After reading the article, “The Marine Corps’ Rifle is Super Expensive – And No One Knows Why,” I spent a few days pondering my response. I have spent almost ten years working to improve the USMC infantry rifle, and I think this article gets it largely wrong about the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps was so impressed by the performance of the M27 in testing and the Marines’ confidence in it that he ordered Marine Corps Systems Command to purchase the Approved Acquisition Objective and fully field the weapon. There was no secret conspiracy to somehow subvert the JCIDS process or the Federal Acquisitions Regulations (FARs) and cause the Heckler & Koch M27 IAR to become the USMC Service Rifle.
Here’s eight reasons that this is the rifle our Corps needs now, and at the right price:
- The M27 operates (and appears to the enemy) just like the M4, allowing our current cradle-to-grave combat marksmanship training continuum to “plug-and-play” with all the weapons in the Fire Team. Also, enemy snipers and other personnel may be less likely to identify the Automatic Rifleman — that’s a good thing.
- The M27 has proven to be extremely durable when compared to the M16A4 and M4/M4A1. For example, when using M855 ball, the M27 barrel and bolt may last over 35,000 rounds before requiring maintenance/replacement. The M4 barrel and bolt (locking lugs) may last upwards of 10,000 rounds under extreme use before requiring replacement. Current (newest recipe) M855A1 cartridges reduce these endurance numbers, respectively. The M27 has suffered some M855A1 teething issues. These issues were resolved in all the rifles.
- The M27 has proven that it can sustain a round fired through a fully water-filled bore without damaging the weapon, and as important, the M27 can continue to fire without issue after this event. The M16A4 and M4 have proven incapable of safely firing a round through a water-filled bore. A Reconnaissance Man might care about that and for that matter, the root of the word “Marines” has something to do with water.
- The M27 sports a free-floating rail system that contributes to the baseline accuracy of the weapon. For example, USMC M27s have proven to group within three Minutes of Angle with M855 ball at a round count of 33,000 (at 100M). In contrast, the USMC considers 3 MOA to be “normal” for an M4/M4A1 when it’s new (although many group better than that).
- The USMC has recorded years of anecdotal evidence that suggest Marines have extremely high confidence in their issued M27 IAR and actively seek to retain the weapon for as long as they can. The USMC is a “people business” and until we replace Marines with robots with AI, personal confidence is an important factor which contributes to the will of a Marine to fight and to believe his leaders are competent and care for him/her.
- In the MCOTEA testing, which is available upon request from the USMC, the M27 proved to provide MORE continuous fires on an enemy, especially at night, with a far greater degree of accuracy than the M249.
- Fast forward to 2017. The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL) conducted a large-scale test of future concepts which focused on the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines during a deployment cycle. One of the test concepts was to observe the effects of issuing M27 IARs to every Marine in a given unit (usually a Rifle Company) and to equip every Marine with a sound suppressor. The results were largely positive with some “added costs,” both financially and physically. The M27 IAR, when fully outfitted, is about a pound heavier than an M4/M4A1 (note: the M4A1 is slightly heavier than the M4). While the USMC is working on Engineering Change Proposals (ECPs) to mitigate these effects, the M27 proved again to be an increase in combat capability over the currently issued M4 and M4A1. Marine Corps Systems Command published a Request For Information (RFI) to inquire to industry to produce enough M27s to meet the requirement, and one corporation was able to meet all of the requirements: Heckler & Koch. The USMC created a “Sole Source” purchase request and that was protested with the GAO by FN Herstal who is the contractor for the US Army M4A1 (note: the USMC has not purchased an M4/M4A1 [**foot stomper** unit cost $1329.00] since Colt Defense was the contractor). I’ll come back to that. The GAO adjudicated in favor of the USMC and an RFP was prepared to purchase M27s for every Rifleman in every USMC Rifle Squad (and potential issuance to members of Combat Engineer Squads, Reconnaissance Teams, etc.).
- Yes, $150 million divided by 50,000 (possible AAO) is $3,000.00, however the M27 DOES NOT COST $3,000.00. While the USMC has only alluded to the actual cost, the USMC has publicly stated that the new cost of each M27 IAR is “less than was paid for each Colt M4/M4A1.” I am not authorized to release that cost, but one can do the math and see there appears to be some “extra money” mysteriously floating about in this equation. One need only look at the other RFIs that have been recently issued by MCSC for small arms. Readers should consider that the USMC requires more than just the basic rifle. Naturally, the USMC might want to equip Infantrymen with suppressors and variable power optics. This has all been released to the public and has been discussed ad nauseum on Task & Purpose, The Firearm Blog, Soldier Systems Daily, and others for at least a year and a half, and I’m shocked that T&P did not include this in their recent article.
As for Mr. Sal Fanelli, a lead engineer at MCSC, I have worked with him for about ten years through this and other initiatives. He, and all Federal Acquisitions professionals like him, are subject to oversight and scrutiny unlike most any other field in the service. Everything he has done has been checked and rechecked by attorneys, Inspector General personnel, Marine Gunners, and of course, by every firearms manufacturer looking for a contract and the elected officials who represent them. The article, the very title of which no less, calls his professional reputation and personal integrity into question, and considering Mr. Fanelli’s honorable service to the USMC, deeply saddens me.
The M27 IAR is coming. The USMC is the Primary Inventory Control Activity for this weapon and can begin to effect ECPs to further improve its performance and characteristics. To name a few potential ECPs, Marines would not complain if the rail was lighter and more versatile. A Short Barrel Rifle Upper Receiver Group (SBR URG) is being considered and new suppressor technologies are in the works. Marines of Weapons Training Battalion, Quantico, have also created an advanced trigger system to improve on quick-reaction automatic fires employment. This weapon will take the USMC Infantry to the next generation of service weapons — a system the US Army continues to develop as I write. What of all of those $1329.00 M4/M4A1 rifles that will be released by the Riflemen in Rifle Squads? Those will be re-purposed to Marines across the MAGTF so that they can benefit from a rifle the USMC and US Army have already proven superior to the M16A4. Those M16A4s can go away.
I believe the T&P M27 article was premature and improperly sourced. The evidence on which I base this claim? I need only read the comments below to know. To suggest a conspiracy rife with malfeasance on the part of good men like Sal Fanelli or USMC General Officers (or folks like me, for that matter) is unfortunate. And no, I don’t work for H&K. I am happily retired in a snowy northern state and I don’t work for anyone.
Christian Wade is a retired Chief Warrant Officer-5/Marine Gunner, having served 30 years on Active Duty in all four Marine Divisions. As an Enlisted Marine, he served as an Anti-Armor Marine, a Scout-Sniper, and Sniper Instructor. As an Officer, he served as an Infantry Weapons Officer. He is a combat veteran of operations in Kuwait, Somalia, and has served four tours in Iraq, including during Operation AL FAJR.