It's not often that the Big Army follows the lead of the nation's smallest fighting force, but the Corps' recent moves to outfit its infantry grunts with high-technology small arms has gotten the attention of the Army's top general.
At a recent meeting with senators on Capitol Hill, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told lawmakers he was seriously considering outfitting front-line soldiers with a new rifle just adopted by the Corps for all its infantry troops.
A U.S. Marine with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, fires a M27 infantry automatic rifle at simulated enemies during an Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. | U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Danny Gonzalez
In 2010, the Marine Corps shocked the services by providing an alternative to the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon machine gun with what was essentially a souped up M4 carbine. The new M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle was made by German firearms manufacturer Heckler & Koch — dubbed the "HK416" — and featured a better, longer barrel, a gas-piston operating system and an automatic fire capability.
It is a rifle very similar to ones fielded to SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force.
The Corps argued that precise fire was more effective at suppression than area fire, so the SAW gunner on some missions carried the new M27 instead of the SAW. Fast forward seven years, and the Corps has decided to outfit all its infantrymen with the Gucci rifle.
Now the Army is taking a hard look at the M27 and its advantages of reliability, accuracy and function as a potential near-term replacement for the M4 — which is gas operated and features a 14.5-inch barrel.
U.S. Army photo
"We're taking a hard look at that and probably going to go in that direction as well," Milley told lawmakers. He also added that the service is developing a 7.62 round that can penetrate new body armor manufactured by Russia.
The revelation comes as the Army is set to release a years-long study on whether to replace the 5.56 round with a new one in the face of a growing threat from enemy weapons the fire a Russian-made round that can reach nearly double the range of the current M4 chambered in the 1950s-era caliber.
Sources say the Army is also inching toward issuing an "Urgent Needs" request to field more than 6,000 rifles chambered in the heavier, longer-range 7.62 NATO round for troops deployed to battlefields like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.