The M249 Squad Automatic Weapon has been on the front lines for the United States for over 30 years. It's easy to see why when you look at the specs: It fires the 5.56x45mm NATO round and can use a box with 200 rounds in a belt, or it can use the same 30-round magazines from M16 rifles and M4 carbines.
So, why would the Marines drop it from their front-line fire teams? Well, the specs have an answer for that, too. All weapons have compromises built in, and the firepower that the M249 brings to the front has a price: the SAW weighs in at 17 pounds. Compare that to the M16 rifle's weight of just under eight pounds, four ounces and the difference is clear.
A US Marine fires an M249 light machine gun. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Donald Holbert)
Despite the heft, Marines still want to have an automatic rifle in their fire teams. M16s and M4s have settings for single-shot and three-round bursts. They don't allow for full-auto fire to avoid excessive wear and tear and wasted ammo.
Heckler and Koch have offered a solution in the form of a variant of the HK416. The HK416 is a 5.56x45mm NATO assault rifle that has a 30-round magazine. Importantly, it weighs under eight pounds. Just like the M249, it can use the same magazines as the M16 and M4 and offers full-auto fire. It's harder to distinguish at a distance from other rifles than the M249, meaning enemy snipers will have a harder time singling out machine gunners.
Lance Cpl. Corey A. Ridgway, a Marine with Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, fires the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle from the kneeling position at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jorge A. Rosales/ Released)
The Marines have designated their modified HK416 as the M27 Individual Automatic Rifle, and they've fallen hard for it. In fact, Yahoo News reported that the Marines are thinking about buying more, so that every grunt has an Infantry Automatic Rifle. That's a lot of firepower. Learn more about this light-weight, automatic rifle in the video below: