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More than a year after announcing it was experimenting with a rifle for infantrymen, the Marine Corps has said it will distribute the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle to more Marines, including those outside of the infantry squad.
The M27 is currently carried by just one member of the fire team, the automatic rifleman. But Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Military.com in December that the service plans to field the rifle more widely.
Each member of the rifle squad will receive the $3,000 rifle, as will others outside the squad, though the exact number has not been finalized.
“I don’t think mortars and javelin guys need the M27,” Neller told Military.com, but artillery forward observers, fire-support team members, and engineers might get them. “I’m going to wait and see,” Neller said. “It’s not that much [money].”
The M27 was introduced in 2010, initially meant to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. The 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines carried out pre-deployment exercises with the M27 in late 2016 to evaluate it for wider use in infantry units.
Neller — who has said he thinks a “big-ass fight” is on the horizon — suggested in April he was considering providing all riflemen with M27s, which have a slightly longer effective range than the M4 used by other members of the squad.
M27s also have a free-floating barrel, which reduces the effects of rifle movement during firing on accuracy, as well as a proprietary gas-piston system that makes it more reliable and reduces wear. The rifle’s cost and the possibility its higher rate of fire could lead to more ammunition use were two potential drawbacks Marine Corps officials examined in late 2016.
A request for information issued by the Marines in February asked for 11,000 M27s, which would be sufficient to equip every squad. A pre-solicitation issued in August requested up to 50,800 of the rifle — a move by the Marines to make sure that gunmaker Heckler & Koch was able to supply an order that big, according to Military.com.
‘I’m ready to say yes’
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade, the weapons officer for 2nd Marine Division, told Military.com that competition and larger orders had helped bring down the price the service would pay for new M27s, making it comparable to what the Corps paid for M4s.
Marines may be getting a plethora of new gear in the near future. A 13-man infantry squad that Wade called the “Über Squad” was outfitted this summer with a range of equipment for an 18- to 20-month experiment, with plans for the squad to take their new kit on a full training and deployment cycle in Europe.
Squad members were given an M27 with a suppressor and Ops-Core helmets with built-in hearing protection systems to muffle loud noises while enhancing other sounds a Marine may need to hear in combat. The squad was also outfitted with 60-round Magpul polymer drum magazines as well as light body armor used by Marine Special Operations Command and advanced night-vision goggles.
Late last year, Marines were spotted doing live-fire drills with the M38 Squad Designated Marksman Rifle, which carried a more advanced scope than the M27 as well as a suppressor. The Corps plans to designate one infantry squad member as “marksman” and equip them with the M38, allowing them to engage targets at 300 to 600 meters.
The Marines have tested new ammo for the M27, looking to switch from M855 5.56 mm rounds to the M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round used by the Army.
Marine officials have said the M855A1 round causes reliability and durability issues with the M27, but lawmakers have complained that maintaining two types of rifle round leads to waste.
The Marine Corps has also been looking at outfitting entire infantry battalions — from M4s to .50-caliber machine guns — with suppressors.
U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment fire the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle during a live-fire weapons exercise at range F-18 on Camp Lejeune, N.C., Dec. 8, 2017. The M27 has been introduced to different units throughout the Marine Corps within the last six months. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Michaela R. Gregory)
Wade said in late 2016 that three companies were using suppressors on all their rifles, including their M27s. Bravo company of 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines was the first of those units to deploy, arriving in Norway in May 2017. That unit’s members heralded the new ease of communications allowed by the suppressors.
The Corps is also considering testing a new kind of optic. Wade told Military.com he hopes to test different scopes with different infantry squads to build a case for more powerful gear. The Marines are planning to outfit infantry squads with new rifle-mounted laser range-finders, allowing squad leaders to call in airstrikes and artillery.
All the gear being tested may not end up with Marine units, and more equipment may be rolled out in the future. And Neller downplayed the expense, indicating he could sign off on new gear soon.
“The money to buy all that other stuff, the suppressors, the ear protection enhancement, the different helmets, it’s not a lot of money in the aggregate,” he told Military.com. “So I’m just waiting for them to come back, and I’m ready to say yes.”
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