at the turn of the 20th century, machine guns had become one of the most devastating weapons that a soldier could equip. Some of the machine guns that first appeared in World War II are still in used today, most prominently the German MG3 of 1959 and its predecessor, the MG42, which originated in Nazi Germany.
Designers and manufacturers in the United States and Germany dominate the list of the fastest-firing guns ever produced for combat. The popularity of these guns has resulted in different variants produced in several countries by different makers over the decades.
To identify the fastest firing guns in the world, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed information on maximum rate of fire (measured in rounds per minute) from Military Today, American Rifleman, and The Range 702, in addition to other online sources. Maximum effective firing range, cartridge, and original manufacturer for each gun were identified from a variety of sources.
The maximum firing rate of the fastest automatic weapons ranges from 1,200 rounds per minute by the MG3 to an astonishing one million (yes, million) rounds per minute from a prototype of the boxy, 36-barrel Metal Storm – a gun that’s arguably too fast and furious for any purpose except as a record-holder.
Maximum effective firing range for these guns starts at a weak 984 feet for the Metal Storm and extends as far as 6,561 – about one-and-a-quarter miles – feet for the fearsome MG42. Effective range is the range at which a bullet maintains its intended trajectory. This should not be confused with maximum firing range, which can be three times that distance or more, but with rapidly degrading accuracy beyond effective range. Maximum effective ranges listed here may only apply to certain variants of these guns, assisted by engineering tweaks or accessories like tripod mounts and optical sights.
> Maximum rate of fire: 1,100-1,200 rpm
> Maximum effective firing range: 3,937 ft.
> Cartridge: 7.62Ã51mm NATO cartridge
> Original manufacturer: Rheinmetall
The Rheinmetall MG3 general purpose machine gun was derived from another gun on this list, the MG42 – one of the most feared weapons used by the Axis that could be fired by a single soldier. The MG3 is lighter than the MG42. It also has a slower maximum rate of fire, considered an improvement because it uses less ammunition, reducing instances of overheating. The MG3 gun and its many variants and derivatives are still used today. They’ve been manufactured under license by numerous companies or governments including Italy’s Beretta, Mexico’s Ministry of National Defense, and MKEK of Turkey.
> Maximum rate of fire: 1,500 rpm
> Maximum effective firing range: 4,593 ft.
> Cartridge: .30-06 Springfield rounds
> Original manufacturers: Buffalo Arms Corporation, Rock Island Arsenal, Saginaw Steering Gear
The M1919 Browning was America’s answer to Germany’s MG42 during World War II. Versatile and highly reliable, the M1919 could chamber 10 different cartridges and could be mounted on tanks and aircraft. It had a tendency, however, to overheat more frequently than its Nazi equivalent. The typical rate of fire for the M1919 series is up to 600 rpms, but the AN/M2 variant can spit out up to 1,500 rpms.
> Maximum rate of fire: 1,000-1,800 rpm
> Maximum effective firing range: 6,561 ft.
> Cartridge: 7.92Ã57mm
> Original manufacturer: GroÃfuÃ AG
Used by the Axis during World War II, the MG42 was nicknamed “Hitler’s Buzzsaw” by U.S. troops. Facing one was a frightening experience for a battle-hardened Allied solider ordered to take out a Nazi machine gun nest. Because of its higher firing rate, the MG42 also overheats sooner than its successor, the MG3, which came out in 1959. The MG42 still fulfills a need in the general-purpose machine gun class.
> Maximum rate of fire: 1,350-1,800 rpm
> Maximum effective firing range: 2,401 ft.
> Cartridge: 7.92×57 mm
> Original manufacturer: Großfuß AG
The MG45 resulted from an attempt to reduce the cost of production of the MG42. Engineering tweaks allow the MG45 a faster maximum maximum rate of fire, but a significantly shorter effective firing range. However, time ran out for the Nazis before they could mass produce and deploy the weapon, and, in any case, overheating, ammo consumption, and punishing recoil were factors that tampered the gun’s effectiveness compared to that of the other German general purpose machine guns on this list that are still used today.
5. Heckler & Koch G11
> Maximum rate of fire: 2,100 rpm
> Maximum effective firing range: 1,312 ft.
> Cartridge: 4.73X33mm caseless
> Original manufacturer: Heckler & Koch
This oddball Cold War-era German machine gun looks more like a “Star Trek” prop than something that would be used by troops patrolling the perimeter of the Berlin Wall. But this was no plastic prop. It fired a unique type of lightweight caseless ammo at a rate of 33 bullets per second. The gun also had an internal buffering system that would absorb a lot of recoil instead of passing it to the operator. Despite these qualities, the G11 was a complicated, over-engineered gun requiring a special armorer to completely disassemble. The bullet chamber also had to be replaced frequently. Defense cuts during German reunification in 1989 put an end to the G11 project.
4. GAU-8 Avenger
> Maximum rate of fire: 4,200 rpm
> Maximum effective firing range: 4,000 ft.
> Cartridge: incendiary projectile
> Original manufacturers: General Electric, General Dynamics
The GAU-8 Avenger is the gun that gives the A-10 Warthog ground support aircraft its unmistakable “brrrrrrt” when fired, which to U.S. ground forces is a joyful sound indicating that the enemy in the distance is being obliterated. During the Gulf War of 1990-91, this massive hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-style “autocannon” shattered more than 900 Iraqi tanks and 3,200 military vehicles and artillery pieces. The gun is roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, not including its eight-foot-long barrel.
3. MK15 Phalanx
> Maximum Maximum rate of fire: 4,500 rpm
> Maximum effective range: Classified
> Cartridge: 7.62 NATO rounds
> Original Original manufacturer: General Dynamics
The MK15 Phalanx is a Close-In Weapon System (CIWS, pronounced “sea-wiz”) designed to protect naval vessels from missile attacks. Like the GAU-8 Avenger and the M134 Minigun, the MK15 Phalanx is a Gatling-style gun. The system, which weighs up to 13,600 pounds, is an autonomous last-chance defense system. The latest version of this radar-guided giant machine gun can expel 1,550 20mm rounds of its magazine in about 20 seconds. As the name suggests, it’s the last line of defense of a warship from an incoming missile.
2. M134 Minigun
> Maximum rate of fire: 6,000 rpm
> Maximum effective firing range: 3,280 ft.
> Cartridge: 7.62 NATO rounds
> Original manufacturers: General Electric, DillonAero, Garwood Industries, Profense
In a way, the six-barrel Gatling-style M134 could be considered the small sibling to the A-10 Warthog’s massive GAU-8. It fires standard NATO rounds, but at a much higher firing rate than other guns using the same ammo type. In Vietnam, the M134 was mounted on helicopters, offering protection from ground-based small arms and RPG fire. The gun was less prone to overheating and its high firing rate could mow through the dense jungle and thatched village huts that Viet Cong soldiers used as cover. The Minigun is still used today, mounted to land, sea, and air vehicles.
1. Metal Storm
> Maximum rate of fire: 1,000,000 rpm
> Maximum effective firing range: 984 ft.
> Cartridge: 9mm
> Original manufacturers: Metal Storm Ltd., DefendTex
Like the weird, overly engineered Heckler & Koch G11, the Metal Storm has never been deployed. Essentially, it’s a proof-of-concept. One prototype Metal Storm discharged an astonishing 180 rounds in just one hundredth of a second, creating a devastating wall of caseless 9mm bullets fired electronically from the 36 barrels of this boxy-shaped gun. But the bulky Metal Storm has limited applications in actual combat, and there are other weapons that can be as effective with a less ravenous maximum rate of fire, such as the MK-15 Phalanx. Australia’s DefendTex currently holds the rights to produce the weapon.
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