The Marine Corps Is Window-Shopping For A New Rifle With Some Very Specific Features

Gunnery Sgt. Michael Woods, electronic key management system manager with Marine Wing Communications Squadron (MWCS) 38, shoots an M16A4 rifle on Range 109 during Back in the Saddle training aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Jan. 7, 2015.
Photo via DoD

The Marine Corps is on the lookout for a few good rifles — with a dozen specific features.

On May 16, the Corps released a request for information notice calling on weapons vendors to show off their latest weapons technologies, including new suppressors, optics, and several M27-like enhanced capabilities and features, at a highly anticipated showcase in September. And while the Corps may not walk away with a brand new rifle, the companies who show up will inform the procurement process for years to come.

Over the last couple of years, the Corps has been steadily investigating off-the-shelf options for a new rifle, and this new RFI shows their continued interest in exploring a variety of new features. While this year’s RFI follows on from 2016’s in a search for the next-generation rifle, the new request places far more emphasis on adaptability and the addition of suppressors.

The RFI for the new infantry rifle lays out 12 specific required characteristics, a few of which are listed below:

  • Upgrade package (including an upper receiver) or complete rifle with enhanced M27 like capability and features.  
  • Free floated handguard 13” for use with 14.5” or longer barrel, 9.5” for use with 10.3/10.5” barrel.
  • 14.5” barrel option, with 24,000 round life with AB49 – 2 Minute of Angle precision threshold, 1 MOA precision objective for majority of barrel life.  
  • Rail must maintain rigidity and alignment with the rifle’s zeroed point of aim when external pressures (up to 20 pounds) are applied 11” forward of the receiver.
  • Rail must have integral forward 1913 Picatinny rail sections at the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock of 2-3” in length.
  • Remainder of rail shall be M-LOK at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. Other surfaces may include holes/cutouts for air circulation and weight reduction. 

Companies are invited to showcase their offerings at the annual Marksmanship Technology Demonstration that coincides with the Modern Day Marine conference in September. These events give the Corps a chance to explore its options and look at the industry’s latest developments without committing to a purchase — the procurement version of window-shopping. This year’s event follows 2016’s inaugural event, which Corps personnel praised as “the equivalent of Shot Show.”

“Come here and show us your toys. Parts, optics, suppressors — anything to do with marksmanship, you come here,” Marine Capt. Ryan Grogan told Task & Purpose of the Marksmanship Technology Demonstration’s purpose. “We solicit to this is the second time that we’ve done this. There really isn’t any backend-straight-to-fleet-type stuff. This is more to inform the capabilities and requirements writing process.”

Additionally, the RFI suggests the Corps is looking for a lighter, more modern rail system compared to the current M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle. The RFI specifies a need for a continuous, uninterrupted 1913 Picatinny rail along the full length of the rifle, and while this can be semi-monolithic, the weapon must have anti-rotation features to stop movement. The rails must accept all current issue weapon lights and accessories, use the M27's heat-resistant rail covers, and come ready to field strip in manner similar to the M27 and 

But even more interesting than the rail system is the list of secondary desired characteristics,  including the ability to chamber a variety of calibers from the AB39 (7.62x51mm round optimized for long-range accuracy) and the Army's M80A1 round to two intermediate rounds: the .264 USA and .260 Remington. There is also a mention of novel lightweight ammunition, which hints at a capability to use the polymer-cased ammunition and the Lightweight Small Arms Technologies program being pursued by the Army.

The RFI also calls for manufacturers to submit rifle suppressors, which will have a service life to match the new rifle, offer improved attachment and locking systems, and reduce back pressure. This comes as the Marine Corps continues its testing of suppressors issued to entire units to reduce the localized cacophony of small arms fire and allow for simplified command and control and operational flexibility.

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Christopher Orr, weapons company commander, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment and part of Black Sea Rotational Force 14, fires an M4 service rifle down range during a course of fire that included controlled pairs and single-fired shots while live-fire training during exercise Agile Spirit 14 at Vaziani Training Area, Georgia, June 10, 2014.Photo via DoD

The RFI’s emphasis on revolutionary systems rather than conventional upgrades paints a picture of an ambitious Corps actively engaged in a search for a next-gen rifle of choice. And to this end, the planned technology presentations couldn’t come at a better time. This year's Marksmanship Technology Demonstration comes as the Corps continues to mull over the further adoption of the well-liked M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle.

Back in February, the Corps released a request for information inquiring about the purchase of a further 11,000 M27s, sparking speculation that it is looking to replace its M4s. But at this point, it seems that the Corps is now also exploring other off-the-shelf alternatives that may be just as good as the Heckler & Koch-made M27. The Marksmanship Technology Demonstration gives the Corps the perfect opportunity to browse until it finds exactly what it’s looking for.

“The only thing that came out of it is goodness,” said Grogan of last year’s demonstration. “We look forward to continuing the MTD for years to come.”

The Marksmanship Technology Demonstration will take place from Sept. 19-21 at the Calvin A. Lloyd Range Complex, Weapons Training Battalion, Marine Corps Base Quantico.

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