By: Peter Suciu
During the American Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, when the “Red Coats” carried the Land Pattern Musket – more commonly known as the “Brown Bess,” a trained soldier could fire three rounds per minute. How times have changed.
British Special Forces are now issued what has been described as the “deadliest machine gun ever made,” capable of firing 8,000 rounds per minute. The Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) are equipped with the XM556, a hand-held “micro-gun” that is essentially a miniature version of the 19th century Gatling Gun.
Fitted with six barrels, and powered by a 24 volt DC battery, the XM556 has already earned the nickname “widow maker” from the troops. It will be attached to SAS vehicles for close quarter combat protection. Also, it is seen as a perfect weapon for ambushes because it can lay down a huge amount of fire almost instantaneously.
In just 10 seconds the weapon can fire up to 1,300 rounds, one of the highest rates of fire of any machine gun. It has reportedly already been field tested in Syria, and has received a “thumbs up” from the elite troops who have employed it in a number of fire fights.
“It will literally shred anything and the noise is terrifying,” an unnamed SAS trooper told the British Daily Star tabloid. “The plan is to have them fitted to Special Forces vehicles but they can also be used by dismounted troops – they are ideal for close quarter battle and providing suppressing fire. A weapon like this is a real force multiplier and it can get you out of a very sticky situation very quickly.”
The trooper added that one of the weapon’s best characteristics is that it is very light and portable.
“It really is an awesome piece of kit,” he explained. “The SAS and the SBS trial a lot of weapons – the best are then used on combat operations and the best of that lot are purchased and go into the armoury.”
The use of rotary weapons dates back even further than the Gatling Gun. James Puckle’s multi-barreled “Defence Gun,” a primitive crew-served, manually-operated, flintlock revolver was patented in 1718. However, it attracted little attention due to the high cost and operation complexity.
In the 20th century, such weapons – including the M61A2 20mm rotary cannon – have been mounted to vehicles. However, due to the weight of the weapon, as well as the ammunition, has limited the use by most ground troops.
The 1987 movie Predator featured a personal M134 Minigun that was carried by former professional wrestler and later Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura. For the purposes of the film, director John McTiernan had the rate of fire substantially decreased from the normal 6,000 RPM to 1,250 RPM. Doing so allowed the film’s audience to see the barrels spin, making for a truly extreme 1980’s experience. Even at the lower rate of fire, Ventura described the experience of firing the gun (with blanks) as akin to “firing a chainsaw.”
While the XM556 weighs around 13 pounds, and is less than two feet long, its high-rate of fire wouldn’t make it ideal as a personal weapon. Likewise, few soldiers – even the most elite SAS troopers – would be able to carry even 1,000 rounds, which could be expelled in mere seconds. That is why it will more likely remain a vehicle-mounted weapon, but one that will give an amazing amount of firepower to the special operators.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.