The Marine Corps has taken the last major step to field the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle to all infantry battalions by the end of next year.
Leaders recently awarded a contract worth up to $23.6 million with the maker of the 5.56mm machine gun, Heckler & Koch Defense of Ashburn, Va. The company plans to begin delivering more than 3,600 IARs to the Corps early next year, said Robert Reidsma, who oversees the IAR program for HK. That’s in addition to 458 of the weapons sent to units beginning late last year as part of an experimental fielding called for by Gen. James Conway, before he retired as commandant in October 2010.
The decision closes a chapter on a decade-long debate concerning whether the Corps should drop the firepower available in the belt-fed Squad Automatic Weapon in favor of a lighter, more accurate automatic rifle. Full fielding was approved this summer by Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, and is expected to begin by March.
The IAR will serve as a one-for-one replacement for the M249 SAW in Marine rifle squads and light armored reconnaissance scout sections, said 1st Lt. Jamie Larson, a spokeswoman with Marine Corps Systems Command of Quantico, Va. In conventional infantry battalions, virtually every four-man fire team will have an IAR, with three per squad, 28 per company and up to 4,476 across the Corps, Marine officials said.
The IAR will be fielded with standard-issue 30-round magazines, rather than the 200-round drums common with the SAW. Marine officials said the auto-rifle’s benefits outweigh firepower concerns, however. The Corps also will still keep six SAWs in each rifle company to be used at the commander’s discretion, primarily in defensive positions and other spots where a light machine gun could be beneficial.
“As demonstrated throughout extensive development and operational testing, and during combat operations in Operation Enduring Freedom, the M27 IAR is significantly more accurate than the M249 SAW,” Larson said. “The increased accuracy of the M27 improves automatic rifleman and small-unit lethality, mobility and survivability.”
The weapon was first fielded in Afghanistan this spring by 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Just a few months into the battalion’s deployment, Amos approved full fielding.
Marines with 1/3 have since returned to Kaneohe Bay, but the weapon is downrange with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.; 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.; and 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, a Reserve unit out of Fort Devens, Mass. First LAR, out of Pendleton, is expected to deploy with it later this year.
Marines with 1/3 were deployed in Afghanistan’s Garmser district and saw sporadic engagement with insurgents. Still, the unit had at least two recommendations for the weapon that the Corps has taken under advisement, Reidsma said.
The initial 458 weapons were kitted out with a standard three-point combat assault sling, but Marines experimented and decided they preferred the Vickers Combat Applications two-point sling made by Blue Force Gear of Pooler, Ga., HK’s Reidsma said. Each weapon in future deliveries will be outfitted with one of them, and HK will deliver additional Vickers slings to retrofit weapons already fielded, he said.
The Corps also decided to incorporate new MantaRail rail guards on the IAR. Made by Advanced Innovation and Manufacturing of North Royalton, Ohio, the polymer rail guards have a no-slip rubberized feel and can be cut to size to easily cover wires attached to equipment on the rifle.
HK has sent representatives across the Corps to assist in training Marine armorers, Reidsma said.
By Dan Lamothe
Oct 31, 2011