The Heckler & Koch MG4 Light Machine Gun (LMG) was selected by the German Army to supersede the Cold War-era MG3 belt-fed General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) in the squad support role. The 7.62mm MG3 was a modernized version of the German World War 2-era MG42 series and continued its excellent history after adoption in 1960 - over 30 nations eventually utilized the type with some local production overseas also noted. During the late 1990s, attention turned to a new, more modern and portable solution for squad-level contact that emerged as the 5.56mm "MG43" from the storied concern of Heckler & Koch - a design not unlike the competing 5.56mm FN Minimi which also makes up the US Army's M249 SAW. The new weapon was formally adopted by the German Army (Bundeswehr) and entered production in 2001, reaching operational-level service in 2005.
The MG4 brings about a more compact profile while still retaining the belt-feed mechanism of the preceding MG3 series. The MG3 utilized the larger and heavier rifle-caliber 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge while the newer MG4 makes use of the smaller 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge. Effective penetration ranges are somewhat diminished though the MG4 primarily serves as a squad-level support weapon, not so much an open range heavy suppression system (as in the MG3). The MG4 is built around a tried-and-proven gas-operated action utilizing a rotating bolt assembly providing up to an 885 round-per-minute rate-of-fire. Muzzle velocity is listed at 3,000 feet per second with an effective range out to 1,000 meters. The weapon is fed via a disintegrating link belt from the left side of the receiver with spent shell casings exiting under the gun. An optional feed modification allows for ejection through the right side of the receiver. Sighting is accomplished through a standard iron arrangement though the MG4 holds the ability to mount various optics for assisted accuracy thanks to a section of rail (Picatinny MIL-STD-1913) running across the top of the frame. Additional rail sections are seen along the forend sides and can support laser aimers, tactical flashlights and the like. The receiver underside also contains mounting support for affixing the MG4 to a heavy-duty tripod if intended for the heavy suppression fire role.
Outwardly, the MG4 mimics the competing FN Minimi to a high degree with a bulky, rectangular receiver, overhead-mounted carrying handle (also used in changing a hot barrel), under-barrel gas cylinder and its general shape including butt and dedicated pistol grip. The "quick-change", hammer-forged barrel also sports a similar slotted flash suppressor and a hinged folding bipod is built into the design. A ribbed handguard allows for a forward hand hold away from the hot barrel when firing. Ammunition is typically managed through a soft case mounted along the left side of the receiver. Firing controls are ambidextrous and feature the HK-style colored firing selector found above the pistol grip (allowing burst and full-automatic fire). The charging handle is along the right side of the receiver. A shoulder strap is optional and affixed at two locations in the usual way, easing transport of the system. The butt is also hinged to collapse along the side of the weapon (or can be removed altogether) for a more compact profile. It also contains the cleaning kit for general maintenance of the weapon. The MG4 weighs in at 18.8lbs and features a length of 41.3 inches with an 18.9-inch barrel. It can collapse to 32.7 inches with the butt folded.
Despite the formal adoption of the MG4 into service with the German Army, the MG3 will be retained for more heavy support roles as required. The MG4 has already seen export to forces in Portugal, South Africa and Spain. The MG4 has been evolved into the MG4E and MG4KE variants: the MG4E represents a lighter MG4 form (17.4lb weight) retaining the standard 18.9-inch barrel while the MG4KE is a truly compact variant fitting a shorter 15.8-inch barrel and folding down to 30 inches in total length with the stock collapsed (from its 37.4-inch extended length).