Will the Marine Corps Replace the M4 with the HK416? USMC Evaluates M27 IAR as Standard Issue Rifle

    Will Heckler & Koch’s HK416 rifle become the most successful assault rifle model of the early 21st Century? It’s starting to look that way. After the French adoption of the HK416F as their standard issue weapon to replace the FAMAS, and a likely Bundeswehr contract for the rifle on the horizon, now the United States Marine Corps is exploring the possibility of fielding its own HK416 variant – the M27 IAR – to all infantry battalions in place of the M4 Carbine. Military.com reports:

    The Marine Corps’ experimental battalion, the California-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, has been conducting pre-deployment exercises with the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle to evaluate it as the new service rifle for infantry battalions, the commander of 1st Marine Division, Maj. Gen. Daniel O’Donohue told Military.com Thursday.

    The battalion is set to deploy aboard the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit this spring. As part of its workup and deployment, it has been charged with testing and evaluating a host of technologies and concepts ranging from teaming operations with unmanned systems and robotics to experiments with differently sized squads.

    “When they take the IAR and they’re training out there with all the ranges we do with the M4, they’re going to look at the tactics of it. They’ll look at the firepower, and they’ll do every bit of training, and then they’ll deploy with that weapon, and we’ll take the feedback to the Marine Corps to judge,” O’Donohue said.

    Marines in 3/5 used the IAR as their service rifle during the 28-day Integrated Training Exercise held this month at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, California. The exercise, also known as ITX, is the largest pre-deployment workup for deploying battalions, and typically one of the last exercises they’ll complete. O’Donohue said the ubiquity of ITX would give evaluators ample data as they contrasted results with the different weapons.

    “All you have to do is compare this battalion to the other battalions going through ITX,” he said.

    But officials do see some potential drawbacks to equipping every infantry Marine with the weapon.

    “One of the things we’re looking at is the rate of fire,” O’Donohue said. “You can burn off too much ammo, potentially, with the IAR. We have a selector, a regulator [showing] how many rounds the Marines shoot. So that’s one area we’re examining with experimentation.”

    Another variable is cost.

    Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade, the gunner, or infantry weapons officer, for 2nd Marine Division, told Military.com the M27 costs about $3,000 apiece, without the sight. Because the Marine Corps is still grappling with budget cutbacks, he said he was skeptical that the service could find enough in the budget to equip all battalions with the weapons. He said a smaller rollout might be more feasible.

    The Marine Corps recently made the change from the longer, heavier, less adjustable M16A4 rifle to the handier and more versatile M4 Carbine, but the many felt the adoption in 2009 of a variant of the HK416 as the M27 IAR offered the Marine Corps a “back door” to adopting a new infantry rifle. Now, it seems that sentiment may prove prophetic, as the Corps turns its eye towards the M27 after it has spent 6 years of service as a support weapon.

    It seems to me that the primary benefit being considered with the M27 is its selector settings, different from the M4 and M16A4 in that they provide fully automatic fire instead of burst. The US Army felt similarly to the Marine Corps, but took the route of simply converting all their M4s to the fully automatic capable M4A1 variant. Whether the Marine Corps also takes this route, or decides to fully embrace their M27s as a standard infantry weapon, remains to be seen. However, from here, the possibility a few years down the road of a wildly successful Heckler & Koch thanks to multiple HK416 contracts with France, Germany, the UK, and the USMC, does not seem all that far-fetched.

    Own own Miles Vining gave me his comments on the M27 and its testing as a potential replacement for the M4:

    Ever since we first received the M27 in 2010, the true intentions of the IAR seemed to have some mystery to them. Although it took over the role of the M249 SAW, the light machine gun was still retained within the Weapons platoons of the infantry line companies. And indeed on deployments, the SAW was still carried out on combat patrols.

    However, something that immediately stood out about the IAR was it’s superior accuracy. In training I vividly remember hitting Ivan targets out to 500-600 meters with ease, and on deployment Marines in my platoon were easily engaging targets traditionally reserved for machine guns and Mk.12 rifles. In fact, this push towards an M27 towards a DM role was even covered by TFB earlier.

    Indeed, combat in Helmand proved that the Taliban overly favored engagements with PKM medium machine guns outside of traditional M16A4/M4 rifle range. Thus, unless a foot patrol had an M240, DM, or attached Sniper team, chances of returning accurate small arms fire was very minimal. In fact, one of the early battalions in Helmand, I believe it was 1/6 or 2/6, took to humping .50 BMG M2s on patrol in 2008, 2009 time frame.

    Even when the M27 was introduced, one of the legitimate rumors in the Lance Corporal Underground was that the M27 was a back door way to bring in a much more reliable AR platform for the Infantry, or else why still keep the SAWs?

    Nathaniel F

    Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. He can be reached via email at [email protected]