FN has really upped the ante in the U.S. civilian market of late with numerous introductions. Of special interest is FN’s Military Collector Series. MIL-SPEC M16, M4 and 249S rifles are offered in civilian-ready semiauto forms; except for the fire-control group, the rifles are as close as you can get to what the U.S. armed forces utilize.
It is a safe bet that some inexorable force has drawn everyone reading this magazine into considering a weapon that makes no sense when one’s “needs” are analyzed empirically. These firearms are often sentimental favorites based on an affiliation with an original model not readily accessible. A civilian-legal, semiautomatic, belt-fed FN M249 would definitely fall into this category.
Consequently, FN has obliged with the FN Military Collector 249S (FN M249S).
The FN M249 SAW is a light machine gun (LMG) adopted by the U.S. military in the mid-1980s, first by the Army and then the Marines, and has served in every conflict since. As the SAW acronym implies (“squad automatic weapon”), the M249 is a weapon designed to augment the firepower of the infantry squad. (For clarity’s sake, the M249 SAW was redesignated as the M249 light machine gun in 1994; however, SAW is still a frequently used soubriquet.) The M249 SAW/LMG is the U.S. version of the Belgian FN Herstal Minimi with alterations to satisfy specific U.S. design requests. The M249 (and other variants, such as M249 Para and Mk46) is manufactured in the United States by FN Herstal’s U.S. subsidiary, FN. In basic terms, the M249 provides belt-fed, switch-barrel automatic firepower to small units combined with portability not that far removed from a rifle.
With FN, users do not have to worry about dealing with a company that’s not familiar with producing a quality replica rendition. FN production of the FN M249S takes place in its Columbia, South Carolina, facility, at which the military-bound M249 and M240 belt-fed machine guns are produced. You cannot get any closer to the source than that.
FN has dedicated production lines for building the M249/Mk46 variants. Stringent protocols, proofing and testing procedures are designated in the government contracts that set the standards that create true MIL-SPEC rifles. The FN M249S shares 80 percent parts commonality with its military siblings (the firecontrol group being the obvious difference between them).
The military M249 family tree contains multiple versions and product improvements. In fact, early into its service, the M249 underwent a major product improvement program (PIP). The PIP addressed issues related to the exposed hot barrel, sharp edges bipod, pistol grip, flash hider, carry handle and front sight adjustment procedures, along with adding an M240style rear stock with hydraulic buffer and eliminating dual gas port settings reducing cyclic rate of fire. Cyclic rate was established at approximately 700 to 750 rounds per minute with the PIP modifications.
A subsequent updating program was the Soldier Enhancement Program and Rapid Fielding Initiative that produced an improved bipod, 100- and 200-round “soft” fabric magazines for the linked ammunition belts, and various Picatinny rail options for the feed tray cover and forearm, allowing for the easy addition of mission-specific optics and accessories.
The FN M249S is an air-cooled, gas-operated piston, closedbolt functioning semiautomatic weapon chambered in 5.56 NATO. It weighs slightly more than 17 pounds empty and gains about 7 pounds when combined with 200 linked rounds. The 1:7-twist, chrome-lined hammer-forged barrel length is 18.5 inches.
Even with the FN M249S’s altered closed-bolt functioning, compared to its military sibling’s open-bolt style, functioning is simplistic—a major reason for its reliability. The 249’s gas piston is forced to the rear by tapped gas captured by the barrel port when a round is fired. The bolt carrier begins rearward motion with the bolt, itself, still engaged with the barrel extension. This allows for chamber pressure to drop before the bolt disengages via a cam by rotating and moving rearward with the bolt carrier. Escaping gas is directed upward, eliminating the dust “swirls” typifying the M60, which has its escaping gas directed downward. This is an important improvement in minimizing position signature when firing.
The M249’s extraction process begins after the bolt rotates and unlocks. This gives the fired case time to expand and contract, thus minimizing problems with the relatively straight-walled 5.56mm case hanging up in the chamber, resulting in a malfunction. A recoil spring returns the bolt carrier group into battery, chambering another round. This happens at a listed 750 rounds per minute pace with the military models—in other words, as fast as your finger can pull the trigger.
The M249 lugs that interact with the bolt are in the barrel extension, allowing for more-positive head space and lighter construction of the receiver. The M249’s stamped receiver is welded instead of pinned and riveted. The bolt carrier group rides along rails welded into the receiver walls, also assisting with reliability and smoothness of operation.
User manuals and other training literature list 85 rounds per minute as being sustainable for long periods of time with the open-bolt M249 without having to change barrels. The 249S firing from a closed bolt translates into an operator having to use good fire discipline, because the rifle heats faster than the open-bolt M249. The FN M249S alleviates some of this concern— thanks to its ability to change barrels if sustained fire is undergone.
Evaluation at Echo Valley Training Center (High View, West Virginia) involved firing from “dug-in” prone and other positions at targets-of-opportunity out to 350 yards. These targets consisted of cars, manhole lids, man-sized steel silhouette targets, etc. Inverted, 36-inch, concrete culvert pipes aided in simulating “dug-in” positions, allowing a gunner to stand behind the FN M249S. Prone or “dug in” is definitely the superior method of use, but the FN M249S proved capable of being fired from the shoulder and kneeling positions. This allows for the 249S gunner to stay moving with his teammates, if desired, and not be confined to a strictly overwatch/defensive role.
A Leupold LCO red dot was affixed to the M249S feed tray cover’s Picatinny rail. Iron sights were also present for use.
The FN M249S proved as accurate as any rifle. Out of curiosity, I linked and then bench-tested (at 100 yards) 100 rounds of 77-grain match. Sub-MOA groups were the norm, even without the benefit of a magnified optic.
The trigger on the 249S was a pleasant surprise in terms of a 4- to 5-pound pull. With that said, the 249S has a long travel stroke and reset that can be managed for rapid fire after the shooter gets familiar with them. It proved simple to keep multiple rapid-fire rounds centered on a man-sized target at 200 yards when firing from a stable position. Man-sized targets were engaged at the range’s farthest distance—350 yards—with the same ease as an AR-type rifle. The FN M249S uses M27 linked belts of 5.56 NATO ammunition generally 200 rounds in length.
The amount of damage rendered upon an automobile body in a relatively short time frame reinforces the no-nonsense impression the belt-fed FN M249S projects. The ability to be as accurate as any rifle for pinpoint targeting, yet still be able to suppress an area with 5.56 NATO rounds, is unique and beyond understanding unless it is witnessed in person.
Testing the 249S indicated that mounting a magnified optic would be justified, considering how accurate it is. Targeting individual wheels on the vehicles placed 200 yards down range was not a challenge, with each wheel riddled in quick order. The rims were specifically targeted to get an idea of the penetration capabilities of the M855 5.56 NATO round, because the basic car body offered no protection whatsoever. The only areas found on a car that could be considered effective cover would be the engine block and axles—neither was that large or consoling to hide behind while getting hammered at by an M249S.
The M249 is considered a reliable performer based on reports and anecdotal information streaming back from
training and battlefield experiences over the years. It certainly augments the squad’s available firepower— which is the M249’s raison d’être.
The FN M249S follows in the same path as the military M249. Firing it during training scenarios showed a potent weapon. The FN Military Collector M249S is an exacting replica of what the U.S. armed services utilize afield.
- CALIBER: 5.56
- NATO BARREL: 18.5-inch, quick-change, cold hammer forged; 1:7 twist
- OVERALL LENGTH: 40.75 inches
- WEIGHT: 17 pounds
- SIGHTS: Iron sights/integrated MIL-STD 1913 mounting rail for optic sighting systems
- ACTION: Semiautomatic, closed bolt, belt fed
- CAPACITY: Disintegrating link belt fed (also can feed from individual AR15 magazines)