Marines: Competing for New Infantry Rifle Would Have Cost Millions

A member of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, fires the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle during a live-fire weapons exercise on Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Dec. 8, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Michaela R. Gregory)
Military.com | By Hope Hodge Seck

By choosing the already-fielded Heckler & Koch M27 as the new service rifle for Marine Corps infantry squads, the service saved up to $24 million and avoided years of delay, top leaders told a congressional committee this week.

In a hearing on readiness before a panel of the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Marine Corps brass defended the service's decision to publish a request for proposal for more than 15,000 of the M27, which is already serving as the Corps' infantry automatic rifle.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., chairman of the HASC subcommittee on readiness, expressed concern for the U.S. industrial base as the Corps prepares to make the large purchase from German company H&K.

"Do you believe the U.S. defense industrial base could support such a request and ... do you believe that issuing a sole-source contract for such a large number of rifles from an internationally based company poses any logistical readiness challenge in meeting the demand for not only rifles but supplementary parts?" Wilson asked the three general officers testifying.

Lt. Gen. Brian Beaudreault, deputy commandant for Plans, Policies and Operations, said the Marine Corps had held an open competition before the M27 was originally fielded in more limited quantities in 2008.

"It would cost probably ... I've seen a figure as high as $24 million, to go through a recompetition for that weapon," he said. "There's no additional requirements, it's to purchase as-is, and it's simply an increase in a quantity of a weapon."

Beaudreault said the Government Accountability Office had also completed a report looking at the Corps' request and found it "within legal parameters" to pursue the sole-source contract the service wants. He added that the Marine Corps is now in the final stages of setting a price with H&K for the lot of M27s.

"Do I think the industrial base could support those types of quantities? Absolutely," Beaudreault said. "But what we would experience by reopening a competition would be, perhaps not being able to recover the additional money that would go into the [competition] ... and probably a two-year delay in fielding that weapon to the rest of the infantry."

Commandant Gen. Robert Neller confirmed to Military.com in December that the Corps had committed to purchase the M27 for all members of infantry squads to replace the M4 carbines they currently carry. Weapons experts say the M27 is more accurate and has a longer effective range than the M4, and would place greater combat power and lethality in the hands of infantrymen.

What hasn't been clear until now is how many of the high-end rifles the Marine Corps planned to purchase. In February 2017, the service published a request for information for 11,000 infantry automatic rifles; then last August, it published a pre-solicitation for up to 50,000 M27s.

Beaudreault told Wilson the request send to industry was for 15,000 rifles, enough to equip squads, with some left over for others as well.

Neller told Military.com he was considering giving the weapon to other ground combat Marines, including artillery forward observers, fire support teams, and even engineers.

"I'm going to wait and see," he said in December. "It's not that much [money]."

The Marine Corps does expect to get a good deal on the rifles this time around. At SHOT Show in Las Vegas in January, H&K executive Robert Reidsma told Military.com that global demand for the M27 was driving down cost. The larger order the Corps is making will help too.

"Obviously, they want a bigger quantity and the economies of scale have changed," he said then. "I think it's one of the most affordable prices I've seen for the capability they're getting."

On Tuesday, Beaudreault emphasized that going with the M27 isn't just the cheap and fast choice for the Corps. It's also the best option, he said.

"The Marine Corps looked at some other options, and the M27 outperformed some of the other weapons that we're also considering," he said. "So it's a great weapon, gets great reviews from Marines, and we were very eager to try to get it fielded as rapidly as we could."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @hopeseck.