M2 Browning Gets Big Update

The U.S. military is currently testing a new optic from Trijicon for the .50 BMG machine gun, which has been in service since the 1930s.

The new Machine Gun Reflex Sight, or MGRS, from Trijicon can be used with the M2 .50 BMG and M240 7.62NATO machine guns.
The new Machine Gun Reflex Sight, or MGRS, from Trijicon can be used with the M2 .50 BMG and M240 7.62NATO machine guns.photo from armytimes.com

The M2 Browning, the .50-caliber workhorse machine gun of the U.S. military and NATO forces that has served for decades, is getting a major update in the form of a modern optic.

Trijicon, which supplies the military with its ACOG scopes, has introduced a reflex sight for the M2 called appropriately the Machine Gun Reflex Sight (MGRS) that can also be mounted on the M240 medium machine gun, according to this story from armytimes.com.

The new sight fills a "huge capability gap," said Johnny Moir, program manager for Trijicon, in the story. Almost unbelievably, after being in service since the 1930s, he says there is "no prescribed optic for mounted gunnery."

The M2, until now, has relied on iron sights and the human eye, which can’t see too far beyond 1,000 meters.

The new sight will make the M2 Browning, which has the distinction of being the longest produced machine gun in history (in fact, it's been in use longer than any other firearm in the U.S. military's arsenal, other than the M1911 pistol), more lethal and accurate by "increasing the probability of first round effects," the story says.

Making the gun more accurate will also allow users to turn down the cyclic rate and extend the life of the firearm.

The new sight doesn't come cheap at a staggering $4,500 each. The nigh capable model goes for about $5,000, the story says.

Right now, the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and some Navy special boat teams are testing the sight, the story says, and about 100 have been sold overseas so far.

But, as you’ll see, Trijicon isn’t the first to think of mounting an optic to an M2—a very famous shooter did it with great success back in the 1960s.

The M2 Browning, affectionately known as the Ma Deuce, was designed toward the end of World War I by John Browning, and was fairly similar to his earlier M1919 Browning machine gun design, which had been chambered for .30-06 Springfield.

An air-cooled, belt-fed machine gun, it has always been chambered for the more substantial .50 BMG round, which was developed by Browning alongside the gun itself. In combat, the gun has long proved effective against infantry, unarmored or lightly armored vehicles and boats, light fortifications, and low-flying aircraft.

The machine gun has been used extensively as a vehicle weapon and for aircraft armament by the United States from the 1930s to the present with various modifications, including a barrel shroud for aircraft models.

The M2 saw heavy use during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Falklands War, the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan in the 2000s and 2010s. It is the primary heavy machine gun of NATO countries, and has been used by many other countries as well.

The current incarnation of the machine gun, the M2HB, is manufactured in the U.S. by General Dynamics and U.S. Ordnance for the U.S. government and for allies. It’s also produced by foreign manufacturers, including FN Herstal.

The M2 has an effective range of 2,000 yards and a maximum effective range of 2,200 yards when fired from the M3 tripod. Depending on the model, the M2 can have varying cyclic rates, from 450-600 rounds per minute on the early M2 water-cooled AA guns to 1,200 rpm or more for AN/M3 aircraft guns fitted with electric or mechanical feed boost mechanisms (though that rate couldn’t be maintained for long without destroying the barrel).

The M2HB, as with many previous models, has an adjustable gas system allowing the user to tailor the rate of fire for a particular application, even allowing semi-auto fire.

In fact, the legendary USMC sniper Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock made a shot that stood for a good while as the longest confirmed kill in history at 2,500 yards (1.42 miles) with a modified M2 Browning.

In February 1967, in Vietnam, Hathcock made the remarkable shot with a 10x Unertl scope mounted to an M2 with a bracket of his own design, and the gun set in semi-auto. The record stood until 2002.

After his tours of duty, Hathcock helped establish the Marine Corps Scout Sniper School at Quantico, Virginia and he competed on multiple USMC shooting teams.

More typically, Hathcock used a  Winchester Model 70 .30-06 caliber rifle with a standard 8-power Unertl scope in Vietnam.