MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
The Marine Corps got its first chance, in December 2010, to test the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle developed by the Heckler & Koch firearm company. Marines with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, recently got their first chance to try out the newest weapon chosen to join the arsenal of the Marine infantry units.
The M27 IAR is being phased in to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, to the initial disappointment of several gunners whose choice weapon has long been their trusted SAW they had deployed with and fought with in combat.
“When some of the guys first heard that the IAR would be replacing the SAW they were pretty upset about it,” said Cpl. Bryan Brock, an armorer with Company E, 2nd LAR Bn. “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.”
Anyone who’s had the opportunity to fire both weapons would immediately understand why Marines who had served on several deployments while carrying the SAW into combat would instantly favor an IAR they had just picked up for the first time. Despite being only magazine fed with a 30 round limit, as opposed to the M249’s belt fed mechanics allowing for hundreds of seamlessly fired rounds, the benefits of the M27 far outweigh the comparable disadvantages.
“The IAR is basically all of the best parts of the SAW and a ton of other things put into a compact rifle body,” said Brock, a native of Moscow, Ohio. “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.”
Many of the IAR’s key features are centered around providing infantry units a powerful and reliable weapon without hindering their effectiveness. In addition to having a lighter body than the SAW, every part of the IAR has holes for draining water in case in the confusion of combat the rifle gets submerged, it will remain functional.
The inside of the barrel also has a chrome lining to prevent the weapon from getting dangerously hot. If a SAW’s barrel got too hot, the gunner ran the risk of having a cook off, a term used to describe when rounds ignite without the trigger being pulled. The IAR was tested to fire more than 200 rounds in a single minute without the overheating effect. This means that the extra barrels once carried by an assistant gunner for the SAW don’t apply to the IAR’s one-barrel only design. The assistant gunner, now, is no longer weighed down and can provide more utility to the squad.
“With this weapon, at the fire-team level, all my guys can move in the same way,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nathan Aucoin, the battalion gunner. “With this weapon, squads can easily transition terrain from a desert road, to woods, to the middle of an urban community, all without having to slow down or sacrifice firepower, such as inside of buildings where the SAW doesn’t operate as easily due to its weight and size.”
Aucoin said the IAR is bringing new meaning to the term “suppression fire” and it is such an improvement over the SAW that it’s going to completely change squad tactics.
“Before, suppression fire meant using the SAW to shoot at a general area to scare the enemy into hiding while the Marines moved into position,” said Aucoin. “The IAR takes suppression fire and makes it lethal. The IAR can hit an enemy square in the chest at 500 meters while on full auto. This weapon is going to ultimately shorten the firefights between Marines and the enemy. It’s going to kill people faster and it’s good for any mission. It’s sure to be something any commander is going to want.”
Nearly 500 M27 IARs have been distributed across the Corps, with a total of nearly 6,500 expected to be fully integrated into the Corps by March of 2013, says Barbara Hamby, the Marine Corps system command spokeswoman. Infantry battalions are slated to receive 84 IARs each and keep 45 SAWs while the LAR battalions will be replacing all of their SAWs with 72 M27s.
Along with LAR battalions, other units scheduled to receive the IAR are infantry and reconnaissance battalions along with the Schools of Infantry, Infantry Officers Course and the Ordinance Maintenance Course where the Corps’ newest Marines will be trained to effectively use the weapon.
The company commanders who were at the range were immensely impressed with seeing the IAR’s capabilities in action.
“We’re going to be deploying with these weapons very soon so we definitely wanted to get some trigger time at the range before we’re relying on them on deployment,” said Capt. Rollin Steele, the Company B commanding officer. “Now I can’t wait to see these Marines in action with the IAR, bringing the fight to the enemy. This weapon is going to allow us to get more guns in the fight and it will be less taxing on our gunners than the SAW is. The IAR is a great addition to the Marine Corps arsenal.”