Do you want to target target world guns then you have to gain more knowledge about them. This took exactly the same concept and did it, frankly, better than the Germans did with the MG42. It is a gun that is relatively lightweight, the PKM is actually in a weight class similar to a lot of the World War 2 light machine guns, it has a built in integral bipod and it also has a lightweight but very effective tripod mount, and a very easy quick-change barrel and it really can suffice in all of this whole arc of roles from light to support machine gun. The PK and PKM are used by a bunch of militaries today as their general purpose machine gun, it’s still totally capable in that role. On the more western side of things you’ll see the M240, FN’s 240, being used as a general purpose machine gun, you see it mounted on vehicles as well.
It does have a bipod, the 240 is a substantially heavier gun than the PKM, closer to something like an MG 42 was. In fact you see the MG 42 basically still in use by some militaries today, just re chambered for 7.62 NATO and slightly modernized. This is the primary machine gun that still exists in today’s modern military environment. However, it’s not the only machine gun that’s still being used. We also have, today, what are called squad automatic weapons, or if you’re British you call them a light support weapon. LSW isn’t really a general term. It just happens to be the designation given to the L86, which is the UK’s adapted version of this sort of gun, and the reason that these exist is because a general purpose machine gun, while it can be pushed into the role of a light machine gun, and often very successfully, it’s still a bit of a challenge to have a unit of soldiers, most of whom have rifles using one caliber, one cartridge, to also have a guy carrying a heavier gun that uses both a different feeding mechanism and an entirely different cartridge.
So, if you were gonna have a squad of guys and one of them has a 240 or a PKM, you have to have a supply of, presumably, 5.56, their standard ammunition, as well as a supply of 7.62 NATO for the GPMG. It’s a lot simpler if you can offer a full full auto capability to the squad without requiring them to carry different ammunition, and that’s the role of the SAW, the squad automatic weapon. So, the RPK, the RPK-74, the M249, the FN Minimi, the British LSW, these are all examples of light support weapons or SAWs, squad automatic weapons. And the distinguishing characteristics of these are that they’re going to use whatever cartridge the actual riflemen use, which today means an intermediate cartridge – 5.56, 5.45, or 7.62×39. They’re going to be typically magazine fed, but not always. I think it’s interesting to point out that the most common belt fed SAW is the US SAW, the FN Minimi, however, those guns are designed to also be capable of feeding from standard M16 magazines.
Now they don’t necessarily do it very reliably, but I think it really highlights the importance of that characteristic that the gun is designed primarily as a belt fed, but does have the option of using the same magazine that the standard squad soldier is going to be carrying. That highlights the importance of the logistical similarity and the additional portability you get. You don’t have to have guys dragging around a whole bunch of different ammunition for the machine gun. So today we have primarily GPMGs and SAWs having taken over the roles that were basically originally fulfilled by heavy machine guns and light machine guns It’s interesting how the two different specialties have modernized, and what we see is that the guns in general have gotten lighter, and obviously have gotten much more reliable and more combat effective, but we still can’t quite combine both roles into a single gun perfectly. We have better compromises today, but not so good that we don’t still have slightly specialized different types of gun for the different purposes.