Lighter, faster, more accurate, and more reliable in the toughest conditions… the H&K M27 has passed the crucible and many Marines would like it to be in the hands of every Marine Corps infantryman.
by the ShootingDaily staff
In a further development of the Marine Corps’ decision to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon with HK’s M27, the M4 is now also being replaced within the infantry squad. Despite the difference in the roles of the M4 and M249, the Marine Corps has once again chosen the M27. For those of you who are counting, that’s three distinct roles for one rifle. Let’s take a look at the how and why.
As a former Soldier who carried the M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) for three years, it made sense to me when the Marines decided to look for another option. As much as the M249 was a joy to shoot on the range, it was a pig to carry with belted ammunition and even when not firing made the automatic rifleman of any squad an easy target. The gun looks different, as does the kit the bearer carries. Added weight slows movement of the bearer and thereby the squad. Both factors lead to an unwelcome magnetism of enemy fire.
When the M27 was adopted it surprised some of us who have spent time in uniform. Although conceptually the M27 sounds like a good idea, relying on box magazines to feed at a high cyclic rate and limiting the automatic rifleman to 30 rounds of suppression at a time is simply unconventional. Typically, within the USMC, there is one Squad Automatic Rifleman per Team. The SAW-gunner’s role is to provide suppressive fire; high- volume fire that denies the enemy movement, or denies access to an area of the battlefield. Traditionally this requires firing a lot of rounds to an area at a high rate and so has been filled by a belt-fed weapon.
More Than a Light Machine Gun
The Marines have already tried the HK in combat and it proved reliable and accurate. The M27 actually fit the bill beyond original intentions. It works as a SAW because, although the volume and rate of fire with the M27 is slower and lower than the M249, it’s more accurate. Fewer rounds are used because fewer rounds are needed. More decisive outcomes are achieved quicker and with more ammo saved for the next engagement. The perfect platform for shock troops. Another augmentation provided by HK’s M27 is that unlike the M249, it can be fired from the shoulder and brought into action quicker.
Goodbye to the M4
In January 2018 the Commandant of the Marine Corps confirmed in an interview that the Marines would be ordering more from HK. This order expansion is not because the Marine Corps is growing, but because the M27 also performs well enough to serve as a designated marksman rifle. If a rifle can serve for both precision and suppressive fire, the standard rifleman can use it as well. With this logic the USMC becomes a lot more lethal by equipping every Marine with the HK M27. What began as a search for a new squad automatic weapon had resulted in an infantry upgrade and replacement for the rifleman of the Marine Corps.
DMR — Beyond the M14
Having proven itself to have excellent accuracy, the M27 is also being fielded as the M38 Designated Marksman Rifle. In the Marine Corps, the Designated Marksman is a role assigned to Marines tasked with providing timely accurate fire. It is not the same role as a sniper, but requires three additional weeks of training. As you can imagine, a Designated Marksman needs to be able to move with the rest of the Marines, yet in a snap provide quick and accurate fire at extended ranges. Over the years this role has been filled by various rifles including a few “accurized” M16 variants and, until recently, M14 variants as well. Assignment of the M27 to this role ensures the designated marksman doesn’t stand out in appearance and isn’t weighted down with a heavier rifle and ammunition like the M14 required. Testing has proven the M27 accurate enough, and when equipped with a Leupold 2.5-8 TS-30/2 instead of standard ACOG, it is known as the M38 DMR.
This change offers an exciting possibility to completely change tactics and squad dynamics. No longer will there be an obvious visual cue indicating which Marine is in which role. Capabilities are also enhanced as technically any Marine can serve as the SAW-gunner, standard rifleman, or if need be, designated marksman. Smaller teams will now have weapons capability similar to a squad. It is not known if the Marine Corps will officially change tactics, but on the battlefield it’s now a possibility.
From the Perspective of a Two-War Veteran
No longer in uniform, I recall my 15 years in the Army and wonder why this wasn’t accomplished earlier. My memories are also filled with magazine and rifle failures when sustained burst fire was used. Our standard M16A4s simply weren’t up to the task. With the M27, and the venerable HK 416, on which the M27 is based, HK kept the familiar controls, size, and appearance that Americans have become accustomed to with the AR platform, but replaced the chamber-fouling direct impingement systems with a short-stroke piston. Other options like the SCAR proved bulkier and too dissimilar in appearance. A repetition of the M249’s drawbacks was not the solution; HK’s M27 was.
Piston operation helps the gun operate not only cleaner, but also cooler by not filling the receiver with a jet of hot gas shot after shot. This is especially important when running a suppressor as the Marine Corps is currently considering adopting. The problems caused by direct-impingement systems like the Colt M4 are exacerbated further with the adoption of suppressors. Extra back-pressure from the suppressor forces more gas into the receiver. The gun gets hotter and dirtier quicker with a suppressor. Switching to HK’s piston operation alleviates this.
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