On October 15, PEO Soldier’s Brigadier General Peter N. Fuller Type Classified – Standard the new .50 Caliber M2A1 machine gun marking a new chapter in the life of the Army’s “Ma Deuce.” By spring 2011, all new M2s coming off the assembly lines will be manufactured to M2A1 specifications, a significant upgrade that enables Warfighters to deliver increased volumes of fire at the enemy while enhancing Soldier safety in the operation of the system.
The M2A1 incorporates the following improvements:
- Fixed head-space and timing
- Flash hider to reduce muzzle flash by 95%
- Quick Change Barrel (QCB) with removable carrying handle
- Modified bolt
- Trigger block
The M2A1’s fixed “head-space and timing” enhancement resolves the number one safety issue for Soldiers operating the weapon system. “Head-space” is the distance between the face of the bolt and the base of the cartridge case, 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. The current M2 requires Soldiers to manually set head-space and timing before firing, after assembly, and after required barrel changes when the barrel becomes extremely hot from high volumes of fire. Improper adjustment can damage the weapon and cause serious injury to the user. Fixed head-space and timing reduces operator risk and eliminates the need for Soldiers to master and execute this time-consuming procedure.
The upgrade was made possible by a host of organizations across the Army, from Project Manager Soldier Weapons and Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC), to Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) and contracting centers at Warren and Picatinny. After the first unit is equipped with new M2A1s come summer, M2s in the field will begin to be returned to Anniston Army Depot for refitting with the Quick Change Barrel (QCB) Kit, bringing the M2s up to the new M2A1 standard. Units will receive M2A1s in a one-for-one exchange for their M2s.
“Soldiers love the M2, it’s their weapon of choice,” said Laura Battista, product director, M2/M2A1, Project Manager Soldier Weapons, “We didn’t want to change it. We wanted to enhance it by making it safer and easier to use. Soldiers will love the M2A1 even more.”
Once new production and M2A1 conversion programs are fully under way, more than 750 guns will become available to Army units each month, enough to outfit more than a dozen brigade combat teams in just six months. Fielding priority goes to deployers and redeployers. In time, the Army’s entire fleet of more than 45,000 M2s will receive the upgrade.
“Not only is this weapon safer, but faster to operate as well,” said Bob Sulzbach, lead engineer M2A1 weapons system, ARDEC. “In tests, Soldiers demonstrated they could perform the barrel change in just eight seconds, giving them near continuous firepower and increased lethality. A common Soldier remark was simply, ‘Wow, it’s that easy? I can just shoot now?’”
Soldiers are so surprised by the system’s ease of use because for years they had to endure significant down time as they went through the barrel change routine and adjusted the head-space and timing properly. To change the barrel on the M2A1, a Soldier simply needs to press back on the charging handle slightly, rotate the barrel by its carrying handle, and slide the barrel off the receiver. He then slides the new barrel on and locks it into the J-slot on the barrel support and the gun is ready to fire. It’s that easy. The removable carrying handle also serves to protect Soldiers from the extreme temperatures of heated barrels, no special gloves are needed – one more finishing touch on an outstanding upgrade of a proven performer.