Tuesday, May 15, 2018 — “Every Marine a rifleman,” they say. The full quote, by Gen. Alfred M. Gray, 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps, is, “Every Marine is, first and foremost, a rifleman. All other conditions are secondary.” Today, the United States Marine Corps is in the process of upgunning its riflemen.
The M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle, originally intended as a replacement for many (but not all) of the M249 SAWs in Corps inventory, has since been designated the new standard infantry weapon for the entire USMC. The M27 IAR is based on the Heckler & Koch HK416, a piston-driven rifle that serves in a number of militaries and is, perhaps, most famous for being the rifle Navy SEALs supposedly used to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011.
The IAR was chosen from a number of contenders when the Marines were looking for a lighter, more rifle-like squad-level support weapon, but the IAR’s capabilities and the lackluster performance of the M4 carbine in the open spaces of Afghanistan and other dusty wildernesses led to the decision to equip every Marine with one.
Like the M4, M16, and M249 that it is replacing, the M27 fires the 5.56mm cartridge. More precise than the M249, it turns suppressive fire from a volume approach into a quality approach with an extended range that is especially useful in the mountains and deserts where America’s enemies seem to be found so often these days.
Taking the IAR to the next level, the M38 is the marksmanship version of the M27. The M38 is an “accurized” model of the IAR, equipped with a Leupold TS-30A2 Mark 4 MR/T 2.5-8x36mm variable power scope. The M38 will be issued to one designated marksman per infantry rifle squad, giving each squad an even-longer reach against targets at 600 meters and beyond.
The designated marksman approach has been evolving since the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, when the U.S. Army began issuing M14 rifles (chambered in 7.62mm) to add range to its squads armed with M4 carbines for urban combat in the villages and cities of Iraq.
While many members of the sniper community are quick to criticize the designated marksman concept in general and the M38 specifically as being woefully incapable, it’s important to recognize the difference between a rifle squad’s designated marksman and a dedicated sniper. It is very possible that, as the M27 is issued to every rifleman and every Marine can reach out beyond the 300m or so that the M4 is good for, that the need for a designated rifleman may evaporate. The modular nature of the platform could bring designated marksman-level equipment to every single shooter, and the only people complaining about that will be the bad guys.
Meanwhile, the sniper community should rest a little easier knowing that the Mk13 Mod7 is on the way to the scout snipers. Unlike the M38 for standard rifle squads, the Mk13 Mod7 is a true sniper rifle. Intended to finally replace the M40, the new sniper is chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum and is effective beyond 1000m. The M40, based on the 7.62mm Remington 700 bolt-action, has served capability since Vietnam, but its days as the standard Marine sniper rifle are numbered as it struggles to reach 1000m and sometimes leaves Marine scout snipers a little short of what they need.
“If we get picked off at a thousand yards before we can shoot, then what’s the point?” one anonymous reconnaissance sniper asked back in 2015. Originally used by Navy SEALs, the Mk13 Mod 7 will help ensure that Marine snipers can shoot before they or their fellow Marines get “picked off.”
The Marines are still busy working out details and budgets, but experience in the combat zone has taught them that upgrades are needed. These new rifles—M27, M38, and Mk13 Mod7—will make every Marine rifleman more effective on tomorrow’s battlefields. They know that every other condition is secondary.