When Beretta set out to create their first 5.56mm caliber assault rifle line, they were forecasting its use in other roles such as a shortened, lightened carbine form with a foldable stock and a light machine gun version capable of sustained fire. The Beretta AS70 LMG was developed into a light machine gun series that could be effectively used in the Squad Automatic Weapon(SAW) role, allowing fire teams the capability to bring machine gun power to bear within the portable housing of an assault rifle body. The AS70 LMG shared the same gas-operated, rotating bolt function of its AS70 assault rifle sister but operated from an open bolt arrangement instead. The AS70 LMG was also given a heavier, fixed, detachable barrel system for the sustained fire role as well as an optional carrying handle, synthetic forend and collapsible bipod. The AS70 light machine gun was developed in response to an Italian Army need to replace their aging MG42/59 machine guns, these essentially local license-production versions of the German Rheinmetall MG3 series, itself with origins from the German wartime MG42 general purpose machine gun of World War 2.
The AS70/78 first appeared in 1979 but was not an immediate success - the open bolt action made the operation quite delicate and led to jamming and other internal fouling issues. Multiple changes to the action of the machine gun further precluded the commonality of parts between it and the assault rifle. As such, the improved AS70/80 was brought into the fold as a revised, yet simpler, production form. The AS70/84 was later introduced with a fixed heavy barrel assembly and the action was revised to allow for full-automatic fire from the open bolt position. An integrated adapter now allowed this new weapon to be mounted on vehicles and the butt was "cut out" for a lightened load and double as another hand grip. The AS70/84 only appeared in limited numbers before being replaced by Beretta with the AS70/90 in 1985. The AS70/90 was similar to the AS70/84 line but was externally identified by its cleaner straight lines along the body. The butt was further revised and the detachable carrying handle was fitted at the backsight base. The new production form was also given a rail adapter system which allowed for the fitting of various infantry accessories to include thermal imaging, electro-optical or laser aiming systems. A cleaning kit was installed in the pistol grip for in-field maintenance.
The AS70 LMG was chambered to fire the 5.56x45mm NATO standard cartridge and could feed from various STANAG type magazines. Interestingly, the AS70 was designed without support for belt-feed firing, another drawback in the eyes of the Italian Army whom sought such a weapon system. Sights were integrated and consisted of a two-position rear flip-type aperture as well as an adjustable front post. Unloaded, the weapon system weighed in at approximately 11.8lbs and featured a running length of 1,000mm (39.4in), the barrel being 460mm (18.3in) in length. Rate of fire was roughly 800 rounds per minute. Fire selection was accomplished through operation of a four-position switch allowing for a standard safety setting, single-shot, three-round burst capability or full-automatic fire.
As a result of the AS70 failings, the Italian Army chose to go with the Belgium-born Fabrique-Nationale FN Minimi light machine gun. Ironically, it is license-produced for the Italian Army in Italy by Beretta. The Minimi developed such a reach that it was even selected by the armies of Australia and the United States as their new Squad Automatic Weapon. The AS70 light machine gun is a rare sight these days, with a few examples known to be in closed circulation. Needless to say, the weapon never generated any foreign interest and was thusly never sold outside of Italy.