The debate rages on, but the infantry automatic rifle will soon join the war in Afghanistan.
Marine officials announced last night that 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, will deploy to Helmand province beginning today. They’ll eventually take over in country for 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., which has patrolled Garmser district since the fall.
The deployment by 1/3’s Lava Dogs will serve as the first war-zone test for the 5.56mm M27 IAR, which could eventually replace the M249 squad automatic weapon on many infantry patrols. For now, it’s expected the unit will take both the IAR and SAW to war, covering its bases as Marines assess the auto-rifle’s strengths and weaknesses.
Four other units received the IAR as part of an experimental fielding, and will deploy later this year. They include 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.; 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.; 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, out of Pendleton; and 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, a reserve unit out of Fort Devens, Mass.
The units were expected to receive a total of about 458 rifles as part of a new round of experimental testing called for by Gen. James Conway before he retired as commandant in October. The Corps has tentative plans to buy about 4,100 M27s, but Conway called for the limited fielding first.
Like a number of other grunts, Conway was concerned the new weapon, carrying a 30-round magazine, would not provide enough firepower to establish fire superiority in combat. The SAW frequently carries a 200-round drum of ammo. IAR proponents say the lighter weapon will allow Marines to maneuver under fire better and increase accuracy.
If you’re in a unit that’s working the IAR into its predeployment workups, we want to hear from you. Drop me a line at dlamothe (at) marinecorpstimes.com.