The Browning M2 Heavy Machine Gun is a fully automatic machine gun chambered in .50 caliber.

After the .45 ACP M1911, the M2 is the longest-serving weapon in the US Armed Forces. It was designed and produced by Browning beginning in 1921 and is close in design to the Browning M1919. Its long tenure began when it entered the service with the US Army in 1923, and continues to be used pervasively throughout the world by the US and other militaries.

It is currently manufactured in the US by General Dynamics and US Ordnance. Fabrique Nationale Herstal has also manufactured the gun since the 1930’s.

Unlike its predecessors, many of which were water-cooled, the M2 is employs air cooling. Air-cooled systems employ the circulation of cool air over hot components to facilitate cooling and temperature management. The M2 is belt-fed and uses a closed bolt. In addition, the M2 employs a short recoil loading system, meaning the energy (force) derived from a fired shot is used to cycle the action.

Perhaps more impressive than the M2 itself is the ammunition it fires. The .50 BMG, named after the gun, has an effective range of 2,187 yards and a staggering maximum range of 7,400 yards, or 4.2 miles. A number of rounds were developed for specific use with the M2 HMG, including armor-piercing, ball, tracer, and incendiary. Armor-piercing rounds for the M2HMG are capable of piercing an inch of steel at over 300 yards.

Eventual modifications to the M2 included a 59 pound lightweight version with an adjustable round-per-minute feature that allowed it to be used in ground support and air-defense applications. A quick change barrel kit was eventually designed by US Ordnance allowing hot barrels to be efficiently and quickly swapped. The M2 HMG and its variants are generally mounted on vehicles, aircraft or placed on a tripod and manned by a crew, and are often fired from a reclining position. Older versions include dual spade handles and butterfly triggers that can be depressed with one or both thumbs. Newer models feature a more conventional trigger style.

Dozens of companies manufactured the M2 HMG and its variants at one time, and it continues to be used ubiquitously today.

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