I guess it was a couple years ago when I first started hearing serious rumblings about unhappiness in the Marines over the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. In the close urban terrain of the cities of Iraq, Marines were spending a lot of time kicking in doors and rushing into rooms. Well, the SAW is an 18 pound weapon empty. Add a 200 round drum, and maybe some other accessories, and pretty soon, it’s tough to see using it in a close in fight like inside a building. Lots of Marines were agitating to replace the SAW with a lighter, shorter automatic weapon.
In March interview with Military.com, then Commandant Gen. James Conway cast doubt on the utility of the IAR, saying the service had to wait and see whether it should be adopted. But field tests performed in Twentynine Palms, Calif., last summer turned skeptics into converts.
At a recent “town hall” meeting at Quantico, incoming Commandant Gen. Jim Amos raved about the M-27, saying it’s in the running to replace all SAWs in the inventory.
“I fired the [IAR] … and this thing could — notice I didn’t say ‘would’ — could replace the SAW,” Amos said. “Any of you grunts in here who have not fired that weapon, you need to fire that weapon.”
“Fighter pilot old man here fired it and I put it in about [six inches] at 500 yards,” Amos added. “It’s an incredible weapon.”
The M27 is a hybrid of a couple different weapons. The lower receiver/trigger group is straight from the M16/M4 family. The upper receiver is lifted from the HK416. The 16” barrel is heavier than most rifle barrels to allow for greater sustained fire. It fires the same 5.56x45mm rounds as the SAW and the M16/M4 family of weapons, from the same 30 round magazines. The vertical grip on the forearm conceals a collapsible bipod for shooting from the prone.
It’s pretty ironic that this is happening as the Marines are wrapping up in Iraq, and ramping up their operations in Afghanistan, where longer range fights are the norm. Just as the need for a smaller weapon has diminished, and the long range, high volume of firepower of the SAW is coming into its own, the Marines are going to switch some weapons out for a lighter piece that won’t have the same ability to lay volume suppressive fires. You’ll note the new Commandant talks about how accurate the M27 is at long range. Well, I always thought the M249 was pretty damn accurate at 500m, and even out to 800 meters, hitting a point target was easy.
The guys at The Firearm Blog chewed over the weapon in the comments. One interesting “conspiracy theory” popped up. The Marines have never liked the M4 carbine for their infantry. Most Marine infantry riflemen carry an M16A4. But the M27 is a lightweight weapon, it’s short and handy, and it has a gas piston operating system. Is it possible the Marines are looking for a backdoor way of replacing their M16s with a piston weapon? Maybe.
Based on the comments in the latest post over there, it doesn’t seem a popular move to replace the SAW in the Marines.