New Zealand Switches from 5.56mm to 7.62mm FN Herstal Minimi Light Machine Gun

New Zealand Defence Force is switching from the 5.56mm FN Minimi to the 7.62mm FN Minimi as their standard Light Support Weapon (LSW).

This continues the general trend across the globe of moving away from the 5.56mm round for everything but assault rifles. The latest generation 7.62mm machine guns are only slightly heavier than their 5.56mm counterparts (the 7.62mm Minimi weighs only a few pounds more than the 5.56mm version). The tradeoff is ammunition capacity. A 7.62x51mm cartridge weighs about twice as much as a 5.56x45mm cartridge, therefor a solider will only be able to carry half as much of it.

The Army said in a press release …

The NZ Defence Force procured 600 weapons from manufacturer, FN Herstal with an approximate cost of $15,000 per weapon. The total budget for the project was $16.04 million and included procuring all ancillaries, storage facilities, and simulation training measures required for a successful introduction into service.

Personnel from across the Defence Force required to train soldiers, sailors and airmen in the use of the weapon completed their own training in November 2012. The weapon will now be phased into service across the NZ Defence Force and this is expected to be completed within the first quarter of 2013.

“The delivery of 7.62mm LSW is another positive step forward for ISWRUP, which will replace or upgrade selected weapon systems, ancillary equipment and specialist munitions within the NZDF weapons fleet.

 Many thanks to Whale Oil for the tip.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • noob

    Who was it that said that the ideal cartridge would propel a 120grain 7mm bullet at about 3000fps, and no army has ever adopted such a cartridge?

    Also I am curious how the chinese 5.8mm is doing in the hands of their client states like the wa state army.

    • isnt that basically a .303 brit? i have heard a bunch of people say its the best.
      washington state army?

      • Steve (TFB Editor)

        .303 is closer to 8mm than 7mm. I would say 7mm is a better size for this kind of application (I love the 7mm-08) but 6.5mm is better still in my opinion. Ballistically the .30/7.62mm is not optimal.

      • Riot

        I think you mean .280 British

        • Anonymoose

          .280 British is 7mm but it came post-WWII.

      • noob
        • Anonymoose

          Are we sure they actually had the 5.8 PLA versions and not the 5.56 police/export versions?

    • Esh325

      Don’t know about the 3000 FPS part, but many countries thought that the 7mm was the ideal caliber. The British as far back as the early 1900’s thought the 7mm was superior to their .303. When the USA was looking at adopting self loading rifles, they were considering the .276 Pedersen. There isn’t really a whole lot written about the 5.8mm. What I’ve heard the Chinese claim is that it’s better than 5.56×45 and 5.45×39, which I can’t confirm. I imagine it’s at least equal to the 5.56×45 and 5.45×39.

      • idahoguy101

        The pre-WW1 British Army was planning to adopt a Mauser type rifle with a 7mm cartridge. In troop trials the weapon was called the Pattern 13 Enfield rifle. WW1 intervene. The P-13 morphed into the P-14 in .303 and the US Army Model 1917, aka the P-17, chambered in .30/06.

  • Note the extortionate price paid per weapon…problems you get with a single tenderer in a closed shop aided and abetted by the manufacturer who ignores local parallel importing laws that prevent exclusive distributorships.

    The local FN guy is a one man band residing on a boutique vineyard…nice little earner if you can manage to spike other bidders and ensure only you get to bid.

    • Matt

      Does that price not include maintenance and spare parts for the weapon?

      • Hard to tell the original RFP was withdrawn bidders notified that the project was on hold, then cancelled and then all of a sudden the winner was announced. The one man band from the South Island would never be in a position to support even 10 weapons let alone 600. I doubt he could also run a part inventory for them either.

        The original RFP was for a mg and accessories as configured in the attached photo above. A reading of the specs meant that an M60E4 would qualify and at half the price WITH a full spares kit, but it was clear from the shenangins and involvement o FN Belgium that this contract was only going one way.

    • This behaviour is typical of our current right wing
      government, which behaves as though the public doesn’t matter, only their old chum mates whom they favor with corrupt sweetheart deals like this. At a time when teachers can’t get paid, when children of beneficiaries are starving, and unemployment and poverty are widespread, the government just granted themselves another generous pay rise. Maybe they need the bigger guns to keep a disgruntled population in check. Fat chance of Key ever getting to have a four year term.

      • It has nothing to do with politics and everything to with poor governance and dodgy deals with wallahs at MoD

  • mikee

    Only hits count !

  • bbmg

    I wonder what the 7.62 can do that the 5.56 wasn’t doing, and does it so well that it justifies carrying half the ammunition for the same weight.

    • Esh325

      Kills better at a distance? Penetrates barriers better? Less wind drift? Better suppression effect? Less deflection?

      • Dale this explains the choice quite nicely

        • Bbmg

          By that logic, a 25mm bushmaster cannon is a lot more powerful than a 7.62 rifle, so maybe we should chamber it for that instead.

          Again, no doubt the bigger round is more powerful – but that is not the only factor to consider.

          • Dale

            Bbmg, I was showing why the 7.62 works well at a couple hundred yards to penetrate and destroy barriers, but as you alluded to, a bigger round isn’t as practical in an LMG.

            The step up from 5.56 to 7.62 does make a big difference though in delivering kinetic energy on target, and seems that the “penalties” for going to 7.62 (not as much ammo/heavier loadout) outweighed sticking with the existing platforms chambered in 5.56

          • bbmg

            Agreed, what I would question though is whether the 7.62 is a sufficient step-up in performance to justify the logistical price. Interesting to note that General Dynamics had cooked up a 5.56 version of the minigun, the XM214 “microgun”, which failed to generate any orders as it was deemed to be underpowered, while in its original 7.62 chambering the minigun is still with us today. This does seem counter-intuitive, because for the same weight of ammunition the microgun would be capable of shooting for longer that its 7.62 equivalent, even at the blistering rate of 10,000 rounds per minute, and that’s not a lead shower I would want to be exposed to. If the M855A1 can go through 3/8″ mild steel plate at 300 metres, picture over 150 of them coming at you every second…

          • Dale

            The 150 grain 7.62×51 round has double the muzzle energy (2,648 ft.lbs) of a 55 grain (1,282 ft.lbs) or 62 grain (1,255 ft.lbs) 5.56 round, and retains nearly as much energy at 500 yards (1,089 ft.lbs) as the 5.56 in either load does from the muzzle. In comparison, the 5.56 rounds hit with 339 and 386 ft.lbs respectively at 500 yards. That’s a sufficient step up in performance to justify the logistical price in my book, and probably one of the reasons that the General Dynamics XM214 was deemed to be underpowered; miniguns are externally powered, platform mounted weapons, so weight isn’t a huge concern most of the time when it comes to ammmunition. What does come into play is the role of the LMG in disabling “hard” targets such as vehicles and structures; in this role, the 7.62x51mm gains significant advantage over a 5.56 platform. It would be interesting to see how a caliber such as the 6.5 Grendel fairs in this role, however.

            In response to keeping a sustained rate of fire with 5.56 rounds out of the XM214, it’s not counter-intuitive; more rounds for longer periods of time means more friction and a lot more heat, even in a multiple-barreled weapon. This heat problem would lead to the possibility of cook-offs and barrel warp and rifling erosion much faster than the same weapon in 7.62. More does not always mean better when it comes to sending bullets downrange.

            Being able to send 166 rounds per second downrange with enough energy to disable the majority of threats encountered seems like a good compromise for ammunition weight on a fixed system, although the equivalent in 5.56 would wreck absolute havoc in an anti-personnel role at close range.

          • bbmg

            I guess it boils down to what you expect from your LMG. If it’s simply fire support in a firefight at medium ranges with similarly equipped opponents, the 5.56 would seem to be more than adequate. On the other hand, for harder and further targets, clearly bigger is better. My contention in this case though would be that a scoped semi automatic 0.338″ or 0.50″ rifle would be effective out to longer ranges than a 7.62 LMG.

          • Dale

            The entire point of having a 7.62 LMG is that it is a man-portable system which balances the ability to carry a decent amount of ammunition with adequate stopping/penetration power with the ability to lay down suppressive fire at a decent cyclic rate. Esh325 mentioned that Afghans were “more afraid” of the 7.62 round than the 5.56; the fact that people are “more afraid” of the round translates into a more effective tool for routing combatants or keeping their heads down. out of interest, what do you expect from your LMG?

            It’s worth keeping in mind that there is no one “perfect” tool for every job imaginable; you wouldn’t use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail unless you absolutely had to, would you? The same goes for weaponry. It’s silly to think that the 7.62×51 round would even come close to being an effective anti-material caliber if you’ve got someone with a semi-automatic 12.7×99 platform capable of reaching out past 1800 meters, but they can’t assume the role of an LMG with that weapon platform. That’s the reason that you have members of a squad fulfilling niche roles that overlap in certain areas, and then someone with a radio. Actually, if you really want to get technical, communications (cell phone, radio etc.) are the most effective weapons in contemporary warfare, provided that call is answered in a timely fashion.

          • bbmg

            Looking more into the suppressing fire issue, there does seem to be a lot on the internet about it, quotes along the lines of “The Taliban ignore 5.56 mm, are worried by 7.62 mm and fear 12.7 mm rounds” though it is hard to put a significant value on “fear” in order to compare calibres. I’ve never been in a combat situation and likely never will. I can imagine though that if one was being shot at from 750 yards with 7.62 and only had 5.56 to reply with, I would be crying out for a bigger calibre myself. That being said, I don’t envy the guys who have to lug the ammunition around. This MoD report is of interest: – the conclusion seems to echo what many people in this comment thread are saying, that ultimately a new intermediate round is the solution.

      • Bbmg

        No doubt that a 7.62 hits harder than the 5.56, but it has to hit. Having twice as many rounds makes it more likely that a hit will be scored, and if anything a larger volume of fire enhances suppression effect.

        As to lethality, a bad guy hit in a vital area with a 5.56 is just as dead as one hit by a 7.62, so prefer the round that makes it more likely to hit.

        • Esh325

          You can carry more .22 LR than you can 5.56×45. The ability to carry more cartridges is not very important if the round in question is not meeting the goals of the user. The British seemed to have thought otherwise in Afghanistan. They did a study that said the Afghans feared the suppression effect more of the 7.62×51, than the 5.56×45. I imagine with the setup of the soldier in the pic above, he wouldn’t have a problem hitting somebody. The 7.62×51 MG is by no means perfect, but the 5.56×45 MG didn’t seem to be cutting it for them, and they weighed the pros and cons, and decided the 7.62×51 was better.

          “As to lethality, a bad guy hit in a vital area with a 5.56 is just as
          dead as one hit by a 7.62, so prefer the round that makes it more likely
          to hit.”

          That might be true, but I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that in actuality. Pin point shot placement is difficult in actual combat.

          • Bbmg

            This article is pretty convincing:

            Obviously if they made the switch then there must be more to it, but what I would question is whether in practice it is actually demonstrably better, or simply is perceived to be better.

          • Esh325

            I’m not of the opinion that the 5.56×45 should be replaced, I think the main problem is the M885, not the actual round. And I don’t agree with him necessarily that the 5.56×45 never had problems. I think he’s a bit bias for the 5.56×45, not really objective. In this article,they seem to admit that there was a problem with the M885.

          • bbmg

            I agree that the 7.62 is a more reliable weapon in terms of lethality, but reading some of the other comments, I would be concerned that there might be factors other than calibre effectiveness that could have driven this contract. Of course that is speculation on my part, it could just as easily be that the boys on the ground wanted to throw heavier chunks of lead downrange and the army made it happen.

  • Although logistically hard to do, going to 6.5 grendel would solve most of the issues of rifle/carbine and LMG ammunition commonality. It would also as give rifles the extended range they need to engage at distance as well as be lighter and less bulky than the old 7.62 Nato.

    • Esh325

      It’s hard to say really. The Japanese used 6.5x50mm Arisaka which is more powerful than the grendel and they didn’t seem to think it served very well as a machine gun round which made them go to the 7.7x58mm.

  • mog

    The 5.56 keeps their heads down, the 7.62 takes their heads off.

    • Rijoenpial

      Good one! I have always been of a mind of saving money, so one bullet instead of spraying a bunch of them is the way to go in my book… That is why of all the soldiers, I prefer the snipers… Fire discipline to the fullest! Hoorah!

  • I love this weapon 🙂

  • Esh325

    It’s interesting countries are coming to a similar conclusion the Soviets did that you can’t shove one caliber in multiple roles. The Russians replaced DP-28 with the RPD, and later the PKM when they figured out the 7.62×39 wasn’t such a great light machine gun cartridge.

  • Michael

    Who wants to carry extra weight? I would supplement but not replace.

    Switching to a knew round, 6.5 Grendel,or 7mm would be the best solution. And going to 338Lapua for long range rifle, HMG use. But NATO will not switch, not with current budgets.
    Several tests came to the conclusion that 7mm was best, but no military has used it

    5.56 is a good compromise for modern soldiers in Urban enviroment, which is where most of the people live and future conflicts will probably be.

    • Dale

      While changing caliber to the 6.5 Grendel or 7mm would cure a lot of problems, a few realities remain:

      1: 5.56×45 and 7.62×51 and 12.7×99 stockpiles aren’t going anywhere soon.

      2: A larger round with more recoil takes more time and ammunition to become proficient; shooting a 5.56 is like shooting a .22 on steroids, and inspires a good deal of confidence in those with little to no training after minimal trigger time. It’s also worth noting that only hits count, and that keeping multiple rounds on target with intermediate or large caliber weapons in close quarters is not impossible, but much more difficult and not everyone has the budget to spend on ammo/training. I’ll take putting 4-6 rounds of 5.56 quickly and efficiently into center mass on a target over 3 rounds of an intermediate cartridge into center mass and having to account for recoil any day in extreme close quarters shooting.

      3: While I agree that the 6.5 and 7mm cartridges would be ideal for a LMG platform, and then transitioning it into infantry small arms afterwards (which would make for one common caliber between most roles) the 7.62x 51 works just fine, and convincing bureaucrats to spend money on something that won’t immediately save them money or be a cure to their problems is wishful thinking.

      I’d love to see the 338 Lapua move to supplement the 12.7×99 HMGs- it’s a more ballistically appealing cartridge for long range use in most scenarios- but once again it comes down to logistics and previous stockpiles.

      I would say that the 5.56 isn’t a compromise at all in an urban environment given the right ammunition; a 77 grain projectile traveling at 26-2800 feet per second will do serious damage to soft targets at close range, and even out to 600 yards if you know how to take it out that far. The 7.62×51 in the LMG role makes sense because what the 5.56 lacks in ability to penetrate barriers, the 7.62 makes up for in spades.

      • Michael

        Bean counters will not change caliber. Pity, but what we have works, Its just that a 7mm would work better. I don’t think it would be worth changing, but if you introduced something to replace something that is worn out it is worth considering.

  • Lance

    SMART move 5.56mm is so puny for a MG caliber and despite weight the upgrade can make squad gunners in NZ army much more effective at range and destructive power. Good move NZ!

  • 11b

    15 grand per?!? Jesus. I remember the SAW costing around 5-6… maybe this is with the optic and other accessories?

  • Axel

    Switching from 5.56 or 7.62 to whatever caliber wouldn’t be so damn expensive if they would just sell off their stockpiles. Dammit, not too long ago it wouldn’t have been unrealistic to sell off the old rifles as well…

  • creamy47

    I think its a good change. I’d rather have to carry more heavy hitting 7.62 with a slower rate of fire than the wonderful high volume of what we have now. Vets still stand by the effectiveness of the B.A.R. and M60

  • sakitla

    Another day another cartridge, 10 years from now they will change back to 5.56 saying it will be cheaper to have a common cartridge…..sigh….

  • idahoguy101

    As a Squad level thirty calibre automatic weapon the BREN gun was kept in service with a 7.62 NATO barrel into at least the 1990’s

  • Riot

    The PKM is by no means latest generation and its only slightly heavier than a minimi.