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Empty Shell Defense XM556 Microgun

Some firearm prototypes, no matter if obtainable, practical, affordable – or not – turn even the most jaded eyes their way.

The MAGPUL FMG-9, for instance. The AAC Honey Badger. The HK XM8…and we might as well add Empty Shell Defense’s XM556 Microgun to the list. It is one of those doubletake-worthy things that are currently unavailable, but high on the list of things we want to see show up with a price tag someday.


Billed as “the world's first hand held 5.56mm microgun” by the maker, their XM556 is akin to the iconic General Electric / General Dynamics / Dillon / Garwood 7.62mm six-barreled, rotating machin-guns most military and action movie fans are familiar with — but shrunk down to 5.56mm, and then shrunk down more from that.

A good bit more.

Empty Shell Defense XM556 Microgun-1

Because there was once a much earlier design 5.56mm minigun, they use the same General Electric nomenclature of “microgun” for the 5.56mm machine-gun, but it’s distinguished by being the world’s first “hand-held” because it’s really, really small. Far be it for anyone to call a fearsome, 4000-Round-Per-Minute machinegun “cute”, but, let’s face it – its like a tiger cub. Sure, the claws are there, but it’s just so adorbs!


The GE-XM214 Microgun was also designed to be a smaller 5.56mm minigun when it was engineered back in 1966; it was intended to use the same rotary bolt-electric-powered Gatling design principle of the larger 7.62mm gun, but there are many things that set the ESD weapon apart. The Empty Shell Defense unit is significantly smaller and lighter than even an FN M249 SAW, much less a 7.62mm GE minigun. And it’s not just the shorter barrels or scaling existing miniguns down: it's a whole new take on the bolt design, with other innovations aim to make it not only lighter, but more reliable and less wear-prone.

To give a comparative idea of size, whereas the General Electric original M143 Minigun in 7.62 weighed at 35 lbs for the gun alone, and 250 lbs for an entire “shootable” system, less ammo, the comparable 5.56mm systems stack up like so:

ESD Microgun Prototype XM556
Overall Weight: 16 lbs
Overall Length: 22” (with either 10” or 16” barrel options)

General Electric Prototype XM214 Microgun
Overall Weight: 36 lbs (gun alone)
Overall Length: 27”

The General Electric 5.56mm design was marketed, flopped after selling 10 experimental units to the US Air Force, was taken over by General Dynamics, given another sales push, and then never saw full production. It quietly disappeared from GD’s catalog in 2011 after potential military customers never adopted it. (The lighter bullets didn’t perform very well in the door-gunner role, and later efforts to sell it as a ground gun never… took off.) Giant defense conglomerates have different goals and processes than individual inventors do though.

It’s claimed the ESD firearm was designed from scratch by, as they describe it, “…one guy over the last two and a half years with no training, no college, just a GED.” There’s apparently more than 14 patent pending improvements to the basic M134 design, and clearly a lot of passion in the project.

Empty Shell Defense XM556 Microgun

In short, the potential takeaway here, kids, is that you should spend the money saved on not going to college on patent filing costs, attorneys to ensure your designs stay yours, and lots of 3D titanium prototype printing, because that approach right there will get you noticed by RECOIL magazine.
We’d be remiss not to mention two things: machine-guns made after May 19, 1986 are not transferable to civilians, so no matter what comes of this, no, you’re not getting one personally (and we don’t like that fact any more than you do). However, ESD has apparently knocked around the idea of manufacturing a crank-fire civilian version which would be legal without the Post-86 machine-gun ban issues.

We understand it’s all prototype for now, but we’ll be keeping an eye on this one around here — and you can bet we'll be putting our hands on it if they'll let us.

“It felt like he was holding a jackhammer in his hands and sounded like a giant was ripping a canvas sail to bits.” Tom Clancy, world famous novelist, describing the M134's distinctive sound.

“It sounds like a deity angrily farting.” Some guy named Kel Whelan who writes for RECOIL, of the M134's distinctive sound.

For now, check out their Instagram page @empty_shell_llc

For specs on the gun check out their website.

Video Credit Empty Shell LLC.:

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