bipods in either of two configurations, with spiked feet, or a flat surface.
The removable barrel has a number of flutes machined into it, to better dissipate heat. These flutes are in a lateral direction down the barrel, originating at the chamber area, and ending before the gas port. In addition, it is around 4 inches shorter than the 240 LW barrel, although the two maybe be interchanged if need be. The barrel changing latch has been redesigned, to allow for a wider finger placement on it. Original designs have a circular type latch, similar to the old one, but new ones have a square one. This latch clicks in at the same method that the original 240 click method works, rotating the handle until 7 clicks are heard and is indicative of proper head space being applied to the barrel. The barrel changing handle itself has been machined out, to further decrease weight. Early prototypes have a fixed front sight post that is adjustable for elevation and windage, but current production models will have a folding front sight post that can be adjusted for elevation and windage with a simple flathead screw driver. The need for a simple flat head screwdriver head to be used was a necessary addition, as soldiers in the field might not have a complex sight adjustment tool. The gas tube regulator is a three position regulator similar to the M240G’s gas regulator. Muzzle compensator is a standard M240 compensator.
We took the LWS to the Barrett one hundred meter indoor test range and set up the machine gun on a testing bench up range, shooting from a sitting position behind the table. A Barrett employee affixed an Aimpoint red dot sight to the top Picatinny rail of the machine gun, and brought out a box of ammunition for test fire. Unlatching and lifting the feed tray cover up until it clicked into place, thus keeping it steady for loading procedures. Feeding the belt of ammunition onto the feed tray was made much easier by the preens designed to catch the first couple of rounds. This way a gunner can continue to manipulate the machine gun while not worrying about the belt of ammunition falling off the feed tray. Slamming the feed tray cover closed, the safety was easily taken off while in a firm firing position.
As expected, the lighter weight combined with the full power 7.62x51mm cartridge caused the machine gun to bounce around a little bit more than a heavier M240B would, but it was nothing that a trained gunner couldn’t alleviate to keep the gun on target. The design of the buttstock, although smaller, allowed for the author to really get the gun up in his shoulder during the course of fire. This is due to the curvature of the rear portion of the stock, one side curving into the gunners shoulder, while the lower portion also curves in. The lower portion serves as an excellent placement for the gunner’s non firing hand to grip tightly while fully automatic fire is being utilized. Loading, unloading, disassembly and assembly procedures are the exact same as a standard M240B. The LWS on hand had the flat surface bipod feet installed, and this didn’t help very much with the flat table the machine gun was being fired from. However with the spiked feet, dug into actual dirt, the machine gun would probably fare much better with staying in position during the course of fire.
Due to the range constrictions, we could not fire the LWS from the standing position. But this is demonstrated at many of Barrett’s shoots in which the LW and LWS take center stage, and it has been told that the LWS is very controllable from the standing, provided a gunner take a forward stance and apply pressure to the machine gun.
Similar to the Marine Corps’ Infantry Automatic Rifle program, the ease to which an existing M240 gunner can take to the Barrett 240LWS is incredibly simple. One of the items that the Marine Corps wanted in the M27 was that the new weapon system could easily transfer over to Marines already familiar with the M16A4/M4 platform, a design that many Marines know well since their days at Boot Camp. Thus with the LWS, if appropriated by a military that already uses the M240 platform of machine guns, the necessary new knowledge necessary to operate it will be very little compared to a brand new machine gun design coming into procurement.
Overall the 240 LWS is a very well thought out design, bringing the M240 platform into the 21st century in ways that other manufacturers might not have considered, or might not have been able to implement. The efficient design use of a steel receiver, the forward movement of the pistol grip, a redesign of the stock, in addition to the numerous changes put forth in this article make the LWS a formidable competitor to the M240 Lima series of lightweight machine guns. However, like any small arm intended to go into harm’s way, the true test of that platform is in combat. This hasn’t happened yet for the LW and LWS, but with recent sales to two militaries of the free world, time will only tell. But looking at Barrett’s history of excellence in military small arms, the author feels that the company has little to lose and the arsenals of democracy much to gain from such a forward thinking design.