AMELI: Spain’s Not-Mini-MG42 in 5.56mm

The AMELI (which is a contraction of “ametralladora ligera”, or light machine gun) was introduced by CETME in 1981, and adopted by the Spanish military as the MG82. It was a counterpart LMG to the new CETME-L 5.56mm rifles, and is a mechanically fascinating design.

The AMELI is a roller-delayed blowback system. Although it takes a lot of visual cues from the MG42, it’s not simply a copy of that classic. What makes the AMELI so intriguing is it combination of excellent mechanical simplicity, light weight (6.7kg/14.7 lb), and handiness. It is a belt-fed gun, with a rate of fire around 900rpm – fast, but not too fast.

Unfortunately the AMELI suffered a reputation for fragility, and never saw widespread adoption or real commercial success. It was adopted by Spain, Mexico, and Malaysia in limited numbers, but was replaced by the H&K MG4 in Spain in 2008. Production ended in 2003, with only 3000-4000 apparently being made.

Big thanks to DSA for giving me the opportunity to disassemble and film this one for you!


  1. That single groove in the bolt that allows the gun to go back together “wrong” should have been engineered out of it before it ever went into initial fielding, and it should have been discovered there and corrected, if it were still present.

    Thinking about this, you have to wonder if this isn’t the mechanical equivalent of the syndrome you see in a lot of software documentation and design… The folks doing the documentation already know how it all goes together, and how it’s supposed to work, so they don’t document the stuff they think is obvious. Which the actual end-users don’t find at all intuitive or obvious…

    With software or any other designed thing, you always want to take completely unexposed people into your testing phase of design, and watch them interact with your product. This is one of those deals like the animal behavior folks that set up an escape room with 9 different ways to get out for some chimps… The chimps found a tenth, an eleventh, and then a twelfth way they hadn’t thought of.

  2. An exceptionally well thought-out firearm. Probably my favorite SAW in 5.56, as far as design goes.
    Unfortunately, production guns ended up being pieces of junk.
    Problem was that the Santa Barbara Arsenal had not put anything in mass-production for decades before the AMELI (the problem with state-owned arsenals, that made so they went out of fashion, except for maintenance. You can’t really stop and resume, at years distance, making firearms, and expect an acceptable quality standards, or to iron-out all the industrialization problems), and something happened between the industrialization and the production phases that made so the guns self-dismantled in the hands of the operators.
    It’s a shame a proper weapon manufacturer had not put its hands on the design.

    • I dunno that I’d say it was “well thought-out”. Part of that should include the implication that it was capable of being serially produced by the people slated to build it, at the cost that the people contracting for it could afford… In that regard, the AMELI wasn’t “well thought-out”.

      I don’t know what exactly went wrong with the CETME Modelo “L” and the AMELI, but a guy I met who claimed to be familiar with it all (Spanish military) said the problem was that CETME designed and produced the two weapons and then handed them off to Santa Barbara for production. In between, the Soviet Union collapsed, the Spanish government went into “Peace Dividend” mode, and severely cut the planned budget… Which then led to issues at Santa Barbara because they were trying to build the guns without sufficient funding, which reduced a lot of the options they had for quality control and additional production engineering.

      What this guy told me was that the pre-production test examples were great; the production versions were all shiite. Which probably indicates that the budget cuts caused a lot of the problems, and that the weapons weren’t ready for prime-time service absent more field testing and modifications.

      As well, I think the “5.56mm NATO doesn’t like roller-delay actions” syndrome probably played a role. The only people that ever managed to make that work affordably use the initials “H” and “K”, and even they’ve abandoned the idea now that the initial cadre of Black Forest gnomes has gone into retirement…

      I have to agree that the AMELI is one of the sexiest-looking 5.56mm MGs out there. What I’m unsure of is whether or not it’s everything you need in a squad support weapon in that caliber, or whether or not that is even a thing. I still think I’d prefer something like a PKM in that role, in a grown-up caliber. I wanna see parts flying off the vehicles I’m shooting up, and you just don’t get that with 5.56mm…

      • I specified that’s my favorite design among those in 5.56, it doesn’t mean that 5.56 is the ideal round for a SAW.
        “well thought-out” means that the weapon was functional, ergonomic, and producible, and there is nothing in this design that tells me it lacks in one of those departments. There is nothing I can see in there that’s too complicate, hard to manufacture, difficult to use. It’s a simple, clean design, of a lightweight SAW, easy to use, field strip or disassemble. Infact, by any account, “pre-production test examples were great”.
        A design being well though-out can’t guarantee that who manufactures it does it properly. ANY weapon design can be poorly made.

        • I can see your points. I loved the AMELI from the first I saw of it, but the execution turned out to be a little on the inadequate side.

          I think the idea of a Squad Support Weapon, a SAW, in the individual weapon caliber is a questionable concept. If there’s a target that needs to be engaged with a belt-fed? I want to engage it with something that’s gonna blast through cover and concealment; I wanna see parts flying off, bodies bouncing. I want to be able to do that out to the max range that I can engage off a bipod with. This isn’t something you can do all that well with an M249, sadly. Or, any of the other various lightweights out there. The RPK has been de-emphasized in Russian service, and I think rightfully so. I happen to believe that we got the caliber mix right, when the squad had the M60 as its base of fire. Hell, I’ll go you one better: I think the squad ought to have two of the damn things, minimum. Three fire teams, two with 7.62 MG teams, and one with a Carl Gustav.

          Not a huge believer in either restraint or moderation when at war. You shoot at me and my guys? I wanna be able to remove the surrounding grid square you’re firing from.

          • I repeat my personal classification of service “rifle” rounds based on muzzle energy.
            Under 2200 Joules: good for personal weapon, decent for SAW, bad for GPMG.
            Between 2200 and 3000 Joules: decent for personal weapon, good for SAW, decent for GPMG.
            Over 3000 Joules: bad for personal weapon, decent for SAW, good for GPMG.

            As for real use of existing weapons, in Ukraine, when you see a MG gunner walking with the riflemen, he’s carrying a PKM. MG3 and FN MAG are vehicular / fixed position weapons. Ukrainians are impressed by the volume of fire they can provide, but they don’t carry them in action. That of the PKM is the weigh limit of a viable SAW, so if you want to make a SAW in 7.62 NATO, you need a design that keeps it into 7.5 kg weight.

          • “(…)RPK(…)”
            This weapon should not be directly compared to AMELI. It is chambered for 7,62×39, which from very start designed for trinity of weapons (carbine, automaton, machine gun) and as such it was made to retain enough lethality up to 1000 meters, as opposed to 5,56×45 mm NATO cartridge. It is feed from magazine rather than belt and with user interface as similar to AKM as possible. If comparison must be done AT ANY PRICE it make more sense to do it against belt-fed RPD.

          • When I was in Kandahar in 2012 with the 82nd Airborne, that’s almost exactly how my infantry squads were arranged, especially on air assault missions where we knew we’d be in a fight. 12 men, three fire teams of four paratroopers. Each team had a 240L or a Mk48 in 7.62×51. The third team had either a belt fed or a Carl Gustav depending on what we thought we were going to run into. We had the M249 Para versions, but since we had the Mk48s as theater provided equipment we usually didn’t bring them out unless we were conducting platoon or larger sized operations (I think we only had two per platoon but I can’t recall). Most of our daily movement to contact and clearance operations were a section-sized element of paratroopers (often with a 60mm mortar team attached) and a squad of ANA or ALP who usually had at least one PKM and RPG. We could put down a lot of firepower with that mix…

      • At 1.7 kg heavier than a Minimi, and 2.4 kg heavier than a AMELI with the hassle of having the feed cover under the barrel, it doesn’t click many boxes to me.

        • The MINIMI beat it out during the SAW competition… Need we say more?

          As I recall, the test reviews of the HK23 were positively scathing. About the only way it’d be a good idea for someone’s army would be if they’d already type-standardized on the HK33, and just wanted to keep beating their heads on that overweight wall…

          If the US had found the HK33 to be the best SAW in the competition, I’d lay you some long odds that the production here in the US would have been a f*cking nightmare. If you think that Beretta had problems replicating the Val Trompia production lines in Accokeek? LOL… Try to imagine HK ramping up for SAW production in the US, without the Gnomes.

          Can’t see that ending well, TBH.

          • If I remember correctly Greece, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan produced HK products. Do you want to tell me that they have better engineers that the USA ?

          • They had extensive support from HK, which now that it’s no longer available (the skills apparently being highly perishable…), they no longer really produce the roller-delay systems any more…

            My own take on the roller-delay weapons systems is that they’re difficult to produce affordably in the high-pressure/acute pressure curve calibers like the 5.56mm. Which is why they’ve failed, every time someone cheaps out on manufacture of them. The Germans and Swiss got theirs into production affordably because they had the requisite fussiness and attention to detail. The sort of thing that doesn’t translate well out of the Teutonic master craftsman mentality.

            I’m told that even late-war production German aviation engines exceeded the tolerances for a lot of peacetime production US stuff; acquaintance of mine was involved in restoring the motors of some of Paul Allen’s warbirds, and he described tearing into some of the recovered engines and being left in awe of how carefully and precisely everything was fitted; things we didn’t bother with, even for post-WWII peacetime engines built for things like the Mustang and Corsair that were flying into the Korean War.

            I kinda suspect that the rough-and-ready mentality of most US metal workers might not have resulted in affordable HK23 production…

  3. Didn’t get to watch the complete video til the 4473s were done. Fascinating the trunnion is held in place by clamps. Perhaps not the most ingenious machinegun design ever – but a very interesting design element for the 3-D printing community.

  4. The already pointed out design short-comings, which look correctable to me. (unlike the Kirk’s bane the M60 machiengun). The AMELI seems to have hurt with its production quality or rather lack thereof. Reminds me of the CETME L, that also was made cheaper than was good for its design. For the army at least. The Guardia Civil ones or the reproduction(?) ones like Ian’s personal CETME L seem fine. Which ultimately hurt the AMELI’s reputation deservedly. Well both were introduced in the late 1980ies, and Spain’s army was pinching pennies a lot it seems. And both designs look pretty good, with some wrinkles to be iroend out. The CETME L was pretty quickly after about ten years replaced by the G36, which is reliable, but they did not get around to replacing the AMELI, which is rather odd IMHO, because by now each and every officer will have had bad exepriences with it in service and some of them will have ended up in procurement.

    • The AMELI had not been replaced in Spanish service because there was nothing to replace.
      The AMELI was intended to replace the MG3 in the infantry support role but, due to the shortcomings, it never managed to do that, so the MG3 remained in service.

    • I would quibble with your characterization of what I’ve said about the M60; the M60 was eminently fixable. They just never bothered…

      There’s nothing wrong with the basic design principles on that weapon. It takes features and operating systems off of other, far more successful, designs. Where they screwed up was in executing and integrating all those “borrowed” features. The M60 has always had potential, in terms of what it could have been. It’s just that they never bothered to realize any of it. The poor thing was inflicted on US soldiers in what amounted to a developmental state, still in dire need of refinement and fixing. Nothing on the gun couldn’t have been overcome through better design and execution.

      As for the AMELI in Spanish service, I’ve never heard that they meant for it to replace the MG3. I was under the distinct impression that it was to be a Squad Automatic Weapon, with the MG3 remaining as a heavier option as needed.

      There was a lot of stupidity surrounding the belt-fed 5.56mm machineguns of the world; lots of people thought they’d replace the 7.62mm NATO fleets of machineguns, particularly in infantry operations. That did not work out, for fairly obvious reasons to anyone with even a slight exposure to machinegun operations and doctrine; you simply cannot do with a 5.56mm weapon what you can do with a 7.62mm one. You fire a belt of 5.56mm into a vehicle, and you may well find that the damn thing is still operational; do that with a 7.62mm MG, and parts go flying off.

      We were at an end-of-year “EXPENDEX” with a bunch of M249 and M60 ammo. Wasn’t a lot we could do with the ammo that was at all useful for training, due to time constraints and a bunch of other crap, so there we were, just firing it off. I put the M249 and the M60 into tripod operations and fired them at the range hulks downrange. You put a full 200-round belt of 5.56mm into the side of an M113 hulk, and about all you got was a bunch of scored paint, a few penetrations, and that was it. You put 200 rounds of 7.62mm into that same range hulk at about the same point of armor thickness, and you got a hole you could see light through. That’s how much difference there is between what the two classes of machinegun can do.

      Troops in the open out to about 800m? Yeah, 5.56mm is nice. Anything else? Gimme that 7.62, please. Better yet, if there are vehicles in the target mix? .50 caliber…

      • “The AMELI was intended to replace the MG3 in the infantry support role”, not totally. The MG3 was going to remain in use for the heavier role it, or the FN MAG, has in other armies (vehicles, prepared positions…).
        In he end, due to the failure of the AMELI, the MG3 in Spanish service remained to cover the entire spectrum.

  5. Gast gun; type designs, in .556mm… High rate of fire, lower recoil; hit probalilty thing; weld a plate to bolt carrier of “This” attach this… To the… Hold on a sec… Er… The one of… Another… So! 1st (This gun, imagine.) fires, bolt impinged not by a spring; but by other gun… Quite… 2 secs… Sooo… 1st bolt overcomes; said guns mass, opens… Maybe opens… Actually may take a few hours; 1800rpm though’ish… Bonnie gun; light gast gun improvement, whats not to like; rollers… Hmmm… I see… Few days maybe. Top spring! Bang!!, have to think this through… But a light gast gun…

    • I stand by that comment; by this, roller bolt; gast gun design. Forthcoming. At some point… Only thought of that, by seeing this. Hit probabilty… That.

      • I do… Because, otherwise 7.62×39 or Nato is better… But is it? If! If it hit, 1st… Double tap, lark… One, hits… One might… Before they duck. Digging up rocks etc, is after one ducks.

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