The CETME AMELI Light Machine Gun

The CETME AMELI was developed by Spain’s state-owned small arms institute, Centro de Estudios Técnicos de Materiales Especiales or CETME. It was an attempt to develop a light machine gun chambered in 5.56x45mm. Its name, AMELI, is an acronym for ‘Ametralladora ligera’ – simply Spanish for light machine gun.

Development of the AMELI began in 1974 under the supervision of Colonel José María Jiménez Alfaro (who would later become the director of CETME). The Ameli was officially unveiled in 1981 and after undergoing exhaustive military trials was adopted into service in 1982 as the standard squad-level support weapon of the Spanish Army under the designation MG 82. It was manufactured by the Santa Bárbara National Company (now General Dynamics Santa Bárbara Sistemas) at the La Coruña factory.

Centrefire automatic machine gun - CETME Ameli (about 1982) (1)
Early NA or standard model AMELI (Royal Armouries)

The initial model was the NA variant, or Standard Model. This is the model that closely resembles the MG-42 with its conical flash hider. The Spanish military, however, wanted a lighter gun and the NB variant was designed, this is easily identified by the straight flash hider that is now integral with the barrel and not part of the barrel shroud.  The NB model reduced the unloaded weight from the original 7.24 Kg (16 lbs) to 5.4 Kg (12 lbs). However, this weight reduction and the use of materials of lower cost than the original trialled guns caused reliability issues with the AMELI in service. Both variants had a rotating rear disk sight, graduated from 300 to 1,000 metres, and a folding front sight. A mounting block for a British SUSAT optic was later added to the top cover.

Ameli with Winter Trigger Group
Detail view of the AMELI’s receiver from a factory brochure, also featuring the transparent belt boxes which did not go into service (source)

Parts breakages and stoppages plagued the AMELI in service and gunners had to take great care of their weapons to keep them serviceable. One issue was that the stamped forward barrel shroud was a press fit over the receiver and held in place by steel ‘barbs’. Rough handling and downward pressure on the bipod during manoeuvres and firing caused the shroud to deflect, this caused accuracy and functionality issues. To alleviate these problems the Spanish Marines went so far as to TIG weld the forward barrel shroud to the receiver, this fixed most of those issues.

The AMELI’s shape resembles the MG42 machine gun but the similarities are external only. While the MG42 uses the short recoil system (where the barrel and bolt recoil together a short distance before separating), the AMELI employs a roller-delayed blowback action with a fixed barrel and a fluted chamber. This system was also used in the CETME Model A, B, C and L rifles, as well as in the HK G3 rifle, the HK 33 rifle and the HK MP5 submachine guns. Similarities with the CETME Model C and Model L rifles are limited to the commonality of the takedown pins and no other parts contrary to popular myth!

Centrefire automatic machine gun - CETME Ameli (about 1982)
Later NB variant of the AMELI – note also the different pistol grip profile, more similar to a CETME L rifle’s (Royal Armouries)

Both AMELI models have similar rates of firing of around 1,000 rounds per minute. The AMELI used the same feeding system used in the MG42, it had a cross bolt safety located at the rear of the top of the pistol grip and a quick change barrel system. To remove the barrel you pull the two sides of the barrel latch, which is built into the rear sight assembly, rotate the handle clockwise until the gate in the side of the barrel shroud opens and then pull the barrel back out of the gun. The front of the barrel is secured by a round ball detent which clicks into the front of the barrel shroud.

CETME also developed a top feeding magazine adaptor system, perhaps inspired by the contemporary FN Minimi’s ability to feed from magazines as well as a bolt. The Bren-like adaptor allows a STANAG magazine to be loaded in upside down into the action. To fit the adaptor the gun’s top cover and feed tray had to be removed. To deal with the magazine housing now obscuring the front sight the adaptor had a new set of sights – one at the rear and a new ‘front’ sight built into the side of the magazine housing, a little like the Australian F1 submachine gun. This short sight radius isn’t too practical for a light machine gun.

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A still from the video showing the top feed magazine adaptor’s sights, note they’re offset to the right and the protected front sight is built into the magazine housing (Vic Tuff)

The AMELI was sold to only a few operators apart from the Spanish Military, the Mexican Army and the Malaysian PASKAL Naval Special Forces have used the AMELI but the current status with those operators is unknown. In Spanish service the Ameli has almost entirely been withdrawn from service, being replaced with the Heckler & Koch MG4 5.56x45mm LMG. This is partly due to reliability issues and the original guns being worn out and with spares and new guns no longer available as the original manufacturer ceased manufacture in 2013 and went out of business.

Mexican Army Ameli
Mexican Marines with an NA model AMELI (source)

The AMELI is an interesting machine gun that should have had more success than it did. It was sadly a victim of government cost cutting which much like the British SA80 undermined the quality of the finished product. The story of the AMELI also reminds me of the ArmaLite AR10 produced by Artilleries Inrichtingen in the Netherlands, in so much as the AMELI was produced in very limited numbers (around 3-4,000 guns), in various models and variants with no clear defined history as to why aspects of the design were changed. Evidence of this was seen when a very good contact of mine bought up all remaining inventory from the CETME factory some years ago including around 30 Ameli’s. Apparently there were variations between every one they bought!

Specifications (from CETME brochure):

Length: 97cm (38.2 inches)
Weight (unloaded):  NG: 6.7kg (14.8 lbs) NB: 5.2kg (11.5 lbs)
Barrel Length: 40cm (15.8 inches)
Action: Roller-delayed blowback
Calibre: 5.56x45mm
Feed: 100 or 200 round belts
Cyclic Rate: 900-1,250 rpm


Bibliography:

CETME AMELI Operator’s Manual, Small Arms Review Archive, (source)

CETME AMELI Early Factory Brochure (Spanish), Small Arms Review Archive, (source)

CETME AMELI Factory Brochure – including both models (English), Small Arms Review Archive, (source)

CETME AMELI Factory Flyer (Spanish), Small Arms Review Archive, (source)