Development of the MG30 took place under the direction of Louis Schmeisser at Rheinmetall's Sömmerda office. However actual production of machine guns was prohibited in Germany under the Versailles Treaty, and the design was rejected by the Reichswehr. Rheinmetall then turned to other companies and licensed the design to Solothurn in Switzerland and Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG in Austria. Production soon followed, entering the armed forces of both countries as the Solothurn S2-100 and Maschinengewehr Solothurn 1930, or MG30, respectively.
The gun fired standard 7.92mm ammunition, fed from a slightly curved 30-round magazine inserted in the left side of the weapon. The machine gun can be fired both in semi-automatic and full automatic mode depending on how far the trigger is pulled, with a rate of fire between 600 and 800rpm in full-auto. It included a folding bipod attached two thirds down the barrel.
Rheinmetall's Borsig office modified the MG30 design for use as an aircraft gun, producing the Flugzeugmaschinengewehr 15, or MG15. The primary changes were the use of a double-drum magazine holding 75 rounds, and the addition of a removal of the stock for use inside the cramped quarters of a bomber. Further modification in 1936 led to the MG17, which included provisions for belt-fed ammo in addition to the drums, increased the rate of fire to about 1,200rpm, and was suitable for use with an interrupter gear for shooting through the aircraft's own propellor.
In 1942 aircraft guns had increased dramatically in size, and the 7.92mm weapons were no longer considered useful by the Luftwaffe. Many were then sent to the army, who started a program to modify them into ground-based weapons by adding a bipod and simple metal stock.