Has “The Silencing” Begun? The Marine Corps Experimenting by Suppressing an Entire Battalion

    On the defense side, sound suppressors have been relegated to special roles ever since their invention. Used to give stealth to special operatives, assassins, and direct action teams, silencers have been valuable tools, but not central fixtures in normal military operations.

    However, that may be about to change. The United States Marines 2nd Division will be suppressing every single firearm in an infantry battalion – 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines – as part of an experiment to see how an all-quiet force changes the nature of infantry operations. Military.com reports:

    In a series of experiments this year, units from 2nd Marine Division will be silencing every element of an infantry battalion — from M4 rifles to .50 caliber machine guns.

    The commanding general of 2nd Marine Division, Maj. Gen. John Love, described these plans during a speech to Marines at the Marine Corps Association Ground Dinner this month near Washington, D.C.

    The proof-of-concept tests, he said, included Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, which began an Integrated Training Exercise pre-deployment last month at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms.

    Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade, the division’s gunner, or infantry weapons officer, said the Lima companies in two other battalions — 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, and 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines — now had silencers, or suppressors, on all their rifles, including the M27 infantry automatic rifles. All units are set to deploy in coming months. The combat engineer platoons that are attached to these units and will deploy with them will also carry suppressed weapons, he said.

    Wade said he is working on putting suppressors on the Marines’ M249 light machine gun and M240G medium machine gun, using equipment from Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command. The third and final objective will be the suppression of the .50 caliber heavy machine gun, he said.

    As the units conduct training and exercises with suppressors, 2nd Marine Division is collaborating with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab to collect and aggregate data. Weapons with suppressors require additional maintenance and cleaning to prevent fouling, and the cost, nearly $700,000 to outfit an infantry battalion, might give planners pause.

    Silencers – also called suppressors – have a lot of potential when used with main infantry weapons like this. While the supersonic projectiles of these weapons mean they can never be completely silent, the addition of a suppressor does lend a lot of stealth and reduces the enemy’s ability to locate and target allied forces. Maj. General John Love of 2nd Marines and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade described other benefits, too:

    What we’ve found so far is it revolutionizes the way we fight,” Love told Military.com. “It used to be a squad would be dispersed out over maybe 100 yards, so the squad leader couldn’t really communicate with the members at the far end because of all the noise of the weapons. Now they can actually just communicate, and be able to command and control and effectively direct those fires.”

    “It increases their ability to command and control, to coordinate with each other,” Wade told Military.com. “They shoot better, because they can focus more, and they get more discipline with their fire.”

    The noise of gunfire can create an artificial stimulus that gives the illusion of effectiveness, he said. When it’s taken away, he explained, Marines pay more attention to their shooting and its effect on target.

    “They’ve got to get up and look, see what effect they’re having on the enemy because you can’t hear it,” he said.

    The primary reason suppressors have not so far been handed out as standard kit for US infantrymen is that they have historically had very short life spans when used with fully automatic weapons. Another reason is that suppressors add length, and interfere with the mounting of some attachments, like bayonets and rifle grenades. However, modern suppressors have much better durability and longevity than their predecessors, and the aforementioned muzzle attachments are today considered much less important than they were in the mid-20th Century. Therefore, I think it is not a matter of “if” but “when” suppressors finally become standard issue items for modern infantry rifles, and this will be a great boon for soldier and Marine alike.

    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]