Bundeswehr MG3KWS Upgrade Program

MG3KWS with Steiner Military 1-5x24 scope

Originally developed and manufactured by Rheinmetall (and later parts manufactured by H&K) the Bundeswehr’s MG3 has been in service since the 1960s. Its design is essentially an improved MG42 chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO. It retains that distinctive MG42 aesthetic many gun enthusiasts love, along with the MG42’s reliability and ease of use (and, as some might argue, its far to high rate of fire). But 50 years later it is showing its age, being bigger, heavier than 21st century machine guns built with polymer and modern alloys (not to mention covered in picatinny rails). The HK121 is being adopted as the future Bundeswehr machine gun, but it will be a very long time before budgets allow enough to be procured to retire the 10,000s (100,000?) MG3 machine guns in service. Enter the MG3KWS (“Kampfwertsteigerung” or “Combat Improvements”), an upgraded version of the MG3 being developed by Rheinmetall and Tactics Group. Dr. Jan-Phillipp Weisswange, a Lieutenant Colonel of the German Army Reserve, was kind enough to share information and photos of the MG3KWS with us.



A modernization kit will allow existing MG3 inventory to be upgraded to the MG3KWS. It adds picatinny rails for optics and accessories, an adjustable stock, improved sling and a very nifty fore grip that doubles as a carry handle.


Carry handle configuration


Fore grip configuration

04-02 Schulterstütze IMG 1256 k

Adjustable stock

An improved safety and adjustable rate of fire mechanism is also in development. The venerable MG3 is not giving up the ghost just yet!

UPDATE: It is worth mentioning that the Bundeswehr has also developed its own upgrade kit for the MG3 named the Ergänzungssatz Optik/Optronik.

Photos courtesy of Dr. Jan-Phillipp Weisswange who blogs at Strategie Technik. Thanks also to Defense and Freedom blog for assistance. 

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.


  • scw

    How useful is that fore grip? It seems quite questionable.

    • Alex

      lol maybe if it wasn’t off-center it’d be of some use

  • Nicholas Mew

    Fore grip and Adjustable Butt is good. I really do not care for everything else.

  • Lance

    Happy top see the MG-3 will be in use for many years to come id take it over the HK copy of the FN MAG any day any time.

  • noob

    top cover rails – how does this one hold zero? there’s all sorts of mechanisms that cinch them down. I wonder which one this uses?

  • 11b

    Now more deadly because of the flippy thing that goes up.

    • Eric S

      I was just thinking that was the infamous ‘shoulder thing that goes up’ that makes certain guns 100x more deadlier. Now, where can I obtain a parts kit for one of these so I can use it for legitimate sporting purposes.

  • These guns look so damn cool.

  • wetcorps

    So the main problem of the gun is it’s weight and they solve it by adding three feets of picatinny rail? Seems legit 🙂

  • JT

    This would be perferct for my Jin Roh cosplay

  • bbmg

    The fact that a WW2 design is still viable for front line service means one of two things:

    1) It was fantastically ahead of its time when it was introduced

    2) There has not been much advancement in the field in more than half a century

    While many will agree that the first option has some merit, the second is definitely true.

    To give a parallel example in armored vehicles, while the Panther tank was one of the best tanks of the second world war, there is *no way* it could compete with even something like a Leopard 1 from 1965, let alone the latest Leopard 2A7.

    There has definitely been nothing like that sort of advancement in firearms that are still basically firing cartridges whose design is older than the fathers of men in the front line today.

    • Pete Sheppard

      The ‘M1911 of machine guns’?

      • bbmg

        While it is also in front line use today, I’m not sure the analogy applies. Allow me to ramble on:

        The M1911 has never been a primary combat weapon for most troops, in the vast majority of cases if you are in the military and are using your M1911 it is because you have nothing else to use.

        If your adversary is wearing body armor as he is likely to be, then having a M1911 puts you at a distinct disadvantage. If you had to pit two men in a firefight, one with a 45 ACP M1911 and the other with a FN Five-seveN, there is more than ballistic performance to consider.

        You can argue that a shot to the centre of mass (assuming lack of armor) with a 45 ACP is more likely to cause quick incapacitation than a hit from the smaller 5.7 round, and you’d be right. However, FN guy has 13 more rounds in his magazine, is firing a weapon with considerably less recoil, a flatter trajectory and is therefore much more likely to score a hit. Also, he has the capability to penetrate level IIIA body armour, which 45 ACP FMJ does not.

        In this case, I would surmise that using a pistol that is more than a century old against a more modern design will likely get you killed.

        • S O

          The M2HB has been in service a bit longer than the MG 42 / MG3 / MG51 / MG74 line. It’s certainly a good analogy in regard to longevity.

          • Rythm Divine

            True, but how crowded is the market segment for .50 compared to 7,62?

          • Martin M

            Bingo! WWI design, and still king of the battlefield!

          • S O

            It’s not really the same weapon as the first concept from late ’18. The M2 is more a ’33 design and has survived the decades despite obvious weaknesses just as the MG42 and its post-war versions did. M2HB ain’t “king of the battlefield” either. The Russians have produced several easily equal or superior designs in quantity.

    • S O

      Actually, a Panther crew would still have a decent chance to score a catastrophic penetration of a Leopard 2’s side armour in daylight. Leopard 1 could have been penetrated by Panther head-on.

      The most outdated thing about the MG42 is in my opinion the need for gloves during barrel change. And he weight was considered to be too high even during WW2, thus the MG45 development – but the Bundeswehr was tolerant in this regard.

      • bbmg

        True, there would be situations where a Panther could destroy a Leopard 2, but the point was that the Panther would be at an overwhelming disadvantage when faced with modern armor. Even a CV90 with a 40mm Bofors can penetrate the Panther’s frontal armor from 1000 metres when firing modern APFSDS ammunition.

        In a Leopard vs Panther combat, the overwhelmingly most likely winner would be the Leopard. You cannot say the same of a say Mk43 vs MG42 combat, there is no decisive advantage for the newer over the older model.

    • Esh325

      Judging from the article the Germans seem to acknowledge that there are better things than the MG3 like the HK121, but they can’t adopt the HK121 so they have to stick with a modernized version of the MG3. It’s kind of like how the USA sticks with the M14. There are obviously better designs, but it’s easier to upgrade old guns rather than buy new ones.

      • gllandn

        Especially if your not actually using them in combat. Germany has seen combat since WWII.

        • Esh325

          Germany is in the current Afghan War, but that is winding down of course.

  • J Garcia Sampedro

    Lucky me our army is not getting these kits soon. I’m too old for adding even more weight to the “negra”.

  • jamezb

    I speculated this was what they should/might do a few months back.
    I got absolutely stomped in the comments for even suggesting such a thing.

  • Simon Tan

    Roller locked short recoil is an excellent operating system only exceeded in elegance by a rotary bolt short recoil system. The Spanish Ameli was a dog because they went with a roller delayed blowback vis a full moving barrel.

    The MG42 feed system remains excellent.

    What is not so awesome in terms of weight and precision is the stamped steel construction. A forged AL 7075 receiver with steel bushings will give you good weight reduction, durability and fit. The chance of this being built is zero since nobody does short recoil anymore.

  • mechamaster

    I mistakenly thinking that carrying handle as quick change barrel handle.

  • eastern star

    In the office or on paper you can think that mg3 is a good gun but in real conditions, it sucks…

    In guerilla warfare in eastern Turkey, turkish soldiers use mg3s but they are heavy, it is difficult to carry it during long walks/deployments. and also it is so sensitive to dirt and easily mulfunctioning.

    so turkish army started to use them only at fixed positions however mobile troops use PKMs. All Turkish soldiers know that PKM is the best machine gun all around. Is is more lighter and resistant to dirt and moisture…

    This is the field experience… not theory…

  • Rythm Divine

    “Kampfwertsteigerung” is more accuratly translated to “Combat Value Enhancement”. The stock seems nice but as previously pointed out a fat reduction should have been higher on the agenda. We´ll see if it gets adopted, i have my doubts.

  • El Duderino

    Brown + rails = modern these days. Sigh.

  • Sam

    In Denmark we are doing trials to find a weapon to replace the MG3 due to its weight. Its been found out that the LMG gunner on patrol, on average will have become about an inch shorter in height, by the end of his tour from lugging so much weight around.

    • Sam

      Oh and the two weapons still standing in the trials are a heavily modified version of the M60, and the hk121.

      • Sam

  • Sam

    personally i think the israeli NEGEV system is probably the best lmg we have today, the fact that the optic is not top cover mounted, it has select fire, light weight etc.. fantastic weapon.

  • idahoguy101

    Between the MG3, the Negev, and the PKM, we’re discussing machine guns designed around three different cartridges. This seems to be missed in the comparisons of weights