Marines Downsize Squad Formation to 12 Men Outfitted with M27 IARs

The U.S. Marine Corps announced earlier this month their plans to drastically overhaul the composition of infantry rifle squads, cutting the total number of infantrymen from 13 to 12 but outfitting each member with a new M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle (IAR).

The move comes after over a year of testing various squad formations using the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, as an experimental infantry unit. Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said the development will make the squad “more lethal, agile and capable,” and better able to maintain its effectiveness in future warfighting.

Previous configurations were led by a single Squad Leader who commanded three fire teams. Each fire team was composed of a Team Leader, an Automatic Rifleman, an Assistant Automatic Rifleman, and a Rifleman. The new configuration replaces the Rifleman and Assistant Automatic Rifleman with a Grenadiers and adds two new leadership positions to assist the Team Leader: an Assistant Squad Leader and a Squad Systems Operator.

While the new configuration loses one infantryman, each member of the new squad will be equipped with a new M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle, effectively tripling the firepower of each squad. The IAR, based on the Heckler & Koch HK416, offers a longer effective range and better accuracy than the M4 carbine currently fielded to infantrymen, according to Military.com. The IAR is even more effective than the old M249 previously carried by the Automatic Rifleman.

“Testing has also conclusively shown that the M249 is a ~12 MOA weapon; far less reliable, responsive, and has a slower rate of fire than our Automatic Rifle,” said then-CW5 Christian P. Wade, the 2nd Marine Division’s Gunner, in speaking about the difference between the old SAW and the new IAR.

SEE ALSO: U.S. Marines Double Down and Order Another 15,000 M27 IARs from Heckler & Koch

The Squad Systems Operator will also be able to manage the growing suite of advanced technology, including a small backpack-capable quadcopter capable of looking over the next hill or block to provide the unit its own airborne recon capability.

Neller said the new positions will be filled at the squad’s discretion, though the systems operator might be the most technologically capable infantryman in the squad and the assistant squad leader would most likely be the next most senior Marine after the squad leader.

Neller also noted that the new changes are reversible if the need arises.

“That 4th Marine that we’re used to having is not going to be cut,” he said to an audience of Marines at a Marine Corps Association awards dinner on Thursday. “We’re not going to fill that billet, but it’s not going to degrade your readiness. Because if this doesn’t work, and you need to go somewhere where you need four Marines in a fire team, we’ll bring that Marine back.”

“Everything we want to do has to be reversible,” he said. “It’s easier to add a person to your fire team than it is to break two fire teams back into three.”

The new changes are set to take effect FY 2020.

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{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Paul May 19, 2018, 2:49 am

    In my days we had the M14, M16 and M16A1. The M14 had a selector lock that limited the rifle to semi auto fire. It could be removed by an armorer for use by an automatic rifleman. Both the M16 and the A1 had a selector for semi auto and full auto. The latter was meant for final protective fire (fpf) only unless carried and used by the automatic rifleman. Th M16A2 and SAW came after my time. I wonder why the official stance was to use semi auto fire or 3 round burst (A2) in previous years and now every Marine needs an automatic rifle. I’m sure they will find that the old spray and pray will resurface and well aimed fire will be diminished. I think it’s a case of reinventing the wheel. Adding a tech Marine with a drone and a rifle sounds like an excellent idea. One last thing, how much will all that weigh?

  • MarkB May 18, 2018, 6:47 pm

    they are claiming 300% more firepower…but wouldnt that mean 300% more ammo..and the MAWS, drone, electronic gear…plus all the basic ‘kit’..who is going to carry all that….that must be an inhuman loadout

  • Keith May 18, 2018, 12:21 pm

    The military is staying with the old less effective 5.56 x 45 firearms I see. What a surprise. I read the Marines teach soldiers to shoot their targets three times. Maybe they would not need to do this if they went with a more powerful rifle round like the 6.5 x 39 Grendel.

    • Zupglick May 18, 2018, 2:10 pm

      7.62 X 39. Larger projectile, more reliable, more diversity in ammo. 6.5 Grendel is a target shooters round.

      • Keith May 22, 2018, 9:00 am

        I like the 7.62 x 39 round only it is not effective in an AR-15 rifle. For civilians with AR-15 rifles I believe supersonic .300 AAC Blackout is a good alternative. It has similar ballistics to the 7.62 x 39.

  • mauser6863 May 18, 2018, 11:41 am

    I have never read a bigger load of excrement in my life (that wasn’t written by a politician). The “Magic” M27, an H&K copy of the existing M4/M16 was able to “effectively triple the firepower of each squad.”

    Wow they dropped the belt fed M249 that carries 100 or 200 round belts and has a quick change barrel, in favor of a heavy barreled rifle that holds 30 rounds. Obviously someone from Harry Potter must have pointed their wand and said, “Smelly Armpit” to get these amazing results that defy logic and reason.

    The sustained rate of fire of the M249, without overheating the barrel is listed as 50 r/min. The M249 has a cyclic, or maximum, rate of fire of between 650 and 850 r/min. The Marines stated rate of fire of the M27 IAR is 36 RPM with a maximum rate of fire of 700 to 900 rounds per minute. Now on paper, maybe they are not lying, but what about reality. Does anyone doubt that a belt belt machine gun, with a heavier and quick change barrel, is going to provide a higher rate of sustained fire than a fully automatic rifle.

    The M27 IAR weights around 9 pounds. The M249 weiM249 is 1,000 rounds in five 200-round belts, although up to 500 extra rounds generally gets loaded into 100-round soft pouches (“Nut Sacks”). The M27 IAR, “Will make the squad more lethal, agile and capable and better able to maintain its effectiveness in future warfighting. I doubt all those statements. The typical loadout for a “Automatic Rifleman” is supposed to be 22 x 30 thirty round magazines (660 rounds). A normal infantryman carries around 7 magazines (210 rounds). Ammo in belts is lighter than ammo in magazines. Magazines have to be retained and reloaded by hand, belts are disposable and come preloaded in the ammo can.

    “Testing has also conclusively shown that the M249 is a ~12 MOA weapon; far less reliable, responsive, and has a slower rate of fire than our Automatic Rifle,” said then-CW5 Christian P. Wade, the 2nd Marine Division’s Gunner, in speaking about the difference between the old SAW and the new IAR. Again, I seriously doubt 12 minute of angle. So less than 12 minute of angle, guess they think the internet doesn’t exist. The mechanical accuracy of the open bolt M249 is way better than that. In an apples to orange comparison, the semi-automatic closed bolt M249S with a magnified optic can routinely manage 1 to 1.5 minute of angle groups with match ammo. The German WW2 MG42 shot around a 6 mil cone of fire from a bipod and was very effective. So the less than 12 Minute of angle claim for the M249 is jus more lies trying to justify a very bad decision by the Marine Corps brass.
    Machine guns are supposed to function as long range shotguns, placing a cone of fire in the target area, that achieves hits on targets that are bounding from cover to cover on the battlefield. While inaccuracy is never a feature, controlled dispersion is desirable to ensure hits on moving targets at range, which is the machine guns job.

    So the bottom line is, according to the Marine Corps, that the new M27 IAR is the best thing since sliced bread. The gun is heavier than the M4, more expensive and the piston system is less reliable and less accurate than a DI gun. The advantage of the piston system is easier cleaning and better compatibility with sound suppressors, provided you pick the right suppressor and have a suppressor gas setting on the gas block. The silly M38 SPR version seems to be having a lot of problems as the Marine Corps attempts to create a designated marksmen rifle from their parts bin of leftover suppressors and scopes. You have to wonder what people are thinking sometimes, especially those who should know better.

    If the Marine Corps has a Bromance with the H&K 416, that’s fine with me, but do it right. The M27 IAR is too heavy and too long. H&K makes an improved A5 version that is the same size as the M4 Carbine and has a lighter weight barrel. The Trijicon optic is fine, but they should have stuck with a non battery version, perhaps the TA44 with the ACSS reticle. Also, QUAD Rails!!! are you kidding me, how about MLOK free floated handguards, Geissele makes them for the 416. They need to chuck the bipod too, as that’s what the troops will do the first time they are on a two-way range. This PIG needs to be lightened up.

    While they are at it, either buy brand spankin new M249’s or better yet buy lighter MK46 (in the supply chain now with an NSN) that have take short light barrels or heavier fluted barrels. Despite what folks think, most gunners are going to eventually opt for a red dot or low power optic, zeroed at 300 meters and not a magnified optic. The machine gunner’s job is to suppress the enemy, who sometimes are never seen. this allows the infantry element to maneuver and flank the enemy. Stop issuing the big plastic boxes of 200 rounds and pack it all in 100 round “Nut Sacks” that the smart gunners use in the field.

    Finally, “Pull Head from Buttocks” and stop letting politicians in uniform dictate their personal preferences based on trade shows and vendor interactions.

    End of Rant – When Generals make bad decisions, people die.

    • MarkB May 18, 2018, 7:04 pm

      that sir, is a very well thought, elegant, coherent article based on fact…and sounds like experience. The statements of belt fed vs magazine are very true to form. Good job…and I am glad my days in a squad are 40 years behind me.

  • Tripwire May 18, 2018, 11:10 am

    I’d like to here Clay’s POV on this. As for me I see it as giving the squad much greater firepower.

    • Jake May 18, 2018, 12:55 pm

      How does this increase firepower? The HK is replacing a full auto rifle. There is no gain in the number of rounds which can be fired.

  • renny May 18, 2018, 9:21 am

    if it does not work, I have faith the leadership will change it

  • thomas k. fazendine May 18, 2018, 7:59 am

    A very stupid thing to do but take a good look at our government and I see nothing but stupid.

  • ToddB May 18, 2018, 6:50 am

    It should be marine squads upsized to 12 men. In 4 years, I never once served in a full strength infantry squad. It was all on paper. Even with stop loss in effect for desert storm, we still only had 2 3 man teams and 1 2 man team in my squad.

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