The M27 has become so well liked in August 2017 the Marine Corps issued an intent notice to procure another 50,000 rifles—enough to equip every infantryman and automatic rifleman in front-line combat units.
Marksmanship, the ability to shoot accurately and service targets with the minimum expenditure of ammunition, has always been part of the U.S. Marine Corps ethos. The adoption of the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle over the older M249 Squad Automatic Weapon marks a return to that ethos across the service at the small unit level. More accurate and capable of accomplishing its mission with fewer expended rounds, the M27 is now being considered as the front-line rifle not only for a handful of squad members but across the Corps’ front line units.
The U.S. Marine Corps, accustomed to heavy losses against strong enemy defenses and beach assaults, maintains robust, thirteen-man infantry squads. These squads further divide into three fire teams led by a single squad leader, each of which has two riflemen, a grenadier and an automatic rifleman. Compared to a nine-man U.S. Army infantry squad, the Marine squad has four more personnel and a third rifle team, the result being increased flexibility and more tactical options for the squad leader.
For decades the fire team automatic rifleman has been equipped with the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. Originally developed by Fabrique Nationale as the MINIMI, the M249 was capable of laying down a large volume of fire, up to 900 rounds per minute, using 200 round belt-fed packs of ammunition. This made the M249 useful for suppressive fire, keeping the enemy’s head down while other fire teams closed with the enemy. The M249 was a Marine Corps staple through the 9/11 era.
As useful as the M249 was, it did have problems. A 2006 report conducted by the CNA Corporation found that among U.S. Army combat veterans, the M249 scored below average in third place (after the M16 rifle and M4 carbine, but generally ahead of the M9 pistol) in handling, accuracy, maintainability and corrosion resistance. Nearly 30 percent of troops issued the M249 reported experiencing a stoppage in contact with the enemy, and 35 percent expressed a lack of confidence in weapon reliability. Although a U.S. Army study, the weapons involved in the study were identical to those issued at the time by the U.S. Marines.