There are a lot of things to discuss this week, one of the big items being the exciting discoveries in the Trappist-1 system, some 39 LY from Earth. Four planets in the “goldilocks zone” of a neighboring star, exciting stuff. For the millionth time, I wish we had some kind of feasible FTL transportation. This system is worth looking at, and in terms of interstellar distances, it is fairly close by.
But that’s not what I’m going to discuss this week, I will get to it soon. Today, I will lay out my subjective judgment on two of the most widely used general purpose-machine guns in use worldwide.
These two guns are the PK series machine gun, and the M-240B, also known as the FN MAG. Both weapons have been used extensively in wars and conflicts worldwide, and they are frequently used by opposing sides, but certainly not always. I have had the pleasure of being trained on the use and employment of both, and I have used both in combat operations.
I won’t get into mechanical descriptions of the two weapons. You can read about the PK here, and the 240B here. Instead, I will give you my subjective judgment on the two based upon personal experience.
First, impressions and differences. When you set the two weapons next to each other, the first thing you notice is the “tinny” appearance of the PKM and its relatively slender build. It has a cheap looking skeleton stock, the gun looks as if it would fall apart with heavy use. That goes to show you, however, that appearances are deceiving. The PKM is tough as nails.
In contrast, the 240B looks well-made. Its receiver is a bulky block; its furniture looks solid, heavy. And it is heavy- it weighs nearly 28 pounds. Trust me, the thing is no joke to carry over long distances. The biggest walk I’ve ever made with one was some twenty miles. I thought I would die at the end of that.
The relative weights of the weapons, 17 pounds (9kg) for the PK, and 28 (12.5kg) for the 240B, is an important subject. I will return to that in a bit. Needless to say, the 240 has more heft than the humble PK.
Also, the weapons feed differently. The 240B feeds left to right, belt “sunny-side (brass exposed in the links)” down. In contrast, the PK feeds right to left, belt “sunny side” up. Also, the 240B uses the NATO standard disintegrating link, while the PK uses the old-fashioned one-piece belt.
The rounds used are more or less as powerful as one another. The 240B uses 7.62 NATO, while the PK uses the 7.62x54R. If either of these rounds hit a human target, the results are dramatic. No lack of potency with either choice. Accuracy is excellent with the 240B, it is good enough with the PK.
Field-stripping of both the weapons is pretty easy, too. If you don’t do anything dumb, there are no small parts to lose or put in backwards. By dumb, I mean tearing down the feed-tray in the field. I knew a guy who did that once, and when he went to use his weapon (the 240B) the feed mechanism fell apart into tiny parts after the first shot. Springs and pawls went everywhere; the weapon was inop. A combat mission was delayed because the guy was overzealous and did something he wasn’t supposed to do. The feed-tray on the PK is much less prone to curious-soldier tinkering. However, if used properly, both do the job very well.
Older, widespread versions of the PK can’t mount optics, while the 240B does. In a fixed position, that’s a major advantage. The 240B is known as “an automatic sniper rifle” because of its inherent accuracy, and the use of scopes like the ELCAN make it so that you can drop a burst on a dime. Also, it’s nice to have thermals mounted on a 240B at night, it gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling to know that no one is sneaking up on you in your crummy outpost in the middle of nowhere.
So which weapon is better?
My answer is ambiguous. It depends on what you’re doing, really.
Here are my subjective impressions of the two weapons.
First, some background. I worked as an advisor attached to the Afghan Army once upon a time, we used a mixture of US and Warsaw Pact weapons- we used the NSV, DShKM and M2 heavy machine guns, the Mk19 grenade launcher, the 82mm Soviet mortar, the M-240B and PKM GPMGs, the AK-47 and the M-4 rifles, the M-24 and M-107 Barrett, numerous pistols, the RPG and an M-3 grease gun. We had a real mix of stuff.
As one of my additional duties was a vehicle gunner, I got to use a lot of this stuff regularly. Also, I was the lead US advisor to an Afghan rifle company and a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. So sometimes I rode, and a lot of the time I walked.
I think the PKM is a better weapon on a dismounted patrol (dismounted=walking). Why? It weighs ten pounds less! And it works well within 500 meters- past 500 you have a lot of trouble ID’ing targets, anyway. One pain with the PK is that you have a partially expended belt dangling from the weapon, but you can stuff the thing into a pouch or something. The weapon works well, it has a nice rhythm and is dead reliable. One night on an ambush I carried a 240B up the side of a mountain- I wish I would have brought the PK, instead. By the time I made it to our position at the top, those extra ten pounds were crushing me.
For fixed position work, the 240B is the best. It is very stable, very accurate, and has the side bennie of the optics that I mentioned earlier. If you put it on a tripod with a traversing and elevation (T&E) mechanism, it cannot be beat.
The weapons are tied when used in vehicular gunnery. As weight is no longer a problem in this application, either gun does the job. I do think that the PK is a tad more responsive when you swing it onto a target, but the 240 is more accurate so it cancels out. I’ve used both off of trucks, and both work very well.
Both weapons have good ergonomics; neither weapon has truly significant flaws.
Both machine guns are first-class weapons. They share a lot of plusses, but both have some different minuses.
The 240’s big drawback is its weight. However, its weight becomes a strength in a fixed position or in a turret- the extra mass makes for more operator control. Another drawback is that you must remember to disengage the safety before cocking it; otherwise you can jam the bolt up.
The drawbacks of the PK are that stupid non-disintegrating belt, and the barrel change is not as smooth as the 240. Also, older, widespread versions can’t mount optics, a definite disadvantage. Later versions can mount optics, though. I’d love to do a field test of the two weapons side by side with optics and fixed-distance targets to get a true apples-to-apples comparison. I never had the opportunity, though, and I probably never will. Out of the business, these days.
On balance, I think the 240B edges out the PKM. However, both are excellent, first-class weapons. In an ideal world, the soldier would have his or her choice between the two for different missions. However, one rarely gets those types of choices. My team and I simply had the luck to be able to choose from a wide variety of tools in the toolbox.
Soldiers in “line” outfits get what they get. But if the choice is either a 240B or a PKM, then either way the soldiers have a fine machine gun.
You don’t want to be on the receiving end of either.