The U.S. Marine Corps is trimming the size of their squads by one Marine but they argue the new program provides much more firepower as well as increased situational awareness.
The building block of every infantry platoon in the Marines is the squad, currently a 13-strong unit. Under the new format, it will shrink by one to 12 and constrict the size of each fire team from four to three members, but the number of M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle systems will swell as every member will carry one, effectively tripling the current volume of fire available to the unit, according to officials. Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said the development will make the squad “more lethal, agile and capable.”
While the unit has given up their M249 Squad Automatic Weapons — the U.S. version of the FN Minimi — the M27 has taken the place of that belt-fed weapon and will by 2020 phase out the M4 rifles in the squad, upping the number of the modified select-fire variant of the HK416 5.56mm gas piston rifle per squad from three to 12.
“Testing has also conclusively shown that the M249 is a ~12 MOA weapon; far less reliable, responsive, and has a slower rate of fire than our Automatic Rifle,” said then-CW5 Christian P. Wade, the 2nd Marine Division’s Gunner in speaking about the difference between the old SAW and the new IAR.
Gone are the three riflemen and three assistant automatic rifleman billets in each squad, replaced with three Grenadiers armed with their own 40mm grenade launcher in addition to their M27. In the above video, the bloop tube operator is depicted with the new side-loading M320 grenade launcher module. “Due to its side breach, the M320 will allow for the use of more capable 40mm grenades for counter-defilade, breaching and non-lethal applications,” noted the Corps in their budget request last year.
In addition, the updated squad format includes two new positions– an assistant squad leader and a squad systems operator. The latter is part of Neller’s “Quads for Squads” program to equip every infantry squad with a small backpack-capable quadcopter capable of looking over the next hill or block to provide the unit its own organic airborne recon capability.