The Marine Corps is eyeing a purchase of 11,000 new infantry automatic rifles and their accessories as it moves closer to making the IAR the new service rifle for grunts.
The service published a detailed request for information earlier this week asking companies to signal their interest in producing a future IAR. The current IAR is the M27, based on the Heckler & Koch HK416.
Military.com broke the news in November that the Marine Corps' experimental battalion, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, was testing out broader use of the M27 throughout the battalion as Marine leadership considered using it to replace the current infantry service rifle, the M4 carbine.
The service has been considering fielding the IAR more broadly within the infantry since it introduced the M27 to replace the M249 squad automatic weapon in 2010, Col. Michael Manning, program manager for Infantry Weapons Systems at Marine Corps Systems Command, told Military.com.
Sgt. Jeremy T. Wellenreiter, a primary marksmanship instructor with Weapons Training Battalion, fires an M-4 Carbine at Robotic Moving Targets at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. | U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Daniel Wetzel
Still under consideration is how the weapon might be fielded. At roughly $3,000 apiece, the M27 is a pricier investment than the M4, which costs less than $1,000. Manning said officials are working to determine which jobs within the unit truly needed the enhanced firepower.
"Not every 03XX would get an M27," he said, using the generic Marine Corps military occupational specialty code for infantry. "There are select billets that would not get it because we don't believe, based on our requirements, that they need it. But that is something we'll continue to work with the [infantry] advocate and Marine Corps leadership on what the final mix will be like in an infantry unit. Everything is on the table."
The 11,000 figure, he said, represents an estimate of how many rifles the Corps needs to purchase to equip the infantry.
Even though the M27 is the current IAR, the request for information is competitive, due to contracting rules and practices. If the Marine Corps gets interest from other manufacturers who can meet existing IAR criteria and produce a rifle that works compatibly with the existing platform, Manning said Systems Command would complete testing and a downselect process to determine a winner.
Among the criteria: The system should accept all Defense Department 5.56mm ammunition, weigh less than 12.5 pounds, and be capable of a rate of fire of 36 rounds per minute.
A Marine fires his M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle while conducting squad attack exercise in Bahrain on Dec. 1, 2016. The Marine Corps is eyeing a purchase of 11,000 new infantry automatic rifles and their accessories as it moves closer to making the IAR the new service rifle for grunts. | US Marine Corps photo by Manuel Benavides
Unlike the standard M4, the M27 has a fully automatic firing option. It also features a slightly longer effective range and a free-floating barrel design that contributes to accuracy.
"It is the best infantry rifle in the world, hands down," Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade, the gunner, or infantry weapons officer, for 2nd Marine Division said of the IAR in November. "Better than anything Russia has, it's better than anything we have, it's better than anything China has. It's world-class."
Manning said the timeline for contracting for and fielding the new infantry service rifles is difficult to estimate because of the variables involved and the possibility of competition.
"We'll do some sort of testing and a downselect, and then as we finalize, we will actually put a request for proposal out on the street, letting industry know that we are actually going to buy these, we have the money and the finalized requirements for them to come back with an offer to to the Marine Corps," he said.
Responses to the Corps' request for information are due March 17.