Firefights Like This Are Why US Troops Never Leave Home Without A 'SAW'

M249 FUNKER530 aiming shot muzzle flash fire

Photo: YouTube/FUNKER530

Everyone carries stuff with them to work. Some of it we can forget and go without; other things like a mobile phone, we go back for, because we just can’t go through the day without it.What troops on the ground in Afghanistan can’t go without is the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW).

Check out this SAW gunner in action >

Every day is routine for deployed U.S. troops. They pull duty, maintain their gear, and they go on patrol — day in and day out — until all hell breaks loose and a world of insurgents are trying to kill them.

When that happens, the SAW can effectively blanket an area with up to 120 rounds per minute. That’s two 5.56mm bullets slipping from the barrel every second — fed from a 200 round belt — inside a quick-change drum.

U.S. troops call it a “Wall of Steel” that has saved more American lives than they can count.

When it works.

The SAW is flawed: Parts break off, it’s hard to clean, it jams, and like all machine guns it overheats to the point of uselessness, and changing the barrel isn’t always an option.

But like an old mobile phone we keep until the plan renews, the SAW is what U.S. troops have until something better comes along.

The following slides are from a firefight with a U.S. Army unit at Combat Outpost Charkh in Afghanistan, and some infrared shots at an indoor range.

Like most attacks, this one begins suddenly and the soldier wearing the helmet camera quickly lifts his SAW to fire from behind this wall

Most SAW gunners carry 600 rounds, and in this Afghan firefight against an unknown number of insurgents, that isn't enough

Insurgent bullets target the soldiers when they stand, so a buddy throws over additional ammo

SAW gunners returning from Afghanistan tours told us the links holding the bullets together, and the ammo drums, often don't work properly

Sure enough, back in action, this piece of black plastic flies off and lands on the wall. Troops say clips holding the ammo drums to the weapon constantly break off, and this gunner ducks back down to repair the damage.

30 per cent of all troops who've had a weapon break on them in combat say it's happened with the SAW

There the SAW will sit until the gunner can get the weapon repaired and back in the fight

A new unbroken drum in place, a quick setting of the belt...

And it's back in the game. Making up for the down time by letting loose with with a full 850 cyclic* rounds per minute will overheat the barrel, so restraint is paramount

*Cyclic rate is how fast a gun will fire with unlimited ammunition and an indestructible barrel. In real life, gunners need to reload and swap out hot barrels.

This thermal camera video shows how hot the weapon actually gets

The SAW is a one man weapon, so there's no one to hand it to when the barrel heats up to a few hundred degrees

But the heat isn't as much an issue as the jamming. Infantry soldiers are trained to aim and fire, as much as possible, rather than just opening up with a machine gun. Though sometimes it's all they can do to just get a shot off — like this soldier reaching above the wall.

In the SAW's downtime the insurgents have gotten closer, so U.S. troops break out fragmentation grenades

They all take a moment, before the SAW gunner looks around and pulls the 22 pound SAW back atop the wall

The attack began so suddenly this guy dropped his Gatorade amid a pool of spent shell casings. The video cuts out after 11 minutes, and we'll bring you the next one soon.

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