The Negev relies on an automatic gas-operated action utilizing a rotating bolt function to reach a listed rate-of-fire between 850 and 1,150 rounds per minute (a regulator allows for three presets). In the gas-operated system, the weapon uses gases tapped at the barrel to cycle a short-stroke piston located under the barrel. Operation is further controlled through a semi- / full-automatic selector. The Negev features a "quick-change", chrome-lined barrel assembly with slotted flash suppressor for concealed, sustained fire and an integrated carry handle that also assist in changing an overheated barrel. Modification was needed to launch rifle grenades so a multifunction muzzle device was later developed. Iron sights are of the closed-type and consist of an adjustable front post for both elevation and windage. The rear aperture sight has an adjusting elevation drum which is easy to turn with two fingers for range settings spanning 300 to 1,000 meters. During night operation the weapon is equipped with Betalight gaseous tritium illuminated vials - one can be installed at the front sight and an additional two can be set on a notch sight under the standard aperture sight. The barrel can also be optionally fitted with mounting hardware allowing the Negev to field a laser pointer or reflex sight. The machine gun has a metal side-folding side stock (right side fold) and a removable bipod that is connected to the forward handguard. IMI was asked by Israeli Army personnel to make the weapon "vehicle friendly" so the receiver has hooks to secure the gun to mounts in vehicles.
The Negev is chambered for the 5.56x45mm NATO standard cartridge and is optimized for the SS109 bullet. Field maintenance involves stripping the weapon down into six main groups: the barrel, stock, bolt carrier, bolt, bipod and return mechanism. All parts, including the quick-change barrels, are fully-interchangeable. In addition to the standard 200-round metal-link belt issued, the NEGEV light machine gun can fire from a 150-round fabric container (clipping to into the magazine well), a 35-round box magazine (from the Galil assault rifle), a standard 30-round STANAG-style detachable box magazine (from the M-16 rifle - through use of an adapter) and a 12-round "blank cartridge" magazine when launching rifle grenades. A new form introduced in 2012, the Negev NG7, is now chambered for the 7.62x51mm NATO standard rifle cartridge for improved penetration at range.
The Negev has been evolved beyond its basic LMG form as the Negev Commando of 1998, a lightweight, compact version with shorter barrel of 13 inches and overall length of 26.8 inches. The Commando has since been renamed as the Negev Special Forces (SF) and may also be known as the "Assault Negev".
The Negev has seen export to Colombia, Costa Rica, Estonia, Georgia, India, Mexico, Paraguay, Poland, Thailand and Vietnam. It has seen considerable combat service with Israeli forces to date including the 2006 Lebanon War.
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