Many airsoft replicas are replications of weapons used today by militarized forces, regardless how old the design may be. In this series of articles, we'll be having a gander at a few modern weapons.
In the final article, we'll be taking a quick look at support weapons being used today that hold a strong presence on the airsoft field.
First on the list, the M60. The M60 machine gun began development in the late 1940s as a program for a new, lighter 7.62 mm machine gun. It was partly derived from German guns of World War II (most notably the FG 42 and the MG 42), but it contained American innovations as well. Early prototypes, notably the T52 and T161 bore a close resemblance to both the M1941 Johnson machine gun and the FG 42. The final evaluation version was designated the T161E3. It was intended to replace the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle and M1919A6 Browning machine gun in the squad automatic weapon role, and in the medium machine gun role. One of the weapons tested against it during its procurement process was the FN MAG. It has served with every branch of the U.S. military and still serves with other armed forces. Its manufacture and continued upgrade for military and commercial purchase continues into the 21st century, though it has been replaced or supplemented in most roles by other designs, notably the M240 in U.S. service. It is generally used as a crew-served weapon and operated by a team of two or three individuals. The M60 continues to be used in the 21st century by U.S. Navy SEALs and as a door gun on U.S. Army helicopters, and was the main 7.62 mm machine gun by some U.S. special operations forces to the late 1990s. As of 2005, it is used by the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, and some reserve units. The M60 is generally being phased out. In Airsoft, the most common M60 is made by A&K, but Innokatsu also made one, as did Escort, but these have been discontinued.
Next up on the list is the M240, the M60's successor. Manufactured by Fabrique Nationale, the FN MAG was chosen by the U.S. military for different roles after large world-wide searches and competitions. The MAG is a belt-fed, gas-operated, air-cooled, crew-served, fixed headspace weapon. Its versatility is demonstrated by its ability to be mounted on the M122A1 tripod, a bipod, on vehicles, or on aircraft. It was first adopted by the U.S. Army in 1977, as a coaxial tank gun, and slowly adopted for more applications in the 1980s and 1990s. The M240 and M240E1 were adopted for use on vehicles. This led to further adoption in more uses, especially for the Army and Marine infantry. While possessing many of the same basic characteristics as its predecessor, the durability of the MAG system results in superior reliability when compared to the M60. The MAG actually has a more complex gas system than the M60, but gives better reliability combined with lower maintenance requirements, though this comes at greater manufacturing cost and weight. In airsoft, the M240 is only made in its deployable M240B variation, and it is made by Echo 1.
Up next is a gun physically similar to the M240, the M249 SAW. SAW stands for Squad Automatic Weapon, meaning that the M249 is deployed alongside smaller arms for support. The M249 is the American adaptation of the Belgian FN Minimi, a light machine gun manufactured by the Belgian company FN Herstal. The M249 is manufactured in the United States by the local subsidiary FN Manufacturing LLC in South Carolina and is widely used in the U.S. Armed Forces. The weapon was introduced in 1984 after being judged the most effective of a number of candidate weapons to address the lack of automatic firepower in small units. The M249 provides infantry squads with the heavy volume of fire of a machine gun combined with accuracy and portability approaching that of a rifle. M249s have seen action in every major conflict involving the United States since the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. Soldiers are generally satisfied with the weapon's performance, though there have been reports of clogging with dirt and sand. Due to the weight and age of the weapon, the United States Marine Corps is fielding the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle with plans to partially replace the M249 in Marine Corps service. A feature unique to the M249 is its ability to use STANAG magazines, such as the ones used by M4s or M16s, meaning that the gunner can use rifleman's magazines in case of emergencies, but it will most likely malfunction due to the M249's high cycle rate. Some of its versions include the Para, the Mk46, and the Mk48 using 7.62 NATO ammunition. In airsoft, the most popular M249 is the MkII M249 made by A&K, but M249 Para versions and M249 MkI versions are also seen, Classic Army makes one as well. The M249 is relatively popular among supportive airsoft weapons, and is a common sight.
Now onto a Russian machine gun, the PK Machine gun, more commonly know as the PKM. The PKM is a 7.62 mm general-purpose machine gun designed in the Soviet Union and currently in production in Russia. The PKM was introduced in the 1960s and replaced the SGM and RP-46 machine guns in Soviet service. It remains in use as a front-line infantry and vehicle-mounted weapon with Russia's armed forces, and has been exported extensively. The original PK (Pulemyot Kalashnikova, or Kalashnikov's Machine gun) was a development of Kalashnikov's automatic rifle design, firing the 7.62x54mmR Eastern Bloc standard ammunition originally from the MosinNagant. It is equipped with a simple bipod and is designed as a squad-level support weapon; it is also suitable for installation and vehicle mounting. The PK machine gun can be used as a light anti-aircraft weapon when it is put on an AA mount. Like most other Soviet machine guns, the standard model feeds from the right and ejects its spent cases via an ejection port on the left side of the weapon, contrary to the right side ejection port seen in most Western machine guns. In airsoft, the PKM is made only by Echo 1, and they are rarely seen.
Last covered today is the L86 LSW, an English weapon. The L86A1 LSW is a magazine-fed automatic weapon originally intended to provide fire support at a fireteam level. It has a longer barrel than the L85A1 rifle and a bipod, shoulder strap and rear pistol grip, together with a shorter handguard. The extended barrel provides an increased muzzle velocity and further stabilizes the bullet, giving a greater effective range. The weapon is otherwise identical to the L85 version on which it is based, and the same 30-rd magazines (60 round magazines also being available) and sighting systems are used. Like the L85 rifle, it has a rate-of-fire selector on the left side behind the magazine housing, enabling either single shots or automatic fire.The increased barrel length, bipod and the optical performance of the SUSAT give the weapon excellent accuracy. From its inception, the L86 was a target of criticism on much the same basis as the L85. The LSW has the additional issue (shared by any light support weapon derived from a rifle, for example the heavy-barrel FN FAL) of its inability to deliver sustained automatic fire as it does not have a quick-change barrel, and is not belt fed. The primary use of the LSW has shifted to that of a marksman's weapon within many infantry sections, capable of providing extremely accurate precision fire at ranges of over 600 m. The role of a light support weapon is instead filled with the L110A1 FN Minimi which is a belt fed weapon with a quick-change barrel. In airsoft, ICS makes an L86, as well as ARES, but these are not widely used.
With all these extended middle range supporting replicas to choose from, how does one decide which is right for them? This part is up to you. With all these replicas being used against them, how does one protect themselves? This one is simple, ALWAYS wear eye protection when handling any airsoft replicas, and never treat one like it's a simple toy. Airsoft replicas can and will hurt people, so be courteous, be careful, and be safe with them all.
Thank you very much for joining me through this series, and I hope you learned something about your favorite weapon system. Please join me in my next article, which will probably cover weapons used in the second World War. Thanks again, and as always, stay frosty.