The setup;

We have discovered the ability to make super-men... well not quite, but we can do super-er men. They are...actually not that super, basically just bigger and a little more monstrous. And hey, we have some nasty mean alien things invading the planet from some strange dimension, a perfect reason to make these larger than average people and turn them into soldiers!

Simple question:

How big would someone have to be, size and weight wise, to be able to shoulder a ma-deuce (M2 Browning) and fire it singly and in full auto (akin to how someone can shoulder and fire an AR-15 or AK-47) with acceptable control and accuracy by military standards? Assume that the weapon is fitted with an appropriate stock, grip, trigger, and hand-holds.

For reference:
A video where someone actually slings and fires a m2, but his ability to control it while firing is...sub par. I believe he stops trying to fire it full-auto because of his lack of control.

  • $\begingroup$ I seem to remember reading about typical soldiers hand-carrying the M2 during WWII/other wars, although in desperate situations. Not entirely impossible, but I'd have to dig up sources $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Jan 7, 2018 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ I love the idea that, even in an advanced world with super men, the M2 continues to demonstrate its usefulness =) $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 7, 2018 at 20:59
  • $\begingroup$ During WWII, a .50 was usually carried by an 8 man team: 3 men to carry the disassembled gun (barrel, body and tripod) and the remainder to carry the ammunition and rifles to protect the gun team while moving, assembling/dissassembling the gun or reloading the weapon. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Jan 8, 2018 at 5:10
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    $\begingroup$ I might also point out that while the M2 is an amazing weapon, it has largely been succeeded by larger and more powerful automatic cannons (from 20-40mm in calibre), and even the venerable M2 can be superseded by a much lighter .50 designed and built in Singapore (infogalactic.com/info/CIS_50MG) $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Jan 8, 2018 at 5:20
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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that the M2 is excessively heavy because it is a hundred-year-old, overbuilt design intended for mounted use, and it is not representative of modern .50BMG firearms. An M82, for example, weighs 'only' 30lbs, and it would be substantially easier to retrofit an M82 with extended magazines and giant-sized controls than to convert an M2 into a shoulder-fired system. $\endgroup$
    – Catgut
    Jan 8, 2018 at 15:24

5 Answers 5


The M2, a hundred-year-old design, is massively heavy (84lbs) for the caliber it fires. Modern weapons in the same caliber, such as the M82 anti-materiel rifle or XM806 machine gun, are substantially lighter.

However, I ran the numbers, and found that the M2's ratio of recoil momentum to weapon weight is actually comparable to modern assault rifles. Thus, there are two ways to approach this question.

1. Running the numbers on the M2

The .50 BMG has approximately 11 times the momentum (and consequently recoil impulse) of the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge, a common intermediate-caliber rifle round. Dividing the M2's 84lb weight (I'm assuming the additional weight of fitting rifle furniture and controls will be offset by lightening modifications) by 11 yields 7.6lbs, meaning that a 7.6lb 5.56 rifle has the same basic recoil profile as the M2.

7.6lbs is actually a typical weight of an accessory-equipped M16A4 rifle, a weapon platform which is typically considered fairly controllable in fully-automatic fire. It's not nearly as effective in this role as a machine gun, and it's virtually always employed in semi-automatic to maximize effectiveness, but when used on full-auto it is much less spray-and-pray than, say, an AK. The M2's lower rate of fire, about 2/3 that of the M16, will make it more controllable, so this seems like a good analogue for the handling characteristics stated in the question.

So, assuming a linear extrapolation of mass to strength and proportional size increase (we're glossing over the issues involved in scaling up humans, right?) a 5'10", 150lb human wielding an M16 is roughly equivalent to a 13'0", 1650lb human wielding the M2.

2. Running the numbers on a more modern, man-portable .50BMG weapon

The Barrett M82 is a 30lb rifle intended to be carried and fired by a single person, and is much closer to assault rifle ergonomics than the M2. It is not intended to be fired from the shoulder, but it's still heavy enough that the recoil isn't bad. The M82 isn't normally capable of full-auto, but redesigning it with a full-auto trigger pack wouldn't be too difficult.

Using the 7.62x51mm NATO as a comparison, which has about one-fifth the recoil momentum of the .50BMG, the 30lb M82's recoil profile is comparable to a 6lb rifle in 7.62x51- only a little lighter than the AR-10, which was a 7.25lb 7.62x51 rifle intended to be capable of full-auto fire.

So, to have equivalent performance, we only need to scale up a human by a factor of 5. A 5'10", 150lb human now scales up to 10'0" and 750lbs.

Note that in this giant's hands, the M82 will behave like a battle rifle, not an assault rifle. Full-auto fire will, even with a reduced cyclic rate compared to actual battle rifles, will purely be for suppressive fire. For engaging point targets, semi-automatic fire will be much more effective- as is the case with every other shoulder-fired rifle, including the M16 and the big-giant-with-an-M2 described above.

If you want to tweak these numbers, or find a middle ground:

A smaller giant with the M2 will find it controllable, but heavy and difficult to carry, akin to a light machine gun in human hands.

A larger giant with the M82 will find it very light and easy to carry, but 'snappy' in its recoil, and may actually benefit from adding on a drum magazine or conversion to belt-feed to add mass to the weapon platform.

  • $\begingroup$ Good analysis. One point: the Barrett would NOT be easy to redesign to enable full auto. It isn't just the matter of the feed mechanism. The Barrett has to channel the recoil carefully, not only for the shooter's sake, but also because the construction of the weapon itself is VASTLY less durable than an M2. Simply turning it into a "full auto" without doing a lot of radical reinforcement would result in the weapon breaking itself very fast, not to mention the heat issue: the M2 is an incredibly sophisticated machine for handling HEAT, which is why it has survived unchanged for so long. $\endgroup$
    – JBiggs
    Jan 12, 2018 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ @JBiggs Interesting, do you have a reference I can read up on re: M82 fragility? Aside from the use of an accelerator in conjunction with a muzzle brake to dampen rearward travel, it seemed like a fairly typical short-recoil action. $\endgroup$
    – Catgut
    Jan 12, 2018 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ LOL my "reference" is several years in the Middle East being shot at. My buddy, who had about a dozen confirmed kills with an M82, my own experience as a machine gunner (firing things on auto a LOT), and work in the armory which I did shortly before discharge from the IDF. It is absurd to think of a mostly stock Barrett on full auto: even braced, it would come apart into many pieces very rapidly. $\endgroup$
    – JBiggs
    Jan 13, 2018 at 0:55

You need only a common man, but with uncommon valor

You can read John Basilone's Medal of Honor citation. What the citation does not say, but what every enlisted Marine knows is the gospel truth, is that John Basilone over-ran an M2 position that had previously been overrun by the Japanese, picked up the M2, cleared its jammed feed, and operated it from the standing position, single handed halting a Japanese bayonet charge.

A regular sized person can operate an M2 without a tripod...as long as they have the Heart of a Marine. Oooooohraaaah!!!!

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ I'll have to research that story, I've never heard of it before. The weapon in that pic appears to be a water cooled .30 cal however $\endgroup$
    – Marky
    Jan 7, 2018 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Marky True! But don't let any evidence get in the way of mythology... $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Jan 7, 2018 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison No enlisted Marine has carried a .30 for five decades or so. You can't mythologize what you don't know. Weapons platoon sergeant has .50 cals, thats all you need to know. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Jan 8, 2018 at 5:45
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    $\begingroup$ Logically then, they think that the men around Basilone were armed with M16A4 rifles, Marine F/A-18s and Harriers were flying out of Henderson Field, and the men landed on Guadalcanal in Sea Stallions, hovercraft, and Ospreys? $\endgroup$ Jan 8, 2018 at 8:24
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion I have been trying to research this and can't find any evidence that he lifted a machine gun. It does say he single-handedly manned a machine gun but that it was in an entrenched position. I have also found evidence he fought his way through some Japanese soldiers to get more ammunition but as far as I can tell he used a pistol and machete to do this and not a machine gun. $\endgroup$ Jan 8, 2018 at 13:53

You don't need Steve Rogers, you need Jim Rhodes.

Genetically modifying people takes too long to pay off. Investing in mechatronics is cheaper and has way less ethical concerns. It is even a reality today, in our world, by means of the powered exoskeleton. From the linked wiki:

There are an increasing number of applications for an exoskeleton, such as decreased fatigue and increased productivity whilst unloading supplies or enabling a soldier to carry heavy objects (40–300 kg) while running or climbing stairs. Not only could a soldier potentially carry more weight, presumably, they could wield heavier armor and weapons while lowering their metabolic rate or maintaining the same rate with more carry capacity. Some models use a hydraulic system controlled by an on-board computer.

So, not only is this more mass-produceable than people created in vaults, these things also will have the accuracy that comes with electronics, and you have more control over who gets the ability to go Rambo with M2's - just give suits to already trained marines and other soldiers, and turn a suit off if the user goes rogue.

DARPA has been putting serious money on it for years now, and it isn't even a secret project.

Heavy boots of lead fill his victims full of dread Source: https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2014/11/30/army-testing-load-lightening-exosuits/

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    $\begingroup$ I appreciate the idea, and agree this is a more realistic way to get a today-person to carry and operate a M2. However the scope of the scenario I proposed was basically what kind of man-like creature could handle a Ma-duce easily, rather then how to get a man to use one. $\endgroup$
    – Marky
    Jan 10, 2018 at 0:13

Maths and physics are against you: strength goes as height squared, whereas mass goes as height cubed. Now an AK has a mass of 3.5 kgs, an M2 around 38 kgs, say a tenfold increase. So your giant grunt has to be ten times as strong, that is $\sqrt{10}$ time as tall (around five meters), and so have a mass around two tons. Not very handy. Another problem: who carries the ammo? M2 cartridges are 117 grams each, and how much do you want to fire ? Semi auto is 40 rounds per minute, that is 4.7 kgs of ammo per minute. Or maybe full auto? That's 450 rounds per minute, around 50 kgs of ammo per minute. You are not going to fire for very long. How are they transported to the fight zone? Helicopter? Fuel costs, you know, and big helicopters are a nice target (Black Hawk in Mogadishu...). Truck? You need a nice road to get there, and roads are easily bombed.

The real problem, however is another: a giant man is not very dangerous.

Human knees and feet are not designed to carry much weight, and your giant man weighs a lot. A heavy person has more trouble climbing than a light one. So, if you are smart, you could just outrun him. A giant man has his feet more distant from his brain than you do, so he is more likely to trip and fall, and when one of them trips and falls over, his head falls from an higher place, and strikes the soil at higher speed.

Giants may be good for fantasy, but for scifi not so much

  • $\begingroup$ There are other questions and answers on this site discussing the feasibility of a giant. I would say that those questions are ignored by the OP. The answer should focus on the weapon, and how big someone has to be to wield it. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Jan 7, 2018 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ kingledion I want to say that a 5 meter tall man would handle a M2 like if it was a AK 47. But such a man would have trouble standing up, so it is not feasible. $\endgroup$
    – Luca
    Jan 8, 2018 at 21:17
  • $\begingroup$ Seems to me that muscle and bone strength would be more important than height. So it could only be 2-3 meters tall, but much denser muscle and bone, and be able to manage the weapon just fine. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Jan 9, 2018 at 11:52

A little perspective from a former machine gunner.

When I was assigned to the armory for a little while I got the chance to handle a lot of .50 cal machine guns. I used to carry them around fully assembled all the time (most people would pull off the barrel before moving them because they are really heavy). Firing one without any tripod is possible, but even a "super man" probably wouldn't shoulder it. They would fire it like I fired my 7.62mm machine gun: from the hip. I'd hold the bipod with my left hand, wrap my right arm around the butt to hold the grip, and pull a little against the strap with my upper body, holding the machine gun up against me. This created a nice, stable firing position. One major reason you use tracers in a belt of ammo is because it allows you to operate a machine gun without using the sights. You just watch where the tracers are hitting and correct on the fly.

A large man with exceptional strength may be able to do something like that with a "big fifty". There are some things you would need: for one, a .50 doesn't usually come with a buttstock, and the trigger is set up wrong for carrying in this way, so you would have to have the trigger mechanism replaced and a butt added to the end. In addition, you would want some kind of plastic grip for the body, so you don't have to hold a VERY hot piece of metal right up against you while firing. You would also want something to direct the hot brass away from the soldier, because having a hot .50 caliber case land on your neck is NOT fun.

Shouldering a conventional fifty caliber is probably not going to happen regardless of your "super soldier"'s strength unless he was considerably larger than a normal man. This is simply because of the weight of a .50. A very large amount of that weight is the extremely heavy barrel, which, if you were to hold the thing the way you would hold a hunting rifle, would make it impossible to stand upright unless you weighed over 300 pounds at least. When I was in the paratroopers, I was 230 lbs of solid muscle and there is no way I could have held one out like that. I'd say you would need to weigh closer to 400 pounds just to balance the thing. Figure maybe 7 and a half feet tall plus. But a very strong and large person could fire it the way I described; the same way a normal man fires a conventional LMG.

One thing to keep in mind is that the US Army is currently starting to roll out a second generation .50 machine gun which is supposed to be significantly lighter than the original. Whether this retains the incredible reliability and indestructability of the original fifty is unclear. The reason the original design was basically unchanged since WWI is because it is designed for sustained fire, unlike almost anything else a platoon of infantry has. Even my (lovely, wonderful, awesome) 7.62mm machine gun would eventually get some pretty serious heat issues after keeping up sustained fire for more than a couple minutes. Any assault rifle is in no way designed to handle sustained suppressive fire -you try that with an M-16 and you will melt it. The .50 on the other hand, is designed to just keep on firing and firing as long as you need it to and can keep feeding it (expensive) ammo. That's why the metal it is made out of is so darn thick: it doesn't warp at extremely high temperatures. Switch out the barrel and keep on rocking and rolling. The trade off is it's heavy as all hell.

Realistically, you don't need a guy to be carrying around something that can keep up sustained fire like that because there is no way that guy can carry enough ammunition on him to feed the beast. I remember when I had to hump ALL my own ammo at one point on an overland march (you are supposed to have 2 guys for each machine gun so one guy can carry the ammo) in addition to the actual "Mag". It was insane, and even being barely able to move with over 100 pounds of ammo on me, that was barely enough to keep up a sustained fire for a couple minutes (if I remember right). With a .50, you have geometrically fewer rounds in the same size ammo box, because they are so huge. That means that a human sized person (or even one somewhat bigger than normal) just can't carry that many .50 cal rounds on them, and there is no way they would be able to walk anywhere and then keep up a suppressive fire for more than a minute because they would run out of ammo before then. That means you don't need a beast like the "Ma Deuce". Think of a cross between a Deuce and a Barrett. Something that most of the time works semi-auto. Basically a really scaled up assault rifle. It would be much lighter and let you shoulder it properly.

I can see the usefulness of a .50 round in some situations, but a soldier would be able to carry a LOT more 7.62 NATO, and those have more than enough penetration for most things they would need to do (unless your aliens have some serious natural armor or something). I could see your guys using a scaled-up 7.62 assault rifle, maybe with something interesting like a pump-action grenade launcher on the bottom (too bulky to work on a regular assault rifle for normal people). Maybe a single guy on the team with a somewhat chopped down .50 machine gun for support.


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