M60E3: A follow up of the legendary M60 machine gun

Ian Hogg

M60E3 machine gun

The M60E3 machine gun is the follow up of the legendary M60 machine gun. The M60 machine gun was adopted by the U.S. Army in the late 1950s and served as a general-purpose machine gun, bipod-mounted as the squad automatic, or tripod-mounted as the company support gun. It was inspired by the wonderful MG 42 when a General Purpose Machine Gun decided to build one.

It was somewhat heavy and had several design faults which took some time to cure, and in the 1980s the U.S. forces requested a lighter version for use by rapid intervention troops and light infantry. The M60E3 was developed to fill this requirement, which it has done with considerable success.


The M60E3 uses a rotating bolt that is mounted on a post at the end of the gas piston assembly. As the piston is driven back, this post, acting in a curved cam way in the body of the bolt, rotates the bolt to unlock it from the chamber. It then drives the bolt back; it is prevented from rotating by the locking lugs riding in grooves in the receiver.

A buffer spring halts the rearward movement, and then the assembly runs forward, the bolt collecting a fresh round from the feed-was and loading it into the chamber.

A soldier aiming with M60E3 machine gun
The soldier standing and aiming toward the target with an M60E3 light machine gun (Photo: XY)

As the bolt reaches the end of the grooves, the post and cam path rotate it to lock, and the post, continuing forward, strikes the firing pin in the bolt and fires the round. The backward and forward movement of the bolt is also used to grip the feed belt and move it across the gun.

Difference between M60 and M60E3 machine gun

The changes in the basic M60 design which turned it into the M60E3 are the fitting of a lightweight barrel, adding a light bipod, a carrying handle attached to the barrel, a forward handgrip for firing from the hip or shoulder, and some improvements to the feed and gas systems.

Two optional barrels are also available, a light-weight short barrel for the utmost compactness, and a heavy barrel for a mission that demands sustained firing. These may be interchanged with the standard barrel without the need for any further adjustment. There is also a conversion kit that allows any older M60 machine gun to be converted to the M60E3 specification.

We had generations of guys who loved the M60 machine gun because it was a machine gunner. It was badly flawed. The flaws could be overcome with a trained machine gunner who knew how to operate the weapon. The flaws weren’t removed until the M60E3.

M60E3 Enhanced Machine gun

In 1992, the Saco company announced the development of the ‘M60E3 Enhanced’ machine gun. This is generally similar to the M60E3 machine gun but has an improved bipod, improved forward handgrip and heat shield, a hinged shoulder rest to give the firer better control when firing from the bipod, and a new design of sling attachment to prevent the sling from coming into contact with the hot barrel.

John Rambo with M60 machine gun
A toy figure of John Rambo, the character from the Hollywood-blockbuster Rambo, brandishing an M60 machine gun (Photo: XY)

Additional gear

A variety of fire control systems are available for these weapons, including optical and electro-optical sights for night or day use, laser aiming spotlights, laser rangefinders and similar devices. All these can be attached to or detached from the gun without loss of zero, using specially-developed U.S. Army mounts.

The M60 machine gun was replaced with the M240 machine gun.

Still in service

Despite the M60 is an obsolete machine gun and though largely phased out, it is continued to be used in the 21st century by U.S. Navy SEALs. It was the main 7.62 mm machine gun used by some U.S. special operations forces in the late 1990s. As of 2005, it was used by the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, and some reserve units.

Technical specification of M60E3 machine gun

Manufacturer: Saco Defense Inc, Saco, Maine, United States
Type: gas-operated, automatic
Caliber : 7.62 mm
Barrel: 22in (560 mm)
Weight: 19.4 lbs (8.8 kg)
Magazine capacity: unlimited link belt
Cyclic rate of fire: 500-650 rounds per minute

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