Marine infantry squads are getting rid of their big, heavy M249 machine guns in favor of a new, lightweight automatic rifle, Matt Cox reports for Military.com, in a bet that grunts will do better firing fewer rounds more accurately than they did spraying bullets with the Squad Automatic Weapon. The Marines' new M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle uses a magazine with only 30 rounds, as compared to the belt-fed SAW, but as Cox writes, the IAR could be twice as accurate as the Marines' existing rifles. So theoretically, if Marines are hitting their targets with their first few shots, they won't need a smothering volume of fire.
As you can imagine, this is controversial. Cox breaks it down:
Former [Marine] commandant Gen. James Conway had concerns about replacing the M249 with a magazine-fed automatic rifle. His main worry was how the M27 would make up for the loss of suppressive firepower Marine gunners would give up when they went into battle without the belt-fed M249 machine gun. Program officials acknowledge that a 30-round magazine cannot produce the high volume of fire the M249 is capable of when loaded with a 200-round belt. And because gunners cannot change out over-heating barrels on the M27, they will likely keep sustained rates of fire at nearly 40 rounds per minute for 600 rounds on days with mild temperatures. They will have to reduce that to 28 rounds when the temps climb past 100 degrees. But accuracy seems to be the key to the M27's effectiveness, [Marine infantry weapons development chief Charles] Clark said. The auto rifle is already showing signs that it could to be twice as accurate as the Marine M16A4.Quite so. Cox goes on to write that service officials aren't ruling out the possibility of a higher capacity magazine for the M27, but for now, they seem satisfied with the existing 30-round mag.
Gunners shooting the M27 have been getting first-round hits on targets beyond 300 meters much more consistently than they have in the past with the M249, Clark said.
"In the training, the Marines were employing it in the semi-auto mode until they closed within 100 meters or so of the enemy and then switch to full auto to provide very accurate high rates of fire," he added. "We don't lose the ability to gain fire superiority."
But time will tell.