Since I have over two decades of street time, you won’t be surprised to hear that talking heads, experts, or gurus with inflated or non-existent police experience raise my blood pressure.
With the media, common sense, real street experience, and tactical knowledge get passed over for politicians, charlatans, and college professors—a plague on police work.
It’s worse with social media making every paranoid anti-government nut job an expert. In the news of late are the media-constructed, politically driven “militarization of police” narrative, as well as “all law enforcement is the same.” Politically expedient, masterfully marketed, both are complete nonsense.
That’s what happens when your “expert” is a chief, college professor, or retired federal agent who worked the “street” in 1970. Couple that with throngs of anti- government nut jobs and you get today’s environment. Unfortunately it has a real-world effect, severely limiting police effectiveness and their ability to survive actual gunfights.
Following 9/11, the police community, especially the SWAT world, scrambled to catch up to a new threat—one motivated by ideology, not drugs, money, or a mental disorder.
Many of us beat our heads against the wall trying to convince administrators there was a difference. The response was often, “We’ll just call FBI HRT.” Yep, if you have a couple days. In the meantime, people are dying. Money or politics driving the mission is never good, and neither is fantasy. Lately reality has reared its ugly head. Guess what? It’s your problem, and you get to deal with it, like it or not.
The attack outside a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest in Garland, Texas may be the perfect example. Luckily, police there were prepared. Change venues and the result may have been quite different.
Fighting multiple targets that are well armed, trained, and expecting to die may occur. Getting grenades and homemade bombs thrown at you changes the dynamic a tiny bit. Your handy-dandy “high-capacity” polymer wonder pistol or evil “assault rifle” may not cut it. Sometimes you need more, and that might just mean a belt-fed machine gun. Yep, even more evil military hardware.
There is just nothing like that kind of firepower to hold at bay or overwhelm a well-armed threat—that is, if the mission drives the equipment.
BELT-FEDS FOR COPS
Having had this conversation numerous times with administrators, I can assure you it’s a hard sell for many agencies—as it should be. Three-man departments in rural America don’t need a belt-fed machine gun. Agencies fighting real terrorists or well-armed threats may need one. Nothing expressed in the news, on social media, or in meeting rooms changes that.
Missions and threats drive needs— they always have and always will. Ignoring this gets the wrong people killed.
The most common tool is the SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) or M249 and its variants. Coupled with proper training, it does the job well. For police missions, its size, length and weight can be problematic. Plopping military hardware into a cop’s hand is a waste when not meeting the police mission.
Controlled firepower delivered across the street, not at 300 meters, makes standard variants cumbersome. Lighter, shorter, and suppressed are the ticket, and it looks like U.S. Machine Gun Armory has done just that.
U.S. MACHINE GUN ARMORY MGA SAW K
U.S. Machine Gun Armory (MGA) specializes in M249 belt-fed machine gun variants. Improving on original designs, they have strengthened receivers, improved stock options, and provided better barrels, sighting options, and caliber choices.
Testing several over the years—including their latest in 6.8 SPC—they are always looking to meet the needs of customers, both military and civilian LE. With numerous requests for lighter versions, they decided to comply.
They shortened the barrel to ten inches. A proprietary piston design facilitates AR stocks, placing it straight back from the action, no typical drop or heavy buffer. Altering the gas system makes it work in 5.56mm, .300 BLK, 6.8 SPC, and 7.62x39mm. They are working on a 7.62x51mm (.308) version.
Cutting weight by as much as four plus pounds is a noticeable difference. Spending the day with one chambered in .300 BLK allowed me to feel the difference.
My test gun used a 9.75-inch (breach to muzzle) 1:8 twist .300 BLK barrel capped with a SureFire SOCOM Muzzle Brake and SOCOM mini 7.62 suppressor. Overall length was similar to an M4 with a nice balance.
The railed handguard housed a DBAL-A3 laser and Battle Light MK4 light. A Grip Pod Systems Grip Pod with a quick release provided control both from off-hand and prone.
The improved receiver houses a proprietary buffer system that allows mounting an AR stock straight back from the receiver. An ARK Defense SOPMOD Buttstock slid over the carbine buffer tube mounted to a USMGA mount. Sights are standard fixed front and adjustable rear. I added a Trijicon SRS red dot for testing and a Magpul MS3 Gen 2 sling for carry.
Belts were housed in a 100-round soft magazine. Belts were provided loaded with Gemtech 187-grain Predator subsonic and 125-grain Nosler supersonic ammunition. Standard 5.56mm links are used with the .300 BLK, while custom links are used for 6.8 SPC and 7.62x39mm.
Police and military missions differ, more than those selling training would like you to believe. Setting up a machine gun emplacement is probably not in the cards. Police encounters with terrorists or similar threats are going to be mobile and immediate. You may end up in prone, maybe not. More likely you’ll be shooting around cars, walls or other urban debris.
A few rounds were fired from prone to test overall accuracy, but everything else was from off-hand, moving and in the shoot house. The advantage with this system is immediate deployment by a single officer in a quickly developing event. Testing was done in full kit using my Survival Armor vest, which includes a pistol and spare magazines. I fired it around barricades, my truck, walls, window openings, and similar—it was tested the way I would use it as a cop.
ON THE RANGE
The size difference is immediately clear, as the MGA SAW K fits in a standard rifle bag, suppressor and all. Nothing to add, just grab it and go. Remove the suppressor and it fits in less obvious bags and cases. SureFire’s SOCOM attaches quickly with little to no impact shift, making it ideal.
Performing a couple runs to the back of the truck, donning the vest, then gun, then helmet was as fast as deploying with an M4.
Shouldering the MGA SAW K is as easy as it gets with a belt-fed machine gun. Short of using M4 magazine adapters—more trouble than they are worth—you must work around the box magazine. Hard magazines are a pain and not for those who do not frequent the weight room. The 100-round soft magazine is preferable.
Your tacticool fast-action grip and stance won’t work, and some strength is required, but nothing like a standard M249. After testing, my preference for a sling is an attachment up front that lets me switch from single to dual point. Working in and out of the truck and in the shoot house, the single point was excellent. It also facilitated dropping straight to prone with no change to the sling.
But carrying it around and moving from points of cover would be more efficient with that second point of contact. Overall, running it on the range it was as deployable as many carbines. The change in weight and balance is noticeable and turns this weapon into a practical close-quarters system.
While the SAW K can be shouldered, it is best on solid support. Grip Pod Systems Grip Pod made that easy. Move into a position, push the button and the legs extend, then place the SAW K on the hood of a truck or on a barricade, or drop to prone. The Grip Pod was pretty handy as I performed a few runs between the truck and barricades. Not a real fan of it on a carbine nor for most police work, but for this gun and its mission, it was excellent.
Being able to extend the stock as needed was also huge because it let me set up in just about any position—plates and all. With the Trijicon SRS, I could get on target quickly from any position.
Accuracy is important, but getting tiny little groups with your belt-fed is an exercise in futility. There is no singleaction mode—this is an open-bolt machine gun, not a precision instrument. Still, contrary to popular mythology, cops don’t get to shoot over your head, at your feet, or in the “vicinity” in an attempt to “scare” you. Practical accuracy is critical. Unless they enjoy court, prison, or spending their life paying off a judgment, cops must hit where they aim and know what the target is.
Using Gemtech 187-grain subsonic at 25 yards, it was possible to keep ten-shot bursts inside an eight-inch circle. Moving up to 15 yards shrunk that in half. Keeping two-, three-, and even fiveround bursts inside six inches on the move was possible. Subsonic ammunition was insanely quiet with all but zero barrel rise. Mostly useless terminal ballistics aside, subsonic was fast, accurate and quiet—and a ton of fun!
Moving to supersonic ammunition, not much changed. Gemtech 125-grain Nosler was equally controllable, just faster. Cyclic rates are ammunition dependent on these, and the supersonic was faster but not that much. Both loads were in the 800 rpm range.
Cyclic rates in 5.56mm approach that of an MG42 (1,100 rpm) with the same control, so it is truly usable firepower in an environment where missing (on purpose at least) is not in the cards. Moving back to 100 yards, several three-shot strings stayed on man-sized steel with the 125-grain Nosler. I needed to stay locked in, but it was doable, making accuracy perfectly acceptable.
Every previous test of any M249 variant resulted in feeding issues. Talking to Soldiers, Marines, and SMU members, I heard mixed reviews. Many hated them, a few loved them, and most were somewhere in the middle. Never having used one in combat or during war, I cannot offer an opinion based on personal experience.
Previous tests in calibers other than 5.56mm were more problematic. Not so with this gun. It is the first M249 variant tested that just ran. Not a single malfunction occurred, nor did a link break or round fail to fire. It’s only one gun, with limited ammo, but it’s better than anything tested prior. I would not hesitate to take this weapon to work.
If your mission as an agency or team needs a belt-fed machine gun, consider the MGA SAW K. No belt-fed to date has been as practical for police use as this weapon. My guess is it will fit even more military missions.
Given caliber choices ranging from 5.56mm to 7.62mm, it is pretty versatile. As a growing convert to .300 BLK, that would be my preferred caliber.
One thing’s for sure: I didn’t want to put this one down or give it back. And that’s something I don’t say about many weapons tests these days!