Last year, the German armed forces announced they would purchase Heckler and Koch’s MG-5 machine gun to finally replace a World War II-era weapon. The new machine gun should put the Bundeswehr’s existing weapons to shame—and make up for past failures.
“Its main feature is that it is much more accurate than its predecessor,” German army colonel Christian Brandes told U.S. Army reporters at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona during testing of the new gun on Oct. 14.
The predecessor Brandes was referring to is the MG-3. That aging weapon is essentially just an upgrade of a machine gun Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht started using in 1942. The MG-5 will replace the MG-3 as well as some of the German army’s less aged, but somewhat inadequate, MG-4s.
The new gun comes with NATO-standard rails for attaching advanced scopes, lasers and other gadgets. The MG-3 lacks these features and can only mount one type of sight at a time.
The new MG-5 is also four inches shorter than the MG-3. As a result, “this machine gun can also be fired while standing, which wasn’t possible with the old one,” Brandes said.
On the other hand, the new machine gun spews 200 to 500 fewer bullets per minute than the MG-3 does. During World War II, American troops dubbed the original MG-42—the MG-3’s predecessor—“Hitler’s buzzsaw” because of its blistering rate of fire.
The new weapon’s most important feature is one it actually shares with the MG-3. It fires the same powerful 7.62-millemeter round. The Germans’ decision to stick with the bigger round for the MG-5 was influenced “considerably” by lessons from Afghanistan, Anthony Williams, editor of IHS’s Jane’s annual volume on ammunition, told War Is Boring.
German troops found the MG-3 to be awkward to lug around on daily patrols in Afghanistan. For more than a decade, Germany has commanded foreign troops in Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan’s north.
So starting in 2004, the Bundeswehr bought Heckler and Koch’s smaller, lighter MG-4. But the MG-4 shoots a 5.56-millmeter round. The Germans quickly discovered that these smaller bullets couldn’t reach insurgents at long distances or hit them through rocks or buildings.
Other NATO members including the United States also ran into this problem. Foreign troops in Afghanistan have picked up a wide range of heavy rifles, machine guns and other weapons to fill the firepower gap.
Some German soldiers stuck with their bulky MG-3s. Obsolete G-3 rifles—which shoot the bigger projectile—also made a comeback.
In essence, the MG-5 is replacing the MG-3 and that gun’s initial replacement the MG-4. The German army plans to keep the MG-4s but find more suitable roles for them.
Lacking a convenient desert of their own, German troops brought their new MG-5s to Arizona to see how they might fare in similar conditions in Afghanistan.
In Yuma, Panzergrenadiers and Fallschirmjäger—German mechanized infantry and paratroopers—ran the MG-5s through mock missions in the dry heat. Berlin is particularly interested in finding out how the weapons stand up to dust and grit.
The test results are pending. But barring delays, German troops should start receiving their new guns next year. The Bundeswehr will then be able to see if the MG-5 really can replace a gun that has endured since 1942.