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M249 vs PKM - an unusual comparison

Updated: Apr 5

For many years the gun community tried to compare the M249 "Minimi" to something within the Soviet arsenal. However, nothing comparable comes to mind - the RPK-74 is far from an adequate machine gun and the PKM is using a full power rifle cartridge. The RPD-44 comes to mind, but given its extremely limited use and short service life it does not really make the cut.

M249 vs PKM

But, in the core of the things, a given soldier would always carry one main weapon into the battle. And the realities of 21th century, with the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine, have made the scenario, where a soldier has to choose between M249 and PKM entirely possible. In this article we will discover the advantages and disadvantages of both machine guns as they are presented by the veteran of the Ukrainian Army.

The actual role of the machine guns in modern combat

The role of the machine guns has transferred over the years. Starting out as a heavy, line defense cannon type of weapon it has soon transferred into a lighter role. By the end of the First World War, there was a whole range of machine guns that could be carried into an offensive operation. By the Cold War this characteristic has progressed, and now machine guns were not just light, but also reliable and capable of delivering a lot of fire.

M249 vs PKM

This was satisfactory for quite some time - more than half of the century. In many cases soldiers could even set up a permanent defensive position, equipped with a belt-fed machine gun which would serve for years. The things have changed in the last couple of years. Permanent positions became a no go - if they aren't destroyed with precision artillery strike, they will be bombarded by the FPV drones until both the machine gun and its operator are not neutralized. The balance has again changed and the role of the machine gun has to be reevaluated.

The advantages and disadvantages of PKM "Pokemon"

The PKM is, of course, a very good weapon. It is as reliable as it gets, very light for its class and can effectively shoot up to one thousand meters. We did an article on PKM in Afghan, and, by all means - it is a great weapon.

M249 vs PKM

The war of Russian aggression in Ukraine is also suitable for the PKM - it is heavily utilized by both sides, it is produced by both sides and by other countries, who sell it to the fighting sides. In fact, there are rumors that Russian industry switched from PKP "Pecheneg" back to PKM, but this is yet to be confirmed.

The PKM works really well in the trenches. Being prone to jams it can work in almost any conditions, given that it will be oiled and cleaned from time to time, and the powerful round allows to defend the trench from the incoming infantry and light vehicles. Since trench warfare is more or less stable, any amount of ammunition can be stored for the machine gun.

But the ammunition is also the disadvantage of the gun, when compared to the M249. Well, not the ammo itself, but rather its weight. Carrying a lot of ammo belts is hard for a single foot soldier, especially given all the other equipment he has to bare.

The advantages and disadvantages of M249 "Minimi"

The M249, although frequently hated by the NATO forces, has filled its role really well in the Ukrainian Forces. And the key difference between a given NATO Army and Ukrainian Forces is that the latter can usually choose a machine gun - they are not limited by either M249 and M240. The operator who has inspired me to this article has a following list of machine guns available in his unit:

  • PK and PKM

  • M240

  • M249

  • MG-3

  • captured PKP "Pecheneg"

So, these guys actually have quite some options to choose from. Given that this is a Special Forces unit, they usually have a lot of time on the range, with little restrictions on how and what to shoot, making their views on every firearm even more valuable.

M249 vs PKM

The M249 were primarily issued to light reconnaissance battalions of the Ukrainian Army. Basically, those guys, who operate on foot. And this is where the main advantages of M249 become obvious in this particular type of combat.

The first one and the biggest - is the ammunition. While the PKM operator can carry 300-500 rounds before getting overloaded, the M249 guy will have enough space for up to a thousand rounds. Having more ammunition, when away from your static position or from the vehicle is crucial for survivability and mission completion.

M249 vs PKM
Ukrainian soldiers with cool weapons, including M249

The amount of ammunition ready to fire is crucial in a firefight as well. While ammo belt can, in theory, be as long as possible, in practice it is limited by the ammo box. For PKM it is 100 rounds, while for the M249 it is 200 or even 250 rounds. It happened more than once, in the experience of my veteran friend when an M249 operator managed successfully pin down enemy's PKM positions solely with the amount of ammunition available.

Another great about M249 is its modularity. First of all, you can quickly change the barrel. Okay, that not a unique feature - almost any machine gun can do it. But again, the trick is the practicality. All the general purpose machine guns, including PKM, have huge and heavy barrels, which are really inconvenient to carry around for the offensive operations. Not to mention the lack of availability in the units. The M249 barrel is, on the other hand, short and quite light - it can easily be attached to the backpack and quickly installed when needed.

M249 vs PKM
A group of Ukrainian soldiers with a lot of interesting equipment

Getting back to ammunition, the feature which is mostly hated by the US veterans is, actually, appreciated by the Ukrainian forces. We are talking about the ability to use standard AR-15 mags with the M249. While it is definitely not a preferable ammunition feeding system for this machine gun, it is still better than nothing. The PKM gunner, when finished his ammunition, basically becomes useless in the battle. The M249 operator can, at least, defend himself by borrowing mags of his pals.

Last but not least is the modernity of the M249. The Ukrainian forces have only received the updated version of the machine guns, already equipped with picatinny rails. The ability to attach preferable scopes and other accessories goes a long way in a modern firefight. While it is also possible to upgrade a PKM - it comes at your own cost in most cases.

The best choice between M249 vs PKM

This whole article was started as an argument in a Telegram chat about M249 vs PKM. And it was then resolved by one of the members of the group, who is currently serving in the Ukrainian Army. All the pros of the M249 are coming from his own experience on the battlefield, so please, take this into account - your experience with both of these weapons can differ significantly.

M249 vs PKM
The man in question with the machine gun in question

As per usual, my standard advise is - choose that weapon, which you can reliably feed with ammo and to which you have enough spare parts. If both are plenty, well, then you will usually have an option to play around with the weapons and choose what fits you personally. Instagram link to the Soldier who made this article possible -

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