“The Corps” Desires to Go All-In for H&K

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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 Shooting Daily staff

For rapidly deployable, “first-in” infantry such as U.S. Marine Corps units, achieving mission objectives and, ultimately, survival fall on one specific item—the rifle. Faced with often overwhelming odds in a complex and hostile environment and tasked with establishing the initial foothold, the infantryman looks to his rifle as the make-or-break piece of equipment for which there can be no compromises.

It came as a surprise to many, therefore, when the U.S. Marine Corps recently announced that it intended to transition away from the long-lived M4 carbine to the Heckler & Koch-designed and manufactured M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle (IAR). This signals a departure not only from standard roles within the basic Marine fire team, but also sends a loud validation of the H&K M27’s capabilities. Considering that a rifle originally designed to displace the team’s machine gun will soon be carried by all infantrymen speaks volumes about the M27’s “lighter, better, faster” DNA.

Marines began testing the M27 IAR in an effort to find a lighter, magazine-fed alternative to the heavy, belt-fed M249 light machine gun, or Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW). The purpose of the M249 SAW across all services using this platform has, heretofore, been to provide smaller units with a mobile weapon capable of a high rate-of-fire.


In 2007, Heckler & Koch responded to a competitive solicitation for an Infantry Automatic Rifle that would serve as a portable, lightweight, high rate-of-fire alternative to the M249. The goal was to develop a more discreet and maneuverable squad-level automatic weapon that would allow the gunner to keep up with the riflemen in his squad. H&K developed its contract entry based on its famed HK416—specifically a 16.5-inch barrel variant of the same short-stroke piston carbine. H&K won the contract in 2009 and fulfilled the Marine Corps’ initial 500-unit Full Rate Production order in November 2010. Over the next two years, the Marine Corps fielded the M27 for initial training and use by select Marine infantry units. By the end of January 2013, all 6500 M27 IARs had been delivered to the Marine Corps.

This cutaway of the H&K M27 illustrates the rifle's short-stroke piston gas system. It is the same proprietary system featured in the HK416 as well as the semi-auto 5.56 and 7.62 civilian variants.
This cutaway of the H&K M27 illustrates the rifle’s short-stroke piston gas system. It is the same proprietary system featured in the HK416 as well as the semi-auto 5.56 and 7.62 civilian variants.

Now, five years after fielding the initial run of M27 IARs, the Marine Corps has decided that the HK M27 should be issued en masse to every 0311 rifleman. Currently, there are three M27s per infantry squad (one per fire team), but top officials indicated that not only is the M27 edging out all M249 Squad Automatic Weapons, it will also eventually replace all M4s (squad leaders will be the exception).

In addition to its original design intent as lighter, more mobile alternative to the M249 SAW, the Marine Corps recently approved the use of this HK416 variant as a squad/platoon-level Designated Marksman (DM) weapon when equipped with more precise ammunition, a Leupold scope, and a KAC suppressor. This verifies the M27 IAR’s ability to serve two separate requirements—an automatic rifle and a DM rifle.

The recent intent to order by the Marine Corps requests between 11,000 and 50,184 M27 IARs. In other words, the Marines are jumping in full-throttle with M27.

The H&K M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle (IAR) is replacing the Marine Corps’ M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, and may soon be standard issue for all 0311 riflemen.

The M27 moniker is a nod to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment that conceived the notion of an Infantry Automatic Rifle. Chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO, the M27 boasts a 16.5-inch, 1:7 cold hammer-forged barrel. The short-stroke piston gas system (originally used in the G36 developed by H&K and fielded by the German unified armed forces since 1997) is seen by many as a significant improvement over the M4/M16’s gas impingement system as it utilizes and operating rod to cycle the bolt—thereby eliminating gasses from fouling the bolt assembly and trigger group.

Another major separation of the M27 platform from the M4/M16 is the free-float barrel configuration. Unlike the fixed handguard assembly on the M4/M16 that can influence accuracy, the M27 features a monolithic quad rail system that does not impact the barrel and maximizes airflow to keep the barrel cooler.

The HK416 (top) is the progenitor of the M27 IAR as well as the civilian model MR556A1 series rifles.
The HK416 (top) is the progenitor of the M27 IAR as well as the civilian model MR556A1 series rifles.

Interestingly, all this technology translates to H&K’s civilian rifle offerings, including both the MR556A1 series and the MR762A1 series. The big difference, of course, is that the M27 delivers a cyclic rate of 700-900 rounds-per-minute.

When the Marine Corps embarked on the mission to find a more mobile, infantryman-friendly alternative to the Squad Automatic Weapon, the goal was to improve the effectiveness of the fire team’s gunner. That the H&K M27 met that goal and, in the end, may effectively place a Designated Marksman-level rifle in the hands every infantryman…that is the finest example of serendipity we can think of.



Heckler & Koch

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Although Heckler & Koch is one of our sponsors, the views expressed in this article are those of the author. ShootingDaily.com receives compensation from Heckler & Koch in various forms to help promote their products.