Last week the United States Army Procurement Command issued a market survey, which asked contractors for information on their ability to produce and supply the M134 7.62x51mm rotary machine gun system as well as parts, accessories and support equipment. The call for this “Gatling-style” machine gun was posted on the U.S. government’s main contracting website.
Unlike the Army’s efforts to develop a new weapons system to replace the M4 Carbine and M249 light machine gun, this new market survey is simply to find contractors that can produce the M134 Minigun. Parts and accessories would include the power supplies, mounts, spare part kits, spare barrels, while support equipment would include maintenance kits and special tool packages, according to the notice.
The M134 Minigun, which features the Gatling-style rotating barrel assembly, was designed 60 years ago by General Electric. Unlike single barrel machine guns, which use the energy from one round to chamber the next round, the M134 utilizes an electrically driven rotary breech that provides a high, sustained rate of fire ranging from 2,000 to 6,000 rounds per minute.
The term “Minigun” originally referred to the weapon system developed by GE, and was named so to differentiate it from the larger-caliber rotary barrel designs, notably GE’s M61 Vulcan. The M134 uses the 7.62x52mm NATO rifle cartridge while the Vulcan fires 20mm rounds. While the M61 Vulcan is used primarily on fixed wing aircraft including the F-105D and F-4; the M134 has been mounted on helicopters including the Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters and Bell UH-1 Iroquois transport helicopters, as well as on larger aircraft including the Cessna A-37 Dragonfly and Douglas A-1 Skyraider for use in a close air support role.
Some 10,000 Miniguns were used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, and the M134 has since seen use in the invasions of Grenada and Panama, the Gulf War, Operation Restore Hope (Somalia), Iraq War and the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
In recent decades, the term minigun has come to refer to any externally-powered rotary gun system that is chambered for rifle ammunition, and moreover, the term is even sometimes used loosely to refer to similar weapons that have a high rate of fire and use a multi-barrel configuration.
Last month DillonAero, which has produced the M134 since the 1990s, announced last month that it has been working on a new minigun-style machine gun system chambered to fire .338 Norma Magnum ammunition. The Arizona-based firearms manufacturer posted photos of a still-experimental prototype on its official Facebook page in January and unveiled the system at last month’s SHOT Show – the firearm industry’s annual trade event. Dillon Aero has been one of the M134 Minigun.