Two articles recently came out in the Marine Corps Times (which has absolutely no affiliation or endorsement by the USMC) concerning a variety of small arms related topics. The first one is a sort of M27 qualification that some Twenty Nine Palms battalions participated in (3/4, 3/7), called the Designated Marksmanship Course for the M27. This qualification is completely separate from the Marine Corps standard Table 1 that consists of the annual rifle qualification all Marines have to complete once a year. In this case, M27 gunners from these two battalions worked on unknown distance target engagement from 200 meters out to 600 meters. Gunners worked with spotters and followed a very similar method used by Sniper Platoons in that they have a time limit in estimating the target range, then have another time limit in which they must engage the targets, and if they miss, they have to reengage within three to five seconds or so. Unfortunately, per how a fire team operates, this isn’t how an M27 is employed in a live fire attack or on a typical patrol. Doesn’t it make sense and could an M27 gunner be used in this capacity? Of course, the chances that it could happen in are less than often, in combat.
Over the three-week course that ended Jan. 28, about a dozen Marines in two-man shooter-spotter teams from 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, and 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, honed their abilities to use the IAR to identify and engage targets up to 600 yards.
As an organic asset supporting tactical movement, riflemen acting as marksmen for a squad need the ability reach out and touch a target, said 1st Lt. Lauren Luther, officer in charge of the marksmanship unit and chief instructor for the course.
“It’s about finding what the Marines ‘doing the do’ — the maneuver units, the rifle companies and rifle platoons — need to be more deadly,” she said. “Marines at the squad level aren’t leaving the wire with match-grade ammunition, good optics or a sniper rifle, they’re leaving the wire with an IAR, green-tip ammunition and a [standard day optic]; [we wanted] to cover down on what they actually need.
“You’d be shocked at how bad Marines are at guessing, like 700 meters for a target that was at 275 meters,” she said. “Range estimation comes into everything we do, whether it’s call for fire, small-arms marksmanship or setting a cordon for an [improvised explosive device]; it can be taught, but it’s a very perishable skill.”
The course culminated in a real-world scenario in which each shooter-spotter team went out to the field at Range 113 at Twentynine Palms.
They were allowed 40 minutes to positively identify 10 targets at ranges between 275 and 600 yards, taking conditions such as terrain, sunlight and wind speed into consideration.
When the 40 minutes were up, the shooter engaged each target; if he missed any, he was given three seconds to adjust and re-engage.
All this is very interesting, considering that the M27 is entering into an odd sort of requirements. The initial need for it to replace the M249 SAW, was using its fully automatic capability, and extreme accuracy. However the second, we are looking at it in a Designated Marksman role. Especially in going out to 600 or 700 meters, we’re looking at the ballistic limits of the 5.56 Green Tip ammunition. This is pretty much budging into territory that was occupied by the 5.56 Mark 12 DM rifle, used in the later portions of the war in Afghanistan (which, for anyone who didn’t know, was built on A1 receivers with the full auto capability). So now we have a rifle with the capability of doing both the SAWs previous job, and the former DM rifles job, in one. Another tidbit I would like to add to this discussion is that everyone thinks the SAW went away completely. It hasn’t, in the least. The SAWs in the victor units in the Fleet, and the Reserves are still being maintained, and are now organic to the weapons platoons in the line companies. So the SAWs are still there, available for use at the CO’s discretion, they just aren’t being used.
The second article has to do with phasing out the front sight, the three point sling, and carrying handle for the M16A4, and M4 rifles. Current front sights that are integral to the rifle will apparently be replaced with a simple gas block and bayonet stud. A picatinny mounted front sight will be added to the forward rail in place of the previous front sight. The article wasn’t too clear on how this replacement would occur as this would entail some work at the unit armorer level to take every single front sight off of the rifles in that unit. Personally I don’t see a problem with the front sight to begin with, it doesn’t show up in the RCO, it helps protect the front portion of the rail, it’s extremely rugged, and it is one less thing to get lost, like a front picatinny mounted sight would be. However, the phasing out of the three point sling, and the carrying handle has been going on for some time, since at least 2012 with the three point being replaced by the Vickers two point, and the carrying handle being replaced by the Knight’s Armament picatinny mounted rear sight. The article also mentioned that the SOPMOD stock (which actually stands for Special Operations Peculiar Modification, had no idea about the Peculiar part) might be coming at least to the M4 carbines, replacing those current stocks that are routinely seen as garbage, and possibly the M16A4s with a buffer tube enhancement (which shouldn’t make any sense, as the Corps is replacing every M16A4 with an M4 soon). One of the other bits of news mentioned is that light bearing holsters will be coming to the Fleet for M9A2s. This is great, considering that most of the Fleet is still being issued those old green flap holsters, but there hasn’t been any mention of a weapon light for these rail mounted M9A2s (also seeing that the majority of M9s in the Fleet are the older versions with no rail). Either way, holster and light companies out there should take this as an opportunity for a contract.