The squad-level machine gun, as a man-portable weapon, was born during the fighting of World War 1 (1914-1918) where warplanners on both sides sought to equip the standard infantryman with a sweeping, repeat-fire system suitable for trench-clearing. While grenades and artillery served this role to an extent, more portable, accurate solutions were sought and this gave rise to the submachine gun as a new class of infantry weapon. Beyond this, and one of the truer squad-level machine gun-style weapons to emerge from the fighting, was the American Browning M1918 "Browning Automatic Rifle" - or "BAR".
The BAR proved somewhat unique in the scope of the war in that it gave the base warfighter of the period considerable repeat firepower. The weapon was a mixed success for it was too heavy to be a service rifle and limited to 20-round magazines and too light to be a true difference-making machine gun. Nevertheless, it was well-built and wholly robust for a frontline weapon and managed to see considerable service in World War 2 (1939-1945) and beyond. In the modern age, weapons such as the Belgian Fabrique-Nationale FN "Minimi" eventually took up the mantle.
The Minimi was designed around the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge which rose to prominence in the 1960s by way of large-scale issue to the United States military. Western-aligned powers of the world followed suit and a massive collection of guns were designed during this period to fire the "intermediate" rifle cartridge. The Minimi did so and this was through a gas-operated function with the gas contained in a cylinder mounted under the barrel assembly. The barrel itself was fabricated to a heavy-duty standard for sustained firing and made to be quickly changed by the operator as needed. One interesting design quality of the Minimi was its ability to fire from a belt ammunition supply (200 rounds) or from standard M16-style detachable box magazines (30-round count). The box magazine was inserted into the bottom of the receiver (ahead of the trigger unit) in the usual way with a slight increase in rate-of-fire. When either method of feeding was in play, the other port was sealed off by a cover.
Introduced in 1982, the Belgian-made Minimi quickly evolved into the light-support weapon-of-choice for several key national military powers including Britain and the United States. For the former it has served as the L108A1 and, for the latter, it was adopted as the venerable "M249 SAW". Uses went beyond infantry-level operations for the machine gun has been featured in the selective inventories of various special forces outfits and has seen use on pintle mounts for vehicles. In practice, the FN Minimi has developed a history of reliability under the most severe of combat conditions and environments. The 5.56mm cartridge has, however, been criticized by some for its penetration value falloff in ranged, open-field fighting.
The standard Minimi form features a fixed, lightweight skeletal butt with a carrying handle set over the receiver for improved transportability. There is a folding bipod fitted to the frontal section of the gas cylinder which can be stowed away during travel. One major variation of the FN Minimi is the FN Minimi-Para which showcases a collapsible butt, a feature proving quite useful to paratroopers and special forces operatives. The Para model is in British military service as the L110A2.
Several countries produce the machine gun locally under license and global operators have ranged from Afghanistan and Australia to the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam. With this spectrum of operators, the machine gun is recognized under various local designations: Australia operates the F89 and Maximi (in 7.62mm chambering) while Belgium recognizes their creation as the Minimi M2/M3. Canada uses the C9/C9A1/C9A2 designations and New Zealand fields the C9 Minimi and 7.62 LSW Minimi. Swedish versions are Ksp 90 and Ksp 90B and the major Swiss model is the LMg 05.