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.
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.