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General Electric M134 Minigun Six-Barrel Gatling Gun (1963)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 1/13/2015

The ferocious General Electric M134 Minigun Gatling-style weapon has been used to good effect as a vehicle weapon firing from either land, sea, or air platforms.

The General Electric M134 "Minigun" was born as a derivative of the General Electric M61 aircraft gun, retaining the same six-barreled Gatling design approach while being rechambered for the 7.62mm cartridge. The weapon has gone on to have a lengthy service life, seeing action during the Vietnam War (1955-1975) with American forces and across many of the conflicts since. Despite its 1960s origins, the M134 continues in service with a large collection of countries today (2015).

The concept of rotating barrels for (barrel cooling and to achieve a high rate-of-fire) was not new with the introduction of the M134. The approach has been largely characterized by Dr. Richard Gatling's original attempts of the 1800s which incorporated multiple rotating barrels with a hand-cranked action. A late version even introduced the concept of an electric drive to assist in the weapon's operation.

The modern American Army began to look into a new suppression weapon based on its early Vietnam War experience where its lightly-armored, highly vulnerable transport helicopters were fodder to well-hidden enemy ground forces. General Electric threw its hat into the ring for development of such a weapon and began by exploring its existing 20mm M61 "Vulcan" aircraft gun as a possible solution. The resultant weapon was essentially a dimensionally smaller product and chambered for the ubiquitous 7.62x51mm NATO rifle cartridge. The developmental "XM134" became the "M134" in U.S. Army service while the USAF knew it as the GAU-2/A and GAU-17/A (the USN used the "Mk 25 Mod 0" designator). Original versions held a rate-of-fire of 6,000 rounds per minute but this rate was scaled back to 4,000 rpm (and now variable between 2,000rpm and 6,000rpm). Due to the drive power required of the weapon an external powerpack was standard, restricting the weapon to vehicle-mounted use (aircraft, ground vehicle, watercraft, etc).

After the war, the weapon began to see a reduction in numbers. Dillon Aero took to refurbishing some used units and streamlined the overall design which improved the product considerably over time resulting in the "M134D" mark. A titanium housing was introduced as a weight-saving measure and this begat the "M134D-T" designation as well as the "M134D-H" hybrid product. Modernized forms eventually rekindled U.S. military interest in the weapon and service branches began restocking various vehicles with the weapon. Garwood Industries also moved on an improved M134 (with inherent optics support) and this begat the "M134G".

Ammunition for the M134 is in a belt-fed form originating from an ammunition box. The ammunition is held in a linked belt format in which the firing action strips the cartridge from the belt and fires the round through the available barrel and ejects both casing and link belt components in turn. The completion of the cycle brings the next barrel in line with the chamber to repeat the process. Each barrel is consecutively fed in this fashion which helps to produce the impressively high volume of fire identified with this type of weapon system. "Cook off" (that is accidental discharge of cartridges due to heat) is controlled by design: once the trigger is depressed, the feed is automatically shut off from the bolt and barrel assembly - keeping fresh ammunition from being brought into play while the spinning barrels come to full rest. The action uses an electrically-driven rotary breech system. Muzzle velocity reaches 2,800 feet per second with a maximum range out to 3,280 feet.

The M134 lacks standard fixed sights for firing though optics are supported.

For a short time, the XM214 "Microgun" appeared for possible wide-scale procurement. This weapon, introduced in 1966, was further scaled down by General Electric and chambered for the 5.56x45mm cartridge - the same as used in the M16 Assault Rifle. The XM124 did not see a long service tenure.

The M134 has gone on to see service beyond the United States military - adopted by the forces of Australia, Brazil, France, Israel, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Turkey, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and others.

The Russia has relied on the four-barreled, gas-operated, air-cooled "GShG-7.62" of 1970 as their counter to the American M134 since the Cold War days.

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Specifications for the
General Electric M134 Minigun
Six-Barrel Gatling Gun

Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: General Electric / Lockheed Martin Armament Systems / Garwood Industries / McNally Industries - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1963

Overall Length: 800 mm (31.50 in)
Barrel Length: 555.00 mm (21.85 in)
Weight (Empty): 35.05 lb (15.90 kg)

Caliber*: 7.62x51mm NATO
Action: Electrically-Driven; Belt-Fed
Feed: 4,000-round linked belt
Muzzle Velocity: 2,850 ft/sec (869 m/sec)
Rate-of-Fire: 6,000 rounds per minute
Range: 3,280 ft (1,000 m; 1,093 yds)
Sights: Optional Optics

* Listed caliber(s) for firearms may be model dependent if more than one model type/chambering was produced. Always consult official manufacturer's information or a licensed dealer.

M134 - US Army designation; scaled-down version 7.62mm caliber version of the M61A1 for use in helicopter gunships; 6,000 fixed rate-of-fire.

GAU-2B/A - USAF Designation

GAU-17/A - U.S. Navy Designation; crew-served version of the M134 with selective firing modes for 2,000rpm or 4,000rpm; pintle mounting.

GAUSE-17/A - U.S. Navy Designation

Afghanistan; Australia; Austria; Brazil; Canada; Chile; Colombia; Finland; France; Georgia; Iraq; Israel; Italy; Mexico; Malaysia; Morocco; Netherlands; Norway; Paraguay; Philippines; Poland; South Korea