Probably the longest serving weapon in the U.S. military arsenal is the Browning .50-caliber M2 machine gun. Often referred to as "ma deuce" for its M2 designation, the weapon entered U.S. service at the end of World War I, being scaled up from the Browning .30-caliber M1917 machine gun. The .50-caliber weapon was initially designated M1921.
Using a round designed by Winchester, the .50-caliber machine gun was originally intended for ground troops to use against enemy troops. Subsequently, it was employed as an anti-aircraft weapon and then became the standard armament of U.S. warplanes. In 1932, the design was updated and redesignated M2.
Now, after almost 90 years of service, the U.S. Army has moved to replace Browning's remarkable machine gun. The Army recently ordered three prototypes of a lightweight .50-caliber machine gun. Produced by General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products, the weapon weighs about one-half of the current .50-caliber M2HB (Heavy Barrel) machine gun, fires with less recoil and is equipped with technology to improve accuracy, according to the company.
The Army and Special Operations Command (SOCOM) will test the new guns and then apply the lessons learned to a potential production design. Low-rate initial production could begin as soon as 2011.
It would take several years for the new weapon to replace the "ma duce" in U.S. service. But even if it does so, the M1921/M2 would have been in service for a century.