USMC Precision Weapons Section

USMC Precision Weapons Section

December 2010, MCB Quantico, VA. A cart full of stripped M1911 pistol frames, slides and barrels that await assignment to individual repairmen who will take each one through the process from rebuilding to final inspection and proof firing. (Robert Bruce)

SADJ:  Motivate the civilians too?

Fiene:  I treat ‘em like my Marines.  They’re all part of the platoon, included in everything we do.  I think that their pure love of what they do keeps them motivated or they probably wouldn’t have tried to get a job here as a civilian.

There’s also the school and supply.  Master Sergeant Hanus pretty much runs the school.  I sit in on course content review boards and things of that nature to make sure they’re on track with what they’re supposed to be learning.  We support the Marine Corps Rifle and Pistol Teams so I’m interacting with them to see what they’ve got going on and what type of support I need to provide and which people are the best ones to do that.

A new NCOIC, Master Gunnery Sergeant Hoffart, came in a month after me, so that was a continuity issue.  We do have a number of people who have been here for some time – some civilians.  My instructors in the PWRC are prior 2112’s who retired and they have a wealth of information and that’s where the continuity really lies and one of the big reasons for having the civil service folks here.  We ‘green suiters’ (active duty Marines) change over every three years so having the civilians is a huge help.

SADJ:  Anyone in particular?

Fiene:  They’re all very knowledgeable in what they do; Senior Instructor Shawn Schumacher is a wealth of information, particularly on pistols, and Jack Cowman, also a wealth of information on pistols.  Guy Aman back in the test shed, retired as a Gunny Sergeant 2112 and came back here to work.  Eric Reid, primarily a rifle guy, got out of the Corps and built precision weapons for industry for a number of years.  (Author’s Note:  Reid was a member of the sniper rifle building team at GA Precision, affectionately known there as “Hacksaw”).  A job opened up here and he came back. Tom Shalhoub, a retired Marine Master Sergeant machinist, is an excellent instructor in the machine shop.  Jeff Thacker, a civil service employee who was once an Air Force ammunition tech, is the whole Ammunition Section.  I leaned on them pretty heavily – kind of like a three-year-old always asking ‘why, why do we do it that way?’  Sometimes they were a little frustrated with me but they’ve always got the answers.

SADJ:  What about the challenge of getting the money and other things needed to do the job?

Fiene:  The challenge for money has always been there, not just with this shop.  We have to be good stewards of the country’s money.  I pay my taxes like everybody else.  Where the challenge comes in is, ‘Well, do we need these new machines or a special new machine?  Can we do it with something else and maybe it‘ll just take longer?  So what is that tradeoff?’  You’ve got to justify what you want to spend money on to the higher headquarters.  The people who hold the purse strings are Weapons Training Battalion and Training and Education Command.

December 2010, MCB Quantico, VA. Looking further down the table, the two rifles in the foreground are variations of the M40A3, recognized by their McMillan A4 synthetic stocks that don’t absorb water and perform more consistently in all weather conditions. The closest one sports a hand painted camo pattern and a fixed 10 power Unertl scope securely mounted on a short run of Mil-Std 1913 “Picatinny Rail” drilled and tapped into the receiver. To its right is an upgraded M40A3, notably featuring a short extra section of 1913 rail above the barrel for a night optic in line with its Schmidt & Bender 3-12 x 50 day scope and detachable five round box magazine. The third is the new M40A5 with barrel tipped by a SureFire sound suppressor on a quick-disconnect flash hider coupling. (Robert Bruce)

SADJ:  Does PWS need anything right now?

Fiene:  Luckily, I‘ve been able to get everything I‘ve asked for.  I didn‘t ask for a whole lot.  The challenge financially right now is to try and look ahead to the out years.  Money is going to get tighter with the economy the way it is.  A lot of the young guys now haven’t experienced that.  They came up in a Marine Corps that was at war and money was available.  Trying to prepare them to be more frugal with the money, make do with what you’ve got a little longer, presents a challenge.

SADJ:  Why are there civil service and outside contractors in some positions rather than Marines?

Fiene:  Systems Command contracted for some of those folks to support the surge of weapons requirements.  M45 CQBP (Close Quarters Battle Pistol) and M40A5 sniper rifle.  The AO (Acquisition Objective) changes so we brought in four guys to sit at benches and build guns.  They were former 2112s before they retired or got out of the Marine Corps.  Of the civil service, four are instructors and one each in the test shed and ammunition loading.  They‘re needed for continuity instead of changing people who are instructors in such a formalized and long school with 261 training days.  And not everybody can teach.  You run the risk with active duty military that he may know everything about those weapons but if he can’t teach it to somebody else it doesn’t do you a lot of good.

SADJ:  Describe a recent example of technical assistance at PWS resulting in the adoption or rejection of any specific weapons, weapon components or ammunition.  Of particular interest is whether introduction of M110 may lead to a phase-out of earlier semi-autos as well as comparisons of standard M118 LR ammunition vs. other calibers and configurations.  

Fiene:  Our TA and R&D efforts are at the direction of SYSCOM (Systems Command), the Program Manager Infantry Weapons, when they have something they want us to test.  Right now we don’t have anything in T&E.  If PWS tested the M110 it was before I got here.  We did send some people down to Knight’s Armament to learn how to work on ‘em, anticipating they could come back here for rebuild but we don’t know that.  The MK 11 and 12 will be phased out.  They were an UNS (Urgent Needs Statement) item sent in from the fleet, and those are only supported for two to three years.

December 2010, MCB Quantico, VA. Looking further down the table, the two rifles in the foreground are variations of the M40A3, recognized by their McMillan A4 synthetic stocks that don’t absorb water and perform more consistently in all weather conditions. The closest one sports a hand painted camo pattern and a fixed 10 power Unertl scope securely mounted on a short run of Mil-Std 1913 “Picatinny Rail” drilled and tapped into the receiver. To its right is an upgraded M40A3, notably featuring a short extra section of 1913 rail above the barrel for a night optic in line with its Schmidt & Bender 3-12 x 50 day scope and detachable five round box magazine. The third is the new M40A5 with barrel tipped by a SureFire sound suppressor on a quick-disconnect flash hider coupling. (Robert Bruce)

We’ve tested quick detach scope mounts and the effects of sling tension on M16A4s.  The front sling swivel is mounted to the barrel and if you torque down sling tension, what’s that doing to the impact point of the round?  The answer is just a minor shift with iron sights because the sling tension moves the front sight down too.  However, when you put on an optic the boresight shifts.  Now, what SYSCOM will do with that information I don’t know.

(Editor’s Note:  SADJ has since learned there is a recommendation moving through channels for the USMC’s M4s and M16s to have free floating barrels)  

The ammunition testing they did was a couple of years ago.  I don’t know if that went anywhere either.  We’re talking about some more testing on the .338 Lapua or a similar round to extend the range beyond the current .308 (7.62mm M118 Special Ball/Long Range Cartridge).  We sit on a board at SYSCOM, an Integrated Product Team, looking at what the fleet says they want in a Requirements Statement.  They might say ‘we want a sniper rifle that will reach out to 1,700 meters, take a ten round box magazine, only weigh seven pounds, and shoot a half-minute of angle ….’  We look at that and put our two cents in.  We‘ll say we can get this and that, but probably not exactly what you‘re asking for.  SYSCOM makes the choice on what we‘re going to look at or do any further testing on.

As to what might be next, I’d speculate – and that’s pure speculation on my part – the M40 has been around a long time and you can only push a 7.62 x 51 cartridge about so far.  My gut feeling is maybe next year, two years or more down the road you probably want to go to something bigger.

SADJ:  New cartridge in the M40 or another platform?

Fiene:  We shoot a short action 700 Remington.  You’re not gonna put a much bigger cartridge in it.  One of the things we have to do is see what industry is doing.  The 700 has been around a long time, it’s a great action but we know there’s some others out there we need to look at.

SADJ:  Describe a recent example of the work at PWS in research, design, etc. to improve individual precision weapons.  Particularly interested in how PWS contributed directly to upgrade of M40A3 to A5.  

Fiene:  Enhancements from the A3 to A5 – floor plate hardware, detachable box magazine, muzzle brake, suppressor – were all responses to requirements that came from the fleet.  SYSCOM put out a request for products and, for example, suppressor manufacturers say ‘we’ve got something that will do what you want it to do,’ and a number of samples came in.  We run ‘em through testing here and figure out which works best.

SADJ:  What happened to the A4? 

Fiene:  There was no A4.  And no A2 either.  I don’t know why only odd numbers.

21 March 2010, Djbouti, Africa. Quantico‘s PWS has some of the most demanding ‘customers’ in the world: Marine Scout Snipers whose lives and success of their missions often depend on the accuracy and reliability of rifles produced by MOS 2112 Precision Weapons Repairmen. Seen here are sniper teams from Reconnaissance Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 24th marine Expeditionary Unit, armed with a variety of rifles including M40A5s top left and lower right, as well as what is likely one of the Corps’ brand new Knight’s Armament M110 Semiautomatic Sniper Rifles seen top center with its quick mount suppressor. (USMC photo by Gunnery Sergeant James Frank)

SADJ:  How do comments/requests/suggestions – ‘Urgent Needs’ – from deployed Marines result in an official tasking to PWS?  

Fiene:  They go through channels to MARCORSYSCOM’s Product Group 13, Infantry Weapons Systems, all part of an integrated process.  If it’s a precision weapon, it comes to us.  If the fleet wants a better suppressor on the sniper rifle or whatever they want dealing with a Precision Weapon it comes to us to determine if it’s feasible.  Do we think there is something out there that’s better?  Is anybody even making anything like that?

SADJ:  In casting a wide net to meet these fleet requirements in precision weaponry, what resources are explored?   Expositions like Modern Day Marine, Association of the U.S. Army, National Small Arms Center, internet research?   

Fiene:  All of those outlets to the extent we can, a lot of different things.  We usually get a couple of people out to the SHOT Show every year, probably the biggest event we go to in order to see what industry is doing.  Also, we use the internet to see what’s out there.  Some of our guys, particularly the civilians who have worked in the industry, have friends they can talk to and find out what’s going on.

SADJ:  Briefly describe differences between the standards for weapons used by operational forces vs. CIAP.

Fiene:  The Competition in Arms National Match M16s we build here start out as a service rifle.  We strip ‘em down, put on match grade barrels, adjustable triggers and other accurizing things.  Where a service rifle may have pins, we‘ll take that apart, tap and thread it for screws, and we cut the chambers here.

One of the things with having our loading facility here is to make long range ammunition for the shooting team.  We build the rifle then take it back into the Test Shed.  Jeff Thacker will come over with his ammunition and we’ll adjust the seating depth of the bullets until we get a loading recipe that that one likes to shoot consistently in tight groups.  Then, the ammunition for that rifle is always loaded exactly the same, which may not be the same for the rifle next to it.

The sniper rifles we build, when we send them through testing, they’re shooting off-the-shelf M118 ammunition.  It wouldn‘t do any good to make a rifle that shoots minute of angle accuracy with a hand loaded round that the sniper in the fleet isn’t going to have.

1 October 1983, Beirut, Lebanon. With his M40A1 sniper rifle – the product of PWS predecessor Rifle Team Equipment – well steadied by sandbags and the tip of his trigger finger in position, this left-eye-dominant, southpaw-shooting Marine sniper appears ready to take a shot at a target in the crosshairs of the rifle’s 10 power Unertl scope. His unit, in a compound near Beirut International Airport, is part of a multinational peacekeeping force deployed following confrontation between the Israeli military and the Palestine Liberation Organization. (USMC)

SADJ:  Briefly explain Life Cycle Maintenance requirements from acquisition to disposition.  For example, how many rounds on average before an M40 series rifle or M45 pistol is returned for rebuild?  What happens to weapons and parts that aren’t serviceable?

Fiene:  After about ten thousand rounds the M40 will come back in here for a rebuild.  Some are still shooting as good; somebody must have sprinkled pixie dust or something on ‘em….  M45 type pistols, come back here for rebuild when they’ve completely failed; the frame breaks, cracks, stretches.  We submit for demil (demilitarization) and they go to the furnace or crusher.

SADJ:  What characterizes the Depot Maintenance Intraservice Support Agreement as it relates to PWS?

Fiene:  Short version is this is an agreement between us and Logistics Command out of Albany, Georgia.  LOGCOM has the responsibility for life cycle management of all equipment; weapons, trucks, everything.  Because we manufacture precision weapons and have the technical expertise here at PWS, they fund us to do the rebuilding of the Marine Corps’ precision weapons.  We don’t rebuild for the other services.

SADJ:  What’s your perspective on the value/need of having the PWRC under PWS?

Fiene:  Up until about eighteen months ago (November 2009) the 2112 MOS was taught here as OJT, on the job training.  Students came here and were put on the production floor with another 2112 to learn the trade.  Now it’s a formalized course and I think that’s better because it sets everybody at the same level.  You don’t have seventeen instructors teaching seventeen different ways.  With the course it’s four instructors teaching one way.  PWS is the right place for it.  We have the machines, the expertise, and the guns they build as students have to pass acceptance tests and they go into our production numbers.

SADJ:  Is there interaction between PWS and other military (Army MTU, etc.), government (FBI is nearby) and civilian/commercial entities (Remington, Knight’s Armament, etc.) with similar focus on weapons and ammunition?   

Fiene:  Our armorers who support the shooting teams interact at the matches with ‘gun plumbers’ in the other services, particularly the Navy team.  The FBI Academy is right down the road testing stuff they have.  Handy to bounce ideas off informally, sharing information.  When the initial testing was done here on the .338 Lapua, the FBI and the Navy had test data they shared.