FN Minimi: World’s most popular Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW)

by Eric Sof

Turkish Marines armed with FN Minimi

The FN Minimi is probably the most famous squad automatic weapon (SAW) and a light machine gun. It is used by many armies and special operations forces around the world. It has proved to be one of the best light machine guns in the world because of its lightweight, rate of fire, and accuracy.


The FN Minimi light machine gun was developed by the famous Belgian company FN Herstal in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Mass production began in 1982 in Belgium, and at about the same time, it was adopted by the US Armed forces as the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW).

However, U.S. Marine Corps is replacing the M249 SAW with the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle.


Since its introduction, FN Minimi has seen widespread service, and numerous variations have been developed. First, the Para (Paratroop) version came out with a shorter barrel and tubular telescoped butt. This gun traded off some of the range and firepower for compactness and maneuverability. An SPW version was recently developed, which featured a Para-type buttstock, a barrel of intermediate length (between standard and Para models), and a Picatinny-type rail mount, which allows a wide variety of sights and scopes to be mounted.

FN Minimi mk3: The world's most popular Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW)
FN Minimi Mk3: The world’s most popular Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) (Photo: FN)

The magazine feed option of the standard and para models has been discarded to save weight. In a slightly modified form, this version was adopted by the US Special Forces Command (US SOCOM) as the Mk.46 model 0 light machine gun. The Minimi has an excellent reputation for reliability and firepower. The latest reports on failures of M249 SAW weapons in Iraq are attributed to the age of the weapons used – most of the current issue M249 in the US Army is more than ten years old and quite worn out. The FN Minimi / M249 SAW is an air-cooled, gas-operated, belt-fed, automatic weapon.

Design and functionality

The Minimi is operated using conventional gas action with the gas piston below the barrel, and the barrel is locked using the traditional rotary bolt. The barrel is quick-detachable and has a carrying handle attached to it to help for a quick replacement procedure. The M249 has an alternative feed system, which uses disintegrating metallic belts as a primary feed option, or M16-type box magazines as a backup feed option. The belt is feed using the top feed unit; the magazines are inserted through the magazine port, located on the left side of the receiver and angled down.

FN Minimi has been adopted by the US Armed forces as the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW)
The US Armed forces have adopted FN Minimi as the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) (Photo: Reddit)

The Flip-up dust cover closes the magazine port when it is not in use, also serving as a belt guide. This cover raises and closes the beltway to avoid dual feeds and jams when the magazine is in place. Since the belt feed uses additional power to pull the belt through the gun, the rate of fire with the belt is somewhat slower (~ 750 rpm) than the rate of fire with the magazine feed (~ 1000 rpm).

The latest SPW and Mk.46mod.0 versions of the Minimi have no magazine feed module as a weight-saving measure. The belts are fed from special 200 rounds of plastic boxes that can be clipped beneath the receiver.

Firing modes

The gun has two modes:

  1. Stop
  2. Go

This doohickey controls them:

FN Minimi (M249 SAW) Firing modes
FN Minimi (M249 SAW) Firing modes (Photo: XY)

They are also known as “safe” and “fire.”

The Minimi is a belt-fed machine gun. Like most machine guns, there is no semi-auto*, you squeeze the trigger, and it just hammers away until you release the trigger or it runs out of ammo.

There is a gas regulator on most models (except the later model US guns); if you switch it over to adverse, you’ll get a somewhat higher rate of fire (or restore regular firing if the gun is full of crap and corruption).

Apart from that, all the finesse is the job of the person firing it. In general, you fire short controlled bursts as directed by your squad leader. The rate of that fire and where it goes is part of the fire control orders you’re given. So if there is any such thing as “firing modes,” then that’s decided by your fire orders which could be things like “watch and shoot,” “deliberate,” or everybody’s favorite “rapid.” The exact details of the wording will differ between countries or branches of service, but the idea is the same.


All FN Minimi versions fire from an open bolt to ensure optimal barrel cooling between bursts. The folding bipod is mounted under the gas chamber, and the gun has provisions for tripod or vehicle mountings. The open sights are standard, with a wide variety of optical and night sights for SPW and Mk.46 versions with Picatinny rails.

FN Minimi light machine gun dubbed as the best machine gun in the world
The FN Minimi light machine gun was developed by the famous Belgian company FN Herstal, in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Photo: FN Herstal)

The FN Minimi Mk.3 is chambered in 5.56mm and 7.62mm. The unique lightweight and excellent features make this light machine gun one of the most lethal infantry weapons.

Technical specifications

Standard modelPara modelMk.46 mod.0 / SPW model 
Caliber:5.56x45mm NATO
Weight:7.1 kg7.1 kg5.75 kg
Length:1040 mm914 / 776 mm908 / 762 mm
Barrel length:465 mm349 mm406 mm
Feeding:belt or magazinesbelt only
Rate of fire, cyclic:750 – 1000 rounds per minute750 – 1000 rounds per minute750 rounds per minute

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