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Piracy News & Commentary

Heavy Machine Guns

This week the Spanish government approved the use of heavy machineguns by private security forces against Somali pirates. Some analysts have been quick to condemn this act as leading to a possible arms race at sea. The machineguns--often described in commentary as "heavy weapons," leaving an impression of more powerful arms--fire a 12.7x99mm NATO, that is, the .50 BMG round. In other words, a U.S. .50 caliber machinegun, in service since 1921, or a similar weapon. The weapon has a long range, and will be particularly effective against small boats at long distance, and, naturally, against personnel in them. It is unlikely any Somali pirate will successfully run the gauntlet of .50 caliber machinegun fire, as long as it is wielded effectively. The benefit is not only caliber (the projectile is large and heavy) but also range: with the .50 cal, pirates may be kept off at longer ranges. Strictly speaking, the .50 caliber machine gun is classified in infantry terms as part of a group of weapons more powerful than typical small arms, such as mortars and hand-held anti-armor weapons. It is best described in naval terms as a heavy machine gun suitable for defending against small boat attacks, among other targets, and for providing fire support from special operations boats and other craft.
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