The gun that could replace the decades-old M240, the standard medium machine gun for both the Army and Marines, is being evaluated by Marines with Special Operations Command.

The MG 338, a .338 Norma Magnum machine gun made by Sig Sauer, recently completed safety testing, according to a Wednesday announcement by the weapon-maker.

And soon, Marine special operations forces will put that theory to the test, Sig Sauer told Military Times.

The MG 338 machine gun and the ammunition Sig makes to fire out of the new weapon officially have been designated by the U.S. military as safe for testing, and Sig has delivered a limited number of the machine guns to MARSOC for user evaluation.

The MG 338 is competing with the Lightweight Medium Machine Gun, made by General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems for the SOCOM replacement for the M240.

There are no plans yet announced for the machine gun to be used outside of SOCOM.

In a Jan. 20 response from company officials, General Dynamics said its Lightweight Medium Machine Gun received a similar safety sign off in 2015, adding the system is “currently undergoing an evaluation from SOCOM.”

Both the Sig and GD submissions are lighter than the 240L version of the existing 7.62 mm machine gun in use by soldiers, Marines and special operators. Whichever company wins could get an order as early as 2021 for as many as 5,000 machine guns.

The MG 338 weighs 20 pounds and, with a folding stock, is significantly lighter than the current M240 variants.

The GD variant weighs 24 pounds and can defeat Level III body armor at 1,000 meters and incapacitate soft-skinned vehicles with more than four times the terminal effect of the 7.62 mm NATO cartridge, according to the company’s website.

The caliber delivers maximum effective ranges to nearly 2,000 yards and maximum ranges at more than 6,000 yards, according to company data.

The Army is in the midst of testing, evaluating and eventually down-selecting for the Next Generation Squad Weapon rifle and automatic rifle, which aim to replace both the M4 carbine and the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, both chambered in 5.56 mm. The Next Generation Squad Weapon will be chambered in 6.8 mm.

The new .338 caliber for SOCOM machine guns has such range and lethality that SOCOM officials may put in in configurations where only a .50 caliber M2 was used before.

“For the first time in decades the U.S. Military certified a new machine gun, ammunition, and suppressor at the same time, bringing new innovation, portability, and increased lethality to our ground forces, with all components coming from one company,” Ron Cohen, president and CEO of Sig Sauer, said in the statement.

The package also includes a new suppressor that will mitigate sound and flash signature as well as reduce back blast, Sig says.

Military Times reported the original request by SOCOM for the .338 caliber machine gun from the May 2018 annual National Defense Industrial Association Armament Systems Forum.

Experts say the round has a recoil similar to the existing 7.62 mm but packs a punch approaching the .50 caliber round at extended ranges. The .338 NM can penetrate advanced body armor and outranges the 7.62 mm.

The federal posting wants it to weigh 24 pounds unloaded and measure out at 24 inches with a 500-600 rounds per-minute rate of fire.

The weapon must also include both a suppressed and unsuppressed quick-change barrel.

Weapons experts say the advantages of a firearm like the MG 338 comes from the round itself — the .338 Norma Magnum.

The machine gun can also be configured to fire the existing 7.62 mm round, of which the services have plenty in stock.

This story has been updated with a response from General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

Christian Lowe is senior editor for digital operations and is a competitive pistol and rifle shooter.

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