CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq - The 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade began fielding a new weapons system for their OH-58D Kiowa Warrior airframes earlier this month.
The FN M3P .50-caliber machine gun replaced the XM296 .50-cal., a modified version of the M2 Browning .50-cal. machine gun used by ground forces.
"What's special about the M3P is that it's a lighter weight system than the 296 and has a higher rate of fire, which is exactly what the warfighter wanted," explained Maj. Blaise Gallahue, 6-6 Cav. operations officer.
At nearly 50 pounds lighter than the XM296, the M3P gives aircrews the option of taking on more fuel, allowing the aircraft to fly longer, or carrying more ammo - either of which increases the capability for the Kiowa Warrior system as a whole, Gallahue said.
With an increased rate of fire - the M3P is capable of firing up to 1,100 rounds per minute, while the XM296 only fires 750-850 rounds - the new weapon allows for more immediate target effects.
"With the M3P, the higher rate of fire gives you a higher tracer count and makes it a little bit easier to adjust your rounds onto the target," Gallahue said.
The M3P also uses a buffer system to reduce vibrations to the aircraft while firing.
Gallahue said all of the pilots who have qualified with the M3P love it, which isn't surprising considering the weapons change came about as a request from aircrews downrange.
In 2007, two deployed Kiowa Warrior units submitted operational needs statements requesting a gun that was more reliable and had a higher rate of fire.
"As a result of these two operational needs statements, the project manager for the Kiowa Warrior program started trying to find a materiel solution to these needs," Gallahue explained. "By chance, the Army was reducing the air defense Avenger system, and the guns for those Avenger systems - the M3Ps - became available at that time."
The Cavalry unit is the first Kiowa squadron operating in Iraq to receive the new weapons. Although they have yet to fire the machine gun in combat, Gallahue is impressed with the feedback he has received.
"We go out and do mission rehearsals with it, and it's working beautifully," he said.