The Browning M2, also known as “Ma Deuce,” has been a legend for a long time in American service – nearly a century. Its intended targets have changed over time – from tanks to aircraft to ground targets, as have the platforms it was used on to some extent (once used as the primary armament of fighters). The gun has been widely exported across the world, and is not likely to go away any time soon. In fact, a major upgrade has lead to the M2A1 version of the gun, first fielded in 2010. The last American soldier to use this gun in combat probably hasn’t been born yet.
During World War II, the Soviet Union received 3100 M2s via Lend-Lease. Those supplemented the DShK (pronounced “dish-kuh”) heavy machine gun that had started entering service in 1938 – five years after the M2 was adopted by the United States. While the .50 BMG round is 12.7x99mm, the DShK round is a 12.7x108mm round. The DShK has a maximum range of 2,500 meters – but the M2 can reach out to 6,800.
In fact, it is not very surprising to see countries that have both the DShK and the M2 in service side by side. Among them are Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Yemen, Romania, and Pakistan – but both machine guns are in wide service. Ironically, despite the long presence of American troops, neither Iraq nor Afghanistan have officially adopted the M2, instead sticking with the DShK. The DShK may be Russian, but it’s still a good weapon. The DShK is used on tripods, as an anti-aircraft gun for tanks, and is often seen in makeshift mounts on pickup trucks – the notorious “technicals” that American troops faced in Somalia, and which have popped up all across Africa and the Middle East. Unlike the M2, though, the DShK never was used as aircraft armament.
For that, the Soviets used the UB series of machine guns. Like the DShK, it fired the 12.7x108mm round, but the UB brought a much higher rate of fire to the table (up to 1,050 rounds per minute to the DShK’s 600), a big deal in air-to-air combat when you need concentrated firepower to hit a fleeting target. The United States would use a modified M2 – the M3, to be precise – in its Korean War jet fighters, getting 1,200 rounds per minute.
The Soviets, though, thought they could do better than the DShK. In 1971, they introduced the NSV as a replacement. Perhaps it is best known as the 12.7mm machine gun used on T-64, T-72, and T-80 main battle tanks in Russian service. This gun has not been as long-lasting as the DShK, though. While the DShK is still in production in Pakistan, the NSV has gone out of production – and since the break-up of the Soviet Union put the factories in the Ukraine, whose relationship with Russia is best described as “it’s complicated,” the NSV’s time was running out. The NSV’s replacement has been the Kord – a machine gun light enough that it can be fired from a bipod, and can be carried by a single soldier. This gun has a slower rate of fire than the NSV (650 rounds to 780), but its lighter weight and lighter recoil make it very valuable.
These Russian 12.7mm machine guns are joined by the KPV, a 14.5mm machine gun (a .57-caliber weapon). The KPV missed World War II, and could hit targets four kilometers away – outranging many other systems. Its rounds also pack a heavier punch than those of Ma Deuce. But the KPV has been limited for use on vehicles, on naval vessels, and in towed AA guns of the ZPU series.
Over time Russia heavy machine guns have had varying results. Some have seen a lot of action, and have passed the test of time. Others, not so much. They’re interesting shades of fifty-caliber.