New Infantry Automatic Rifle is Headed for Afghanistan

Five units will soon deploy with the new M27 infantry automatic rifle, a 5.56mm weapon that may one day replace the M249 squad automatic weapon. A total of 458 rifles will be delivered by the gun’s maker, Heckler and Koch, and meted out to five battalions working up for deployments to Afghanistan.

They are:

• 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.

• 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.

• 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

• 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, out of Pendleton.

• And 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, a Reserve unit out of Fort Devens, Mass.

The Corps has tentative plans to buy about 4,100 M27s, but Gen. James Conway called for limited fielding before he retired as commandant in October. He was concerned the new weapon, carrying a 30-round magazine, would not provide enough firepower to establish fire superiority in combat.

Lt. Gen. George Flynn, deputy commandant for combat development and integration, told reporters Nov. 16 in Washington that he expects the battalions involved in the limited fielding would have the weapons by this month. They’re all expected to deploy in 2011.

“We’re going to be anxious to see what the test results or what the feedback are for when the battalions actually take it out on deployment,” said Flynn, speaking at a Defense Writers Group breakfast.

It’s a matter of matching the correct weapon with needs downrange, Flynn said.

“We’ll still leave the light machine guns in the company, and the company commander will still have the ability to employ a light machine gun if he needs one,” Flynn said. “But they won’t be there in the same numbers, is the plan right now.”

Placing the weapons with one conventional infantry battalion from each Marine expeditionary force will allow Marine leadership to poll a variety of infantry weapons experts from across the Corps. They also will receive feedback from reservists in 1/25 and the LAR unit. Some of the weapons will end up on a deployment with a Marine expeditionary unit, Flynn said, but it was not clear which battalion selected for the limited fielding will deploy on ships, rather than to Afghanistan.

The units will receive the IAR with sufficient time to train before deploying, Marine officials said. That involves taking them to predeployment workups, including Enhanced Mojave Viper training at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Flynn downplayed whether the M27 will necessitate changes to the makeup of infantry platoons, squads and fire teams, saying the Corps has used several types of weapons in the automatic rifle role since World War II. When the Corps first fielded the M16 in the 1960s, for example, there was no SAW and the M16 had a selector switch that allowed Marines to fire in semiautomatic or full-automatic modes.

“So everybody could be an automatic rifleman,” Flynn said. “But we designated somebody in the fire team to be the automatic rifleman.”

photo courtesy of: marinecorpstimes.com

story by: Dan Lamothe

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