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Squad automatic weapon
A squad automatic weapon, (abbrev. SAW) is a light or general-purpose machine gun, usually using a bipod and firing a 7.62 mm or 5.56 mm rifle bullet. A SAW provides fire support for a squad or section of infantrymen. The machine gun type describes the weapon's form, squad automatic weapon is its use.
The basic use of this weapon is to force the enemy to go to ground during an assault. This permits an assault to overrun the enemy position with less hazard. Therefore, a SAW must be light enough for an individual soldier to carry.
A SAW can also be used to defend against a massed assault. It is less effective in this role, because it lacks a heavy water-cooled barrel to prevent overheating.
Assault rifles often provide a full automatic setting, but troops too often become excited in combat, and waste large amounts of ammunition. Therefore, in many modern armies, military doctrine requires the average soldier to avoid using his weapon's fully automatic mode unless defending against a mass assault or an ambush.
This doctrine greatly reduces logistics loads, including combat pack weights, and aerial resupply and fuel requirements. It reduces training requirements and expense. It also extends patrol time for a typical soldier.
The problem is that this doctrine provides no fire support during an assault. The SAW was invented so that a machine gun could be carried on assaults. It is a specialist weapon to avoid unnecessary use of ammunition, and reduce both the training and combat pack loads of a squad.
When applied to civil or irregular militia, this doctrine makes private purchase of ammunition affordable, and allows militia to train and operate with standard military doctrines using non-military repeating rifles. In war time, such lightly-equipped civil militia can be easily upgraded by distributing relatively few SAWs, one per squad, and training.
- Training is reduced. Fully automatic rifles require large amounts of expensive fully automatic live-fire training before troops learn to actually hit targets. SAW doctrine reduces training costs by limiting this training to a few picked specialists, usually the men who carry the weapon and its spare ammunition.
- Effectiveness is better. Automatic fire is more difficult to aim. It is therefore less likely to hit an incapacitating part of the enemy's anatomy. A SAW usually has a bipod and shoots heavier bullets, or higher speeds than an army's standard assault rifle. This makes it more effective than an assault rifle with automatic fire.
- The equipment is more reliable. A practical assault rifle also needs to be very light weight, and is therefore prone to overheat or wear under the hard duty of fully-automatic fire. Because it's carried by a specialist, with a specialized pack load, a SAW can have a heavier barrel, and a sturdier action without unduly burdening the squad.
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