The Marine Corps has gone all in with the Heckler & Koch-made M27 rifle, posting an order in August from the gunmaker for over 50,000 of the 5.56mm rifles.
Marine officials have hinted they intend to supply the entire Marine Corps with the pricey, German-made rifle but will start by outfitting Leathernecks in the infantry and eventually combat engineers and LAR Marines, according to multiple sources.
Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, sight-in with M27 Infantry Automatic Rifles at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, Dec. 16, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jorge A. Rosales/ Released)
Most firearms experts, including top infantry officials in the Corps, believe the M27 — a military version of the HK416 rifle — is a superior weapon compared to the M4 and M16A4 issued to most Marines. With a more durable barrel, a modern, free-float handguard and a cleaner gas-piston operating system — as well as a full-auto firing mode — the M27 will deliver more accurate fire over greater distances and with less wear and tear than current rifles, officials have said.
But this is the third time since 9/11 the Corps has changed up its rifle of choice, with the service upgrading to the M16A4 just after 9/11, then changing those over to the shorter M4 for infantry in 2015.
In 2010, the Corps bought a limited fleet of M27s, dubbing it the "Infantry Automatic Rifle" and supplying it in place of the Squad Automatic Weapon in infantry units.
The M27 was so popular among the rank and file, the Corps decided to adopt it for the entire force, with Commandant Gen. Robert Neller shifting more of the Corps into H&K's direction.
Select Marines have been training with M27s equipped with suppressors. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Autmn Bobby)
"Everything I have seen suggests that the M27s we have been using for some time have been the most reliable, durable, and accurate weapons in our rifle squads," Neller has said.
For the past year, the Corps has experimented with equipping the bulk of an infantry battalion with the M27, including suppressors and better optics. Those experiments reportedly show the new gear helps Marines do their mission more effectively and are Marine-proof enough to be fielded throughout the fleet.
But some say the M27 — which costs around $3,000 per rifle — is an expensive alternative to simply upgrading existing M4s with new upper receivers.
"It is not that the M27 is a poor weapon, but rather that, in the ten years since the Infantry Automatic Rifle program was made public, substantial commercial off the shelf improvements have been introduced that could provide a weapon of equal or greater capability to the M27, but at lower cost and lower weight," one small arms expert told The Firearm Blog.