Power or Accuracy? The USMC’s M27


Over the past couple of decades, the USA and most of its major allies have standardized on the Belgian FN Minimi (more familiarly known as the M249) or similar weapons as the squad-level support weapon. A relatively lightweight belt-fed LMG that can deliver heavy fire out to around 400 yards, the Minimi has proven itself in numerous conflicts and is popular with troops. The same goes for other weapons in the same class, like Germany’s HK MG4. But now there’s a dissenter from this trend – the United States Marine Corps.

The USMC’s focus on individual marksmanship is a point of pride, but up til now they’ve shared support weapons with the US Army – first the M60, then the M249 (and to some extent the M240, the Minimi’s big brother). That’s changing though. In 1999 the Corps began planning a competition to find not just a new weapon, but a whole new concept – the Infantry Automatic Rifle. Trials started in 2005, and the winner was announced five years later. The squad-level support weapon of the USMC is now the M27 IAR.


The first thing to say about the M27 is that it’s an excellent weapon. Manufactured by Heckler & Koch, it’s a variant of their superb MK416 carbine. This means it’s instantly familiar to anyone trained on an M16 or M4 – the USMC’s standard infantry weapons – and thanks to its gas piston system, the reliability is outstanding. The M27 has a 16.5-inch heavy barrel, and comes as standard with an ACOG and a forward grip with integrated bipod. The advantages the USMC claim for the weapon include the use of standard rifle magazines, better MOUT performance thanks to its compact size, and the fact the enemy can’t identify gunners as easily.

But not everyone is happy. Former Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway says that even if the M27 is more accurate, the M249 is a real belt-fed machine gun, and puts out a degree of firepower that a carbine can never compete with. The Corps insists that improved accuracy will compensate for that, but experience suggests they might be wrong. In 1985, the British moved from their old 7.62mm weapons – the L1A1 FN-FAL rifle and the L7 general purpose machinegun (basically the same weapon as the M240) – to the SA80 system. The squad’s single GPMG was replaced with two L86A1 Light Support Weapons, which followed the same concept as the M27 – a carbine with a longer, heavier barrel and integrated bipod. Twenty years later this decision was acknowledged as a disaster and each squad got two L110A2 LMGs – and the L110A2 is simply the FN Minimi. The L86 weapons were reissued to riflemen who could use their improved accuracy, but the support role was claimed back by a proper machine gun.

In fact, the trend right now is for even heavier weapons to be issued – the British used L7s as squad-level weapons in Afghanistan, while many German units preferred the old 7.62mm MG3 to the lighter, more compact MG4. US infantry, both Army and USMC, like the reliability and firepower of the M240. The USMC is definitely swimming against the stream with its decision to phase out squad-level guns in favor of an enhanced carbine. In some ways the M27 looks like a rebirth of the Browning Automatic Rifle – a superb weapon, but one developed for a task that didn’t really exist. What happened to the BAR? It faded away to be replaced by belt-fed guns. It will be interesting to see if the M27 suffers the same fate as the L86, taking on a marksman’s role while the M249s return to give fire support.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

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6 thoughts on “Power or Accuracy? The USMC’s M27

  1. As an Marine veteran (Iraq and Afghanistan) and 0331 – Machine Gunner, I feel that massive firepower is needed within the squad and fire team level. I agree completely with your statement comparing the M27 to that of the BAR. Sometimes you just need fire superiority and belt feds deliver that. The M27 sounds like a fantastic weapon, especially as a piston driven over open bolt operation. If they used SureFire’s hi-cap mags or any other reliable 100+ round drum mag I would be behind this. Two riflemen cannot replace a machine gunner and sometimes more is, well, more.

    Great article, Paul. Keep it up.

    Semper Fi

  2. Apart from the mentioned L86A-1 LSW and M1918 BAR, the other analogues to the M27 IAR would be the British WW2 era Bren and the Cold War era Russian RPK and RPK-74. The MG36 could also be seen as a rival to the MG4, but both are made by H&K.

    The Bren and BAR were magazine fed LMGs not based on any rifle, but the RPK and RPK-74 are based on the (Kalashnikov) AKM and AK-74 respectively.

  3. In the ADF, we had 2 minimi per section (8 men, 2 bricks). The 200rd link bags being rather floppy, cumbersome and less reliable. There were many variations to theme depending on terrain but my favourit was 125rds carefully packed into the 100rd bag then the rest of the link rolled up into 50rd portions each portion interlocked tip to tip. This way 400rds could fit a pouch meant for a single US 200rd plastic mag.

    So in essence each gunner or AR in US speak had 800rd front line but the majority of the load in 50rd portions.

    This IAR concept sounds great especially with the option of 60rd mags (not the beta, they look like fat quad stacked AR metal magazines)

    Roughly 13 mags shouldn’t be a problem with current pouches if not new specialized ones, plus the benefit of compatibility with the rest of the brick, lighter, more agile weapon capable as AR or DMR. Sounds like light infantry dream rig.

  4. The ITR is a 5.56 using a 30 round magazine. The M4 is a 5.56 using a 30 round magazine. I do not see the difference, considering you can fit a Bi-pod on an M4. But, hey why spend 1k on an M4 when you can spend 3k on the ITR

  5. If the Marines wanted a 7.62 round weapon, they would have bought one. The Marines new weapon, with the longer barrel on the M27, the use of a gas piston over the system used by the M4, and the weight savings to carry more rounds, now has accuracy and range approaching the 7.62 and a less jamming the the M4. M4 still has the a bad rap for not firing properly when throwing lots of lead, time to get rid of it. That’s one reason why they are cheaper and a lousy weapon.

    1. Dean you are seem to be misinformed the m27 will not come close to the range of the 7.62 (it still fires a 5.56 round with a 2 inch longer barrel) the m4 is a great weapon that’s just as reliable as anything out there, If you know how to take care of it. well over 100 combat missions in Iraq along with the big push in the Stan never had my m4 fail. If the m4 lacks anything it would be its caliber, I would love to see the military adopt the 6.8 spc

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