The 1950s-era M60 General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) proved a relatively effective infantry support weapon throughout the Vietnam War (1955-1975) though it was not without its inherent drawbacks. It was a cumbersome system to transport on patrol while lacking a carrying handle, was heavy by its very construction and featured a complex gas operation. The M60E3 of 1986 was, therefore, intended as a remedy variant and brought about a lighter overall weight, an integral carrying handle for transport and to facilitate barrel changing and a revised, simplified gas cylinder. Two barrel types - a light short assault and a heavy sustained fire version - were also introduced to suit varying mission roles. One key design addition of the M60E3 was its use of a forward vertical hand grip which allowed for more stable firing from the shoulder and further eased transport of the weapon (particularly when used in conjunction with a shoulder strap via sling loops). The bipod was now affixed to the receiver and a tripod mounting could still be utilized. Saco Defense of Maine was charged with the system's manufacture. Other changes included a new feed cover protecting the bolt regardless of its internal position and the trigger ring could be replaced by one with a larger opening to allow use of a gloved hand.
The M60E3 retained the original's chambering of 7.62x51mm NATO and also utilized the same gas-operated action feeding through a 100-round disintegrating belt. Overall weight was 8.8kg with a running length of 1,077mm and a standard barrel measuring 558mm. Rate-of-fire was 600 rounds per minute with a muzzle velocity of 2,800 feet per second. Cooling of the barrel was by air and sighting was through a front and rear iron arrangement.
Despite the changes, the M60E3 was hardly a perfected solution. The use of lighter components seemed to lessen the weapon's overall reliability as components were known to fracture through prolonged use. This necessitated another M60 form to appear as the M60E4. The M60 family line as a whole was eventually superseded by the heavier, though more reliable, M240 GPMG based on the excellent Belgian FN MAG series.
The M60E3 saw limited export sales to US-friendly forces worldwide.