America’s Pit Bull

The  United States Marine Corps has always done things a little differently than the other branches of the service, and that’s a good thing. You want to have various tools in your toolbox to successfully tackle any problem that may arise. The problem is, that the Marine Corps is a part of the Navy, does not get to establish its own spending priorities. As a result, it tends to be the Hand Me Down branch of the military, taking what it can get.

One of my favorite short series in recent years is HBO’s Generation Kill. It is based on real-life stories from the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom and was written by Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright, who was embedded with Recon Marines. I highly recommend watching it, because it is equal parts funny and moving. My favorite Marine depicted here is Corporal Ray Person. He explained the Marine Corps in the following way to Wright,

“We’re like America’s little pit bull. They beat us, starve us, mistreat us, and once in a while, they let us out to attack somebody.” – Cpl. Ray Person, USMC

In the scene shown above, Cpl. Person uses his dark humor to convey the fragility of life in a war zone. Video from YouTube, courtesy of HBO and Karolina.

Why start off a weapons piece with a clip from Generation Kill? Because SOFREP’s the best at combining entertainment and military information, and we can do that.

Replacing the SAW

According to the official website of the United States Marine Corps, they got their first chance to try out the H&K M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle (IAR) back in 2010. It was Marines with the 2nd  Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, who got the first shot (excuse the pun) at the testing. It was intended to replace the venerable M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, better known to grunts as the SAW. Soldiers and Marines tend to develop a fondness for the weapon systems they have initially trained on and employed, so any government-imposed chance is typically viewed with skepticism.

For those of you who may not be total gun nuts, I should take a second and note that the M27 is a version of Heckler & Koch (H&K) 416, which is available to civilians in a semi-automatic version.

Cpl. Bryan Brock, an armorer with Company E, 2nd LAR Bn was quoted at the time as saying, “When some of the guys first heard that the IAR would be replacing the SAW they were pretty upset about it. We spent a few days learning about the weapon and its features, and they were unhappy with the new weapon the whole way. Then we got to come out to the range, and now I have SAW gunners who say they’ll never go back.”

Brock went on to explain why, when most Marines got to fire one, they didn’t want to go back to the SAW. “The IAR is basically all of the best parts of the SAW and a ton of other things put into a compact rifle body. Like the name implies, it’s an automatic weapon but it isn’t limited to being fired only when in the prone position or when mounted on a vehicle. That on its own is a huge achievement since not all of the patrols we do are in vehicles. This gives the squads on the ground the firepower they need without sacrificing mobility or adaptability.”

In short, the weapon gave the Marines greater flexibility and more firepower in a lighter-weight package. This allowed for more rounds on target, and that’s what it’s all about. Over time, as the Marine Corps put the weapons to real-world use, some units, mostly Reconnaissance Marines, saw a couple of things they like to change. Among these was the length of the barrel. I wrote about this when I discussed the Sig Sauer MCX “Rattler” back in June.

A weapon with a shorter barrel allows for more maneuverability in close-quarters environments, such as inside buildings, aircraft, or perhaps a ship. It also makes it less likely for the barrel to get hung up on something when entering or exiting ground transportation as well.

This is an H&K 416D “short barrel” variant in action. It is almost identical to the Marine’s short barrel M27 but without the ability to fire full auto. The barrel here is 10.4″ inches in length compared to the 16.5″ of the full-size model. Screenshot from YouTube and Wheelchair Operator.

A Quick Fix and an Eye to the Future

For the Recon Marines to achieve their desired barrel length, they were issued replacement upper receiver groups in the form of Reconnaissance Weapons Kits. Let the armorer do their thing, and before you know it, you have a short-barreled M27 ready for action. But this whole conversion concept may become a moot point in the not-too-distant future. They don’t like to admit it in public, but, according to Business Insider,  the Marine Corps is already eyeing the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW) as its new all-purpose infantry rifle.

The US Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon. Screenshot from Joint Base San Antonio website.

Marine Corps System Command (MCSC) officials like what they see in the NGSW so much that they put out an announcement. They intend to “partner with the Army to procure the Next-Generation Squad Weapon system.” It would essentially replace the M27 as the Marine Corps’ primary personal infantry weapon. They went on to say, “The NGSW will provide a significant boost to the lethality of the individual soldier and Marine.”

But…look at the length of that barrel. I foresee a future need for new and improved Reconnaissance Weapons Kits.