The U.S. Marine Corps' New M27 IAR: Part One

The U.S. Marine Corps’ New M27 IAR: Part One

21 November 2011, The Crucible training center, Stafford County, Virginia. Discarding the M16’s direct gas-blown operation that’s handicapped by heat buildup and carbon fouling, the HK416/M27’s bolt carrier is “kicked” back by an operating rod impacting a hardened surface that’s integral with the bolt carrier. Reidsma told us this bolt and carrier had endured more than 15,000 rounds in Marine Corps testing and was still going strong in our familiarization (Robert Bruce)

The armorer training is very easy, simple, and straightforward.  A lot of what they already know about a regular M16A4 is similar to the M27 IAR.  The actual operating system behind the gun is different than what’s inside an M16A4.  You’ve always got to keep that in the back of your mind from an armorer perspective or a user maintaining the gun.

Component replacement when something does wear out is very simple.  That speeds up your armorer process, cuts down on his time so he can actually work on other things or more things.  The M27 IAR lasts for fifteen thousand rounds for the major components at a minimum, and I think it’s ten thousand or right around there for parts and pieces like a spring or whatever.

HK’s training part to this is ‘train the trainer’ concept.  When we first delivered the guns to the Marine Corps we gave them armorer classes, gave them a basic operator class on this is how the gun works, this is how to maintain it, this is armorer stuff.  They took it from there with ‘NETTs’ – New Equipment Training Teams.

The main thing to keep in mind is a lot of people will say ‘it’s HK, it’ll last forever.’  Well it won’t.  You still have to take care of everything; you still have to put lubrication on it, etcetera.  The biggest thing I see is people will forget to lubricate up in the piston gas block area and the operating rod.  And then if it starts getting sluggish on them it’s like ‘OK, yeah lubricate it.’  But to be on the safe side, we did run an M27 through a few 600 round cycles completely dry – it worked, but I would not recommend doing that.

SADJ:  No special lubricant needed up there in that high temperature area?

Reidsma:  No special lubrication is needed.  Simple regular CLP (Cleaner, Lubricant Preservative; military-issued commercial “Break Free” brand product) is all that is normally required.  Because the HK416 system has to meet all the Mil-Spec stuff that’s out there already and be compatible with all the cleaning and lubricating compounds, all the nuclear, biological and chemical decontamination.  It meets all the requirements or it wouldn‘t be put into the Marine Corps.

SADJ:  HK has a $23.6 million IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity) contract with the USMC and they‘ve recently ordered full rate production.  Status report?  

Reidsma:  HK has a delivery order from the Marine Corps for 3,638 with full rate production right now.  There are 458 that were delivered for Low Rate Initial Production and limited fielding on the Marine Corps’ birthday of November 10, 2010.  It was really neat how that worked out.

(Editor’s Note:  The first batch of full rate production M27’s has been delivered by HK to the Marine Corps.  Full rate production will start deliveries by the end of calendar year 1st quarter.)

21 November 2011, The Crucible training center, Stafford County, Virginia. Demonstrating the M27 in close quarters assault, White has both eyes open behind the Trijicon SDO as he slams burst after burst into the lineup of silhouette targets on Crucible’s Range 5. (Robert Bruce)

SADJ:  Have other U.S. or allied military forces or law enforcement entities contacted your office expressing interest in the M27?

Reidsma:  I do get calls and interest on the M27 IAR all the time and I refer them to the Marine Corps because they’re the PICA, Primary Inventory Control Agency.  If they actually want one that says ‘M27’ on it the request goes to the Marine Corps.  If they want an HK416 with sixteen and a half inch barrel, two inch longer hand guard, I can sell ‘em the HK416 and Trijicon can sell ‘em the SDO.  But I can not sell them an M27.

The other part is that a lot of our clients, I’d venture to say, have a few 416s already.  For example, it’s the standard issue rifle in the Norwegian Army.  Other than that, I can’t go into who, and what types of 416s.

SADJ:  What have we missed that you would like to comment on?

Reidsma:  It is neat to watch the Marines’ eyes light up when they get down for the first time and shoot it.  Lot of smiling faces, a lot of like ‘wow, I’ve never had a gun group this good in my life!’  A lot of first round hits on targets at long distance.  It’s definitely a confidence booster as well.

A lot of it, I think, comes out of what we were talking about on the range today.  Getting out there and shooting the gun, how that gun is used.  A lot of people will look at it like it’s an M249 replacement across the board.  And it’s not.  There’s an overlap in capability but they’re different capabilities based on the use.

The M249 that’s in the automatic rifle role right now can hinder somebody’s performance based on the fact that it’s heavier.  Also, if the gun has a stoppage when you’re in a firefight you’ve got to get down in the prone position, open the feed tray, you’re outta the firefight for twelve or fifteen seconds which is crucial.  And that’s in the daylight.  It gets way more complicated at night.

With this gun it’s a blended capability of having a high degree of accuracy yet still having that higher sustained rate of fire.  Because of the way the system works with a gas piston and a push rod operation it’s keeping that heat from the chamber for a long enough period of time.  And you’re still getting that high degree of accuracy out of it along with the long life of it – fifteen thousand rounds.

SADJ:  Many Marine veterans hold the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle in highest regard.  What would you like to tell them about today’s M27 vs. the old BAR?

Reidsma:  The BAR; .30-06 cartridge, twenty round mag, and weighing approximately twenty three pounds.  The BAR had a lot of significant use over a long period of time.  It is a big heavy gun with not a lot of magazine capacity.  When we look at the .30-06 cartridge that recoils a lot more than a current 7.62mm and 5.56mm rounds, there’s probably no way we can take a .30-06 or even a 7.62 NATO cartridge and be able to get the same engagement criteria requirements and weight requirements that we can with the 12.7 pound M27, just due to that bigger, heavier recoiling system.

I think the M27 will be the BAR’s little brother.  It comes down to recoil management and to commonality in the Marine Rifle Squad with ammunition, magazines, everything else.  That’s part of it.  The difference is this gun looks like and has the same ergonomics and controls just like an M16A4 and M4.  So training wise, there’s minimal training needed in going back and forth.  The guys are basically already trained on the system they just don’t even know it yet.

SADJ:  Would you say to them that ‘wars are fought differently now’?  

Reidsma:  Yeah, we understand the advantages of the BAR’s firepower for infantry squads in WWI, WWII and Korea, but in a modern day infantry squad, the other Marines are armed with M16s feeding 5.56mm ammunition from 30-round magazines.  So now they have the M27, a modern version of the BAR that looks like the other systems they have and can deliver a higher volume of more accurate fires while minimizing fatigue as well as accept the ammunition and work reliably with the fielded magazine of the infantry team and squad.  That fits the way the Marines fight, what they fight with and the nature of combat today.

If you need to reach out beyond five hundred meters or more and hit harder there are other weapons organic to the infantry company.  You’ve still got 7.62mm M240 medium machine guns and the Corps is keeping some 5.56mm M249 light machine guns.  Dragon missile systems, mortars, and more to call in for support.  You’ve got helicopters and more in the whole Marine Air Ground Task Force with armament to bear on a given threat if it’s way out there.  Typically your Marine rifle squad fights out to the four hundred meter mark.  They can influence and extend beyond that because of the system capabilities.  But as far as your true fight, it’s all inside that four hundred meter range.

SADJ:  Would you want to clear buildings with a BAR?

Reidsma:  No, I would venture to say you would not want to clear a house with a BAR.  Just as you would not want to clear a house with an open bolt, belt fed light machine gun.  It’s too cumbersome.  Again, having an automatic rifleman with an M27 IAR lends itself to every environment.

So whether he’s got to swim with it, do urban work with it, fight in the jungle with it, out in the desert with it, in and out of vehicles with it; the M27 is much, much easier to maneuver, get into action, and stay in action.

USMC M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle Specifications

Manufacturer: Heckler & Koch GmbH, Oberndorf, Germany (HK Defense, Ashburn, Virginia, USA)
NSN: 1005-01-579-5325
Caliber: 5.56 x 45mm NATO (SS109/M855 cartridge), muzzle velocity 2,900 (+/-) fps
Operation: Air cooled, gas operated, short stroke piston-driven operating rod, fires from closed bolt
Locking: M16 style multi-lug rotating bolt in carrier
Selector: Safe, Semi-Auto, Full Auto
Rate of fire: 700 – 850 rpm cyclic, 36 rpm sustained
Feed: US military standard 30 round M16 type magazine
Length: (stock extended) 37.5 in.
Weight: 8.16 lbs. weapon only. Combat weight w/loaded 30 round magazine, SDO and iron sights, PEQ-16 laser, sling, bipod, vertical foregrip, rail cover set: 12.67 lbs.
Barrel: 16.5 in. long, fixed (not quick change) barrel is cold hammer forged for exceptional durability, 6 groove rifling, 1 in 7 in. right twist, tipped with M16 type ‘birdcage“ flash suppressor, integral bayonet lug
Sights (assigned by USMC): Trijicon 3.5 power SDO, Knight’s Armament BUIS (backup iron sights)
Buttstock: HK 6-position telescoping stock with internal storage space
Issued with: 22 ea. US military M16 type 30 round magazines, Blue Force Gear’s Vickers Combat Applications Sling and rail sling mount, AIM Manta Rail Covers, Harris Larue tactical bipod, Knight’s Armament Backup Iron Sights and “broomstick” foregrip, M16 type blank firing adaptor, USMC operators manual, Otis cleaning kit, , Ontario Knife USMC bayonet (M16/M4 compatible)

Notes: The M27’s nomenclature is a tribute to 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division for its seminal role in championing a revival of automatic rifles in the Corps. It is now replacing the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon in all USMC infantry fire teams. The M27 is a slightly modified version of Heckler & Koch’s highly respected HK 416 rifle, originally developed for U.S. special operations forces. The rifle’s proprietary gas piston system was first introduced by HK on its G36, boasting cooler and cleaner operation than Stoner-type direct gas impingement of the M16 rifle and M4 carbine. The M27 features HK’s 1 piece quad, free-floating, 11 inch long, M1913 Picatinny Rail system, barrel life 15,000 + rounds, parts life 10,000 + rounds, accuracy 2 MOA w/ service ammunition, “Over the beach” features allowing safe and effective firing after being fully submerged in water.

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In the late 1950s, the Marine Corps made the ill-fated decision to ditch its iconic Browning Automatic Rifle of World War 2 and Korean War fame in favor of a bipod-equipped M14.  This unworkable rig was replaced by the heavy and unwieldy 7.62mm M60 machine gun during the Vietnam War.  The 5.56mm M249 SAW, a “baby M60” to some, followed in 1985.  Now, some 27 years later, the Corps is rapidly fielding the M27 IAR.  Learn how the Leatherneck chain of command came to grips with unit-level complaints about the SAW’s shortcomings and got a suitable replacement through “the system.”