The infantry automatic rifle: is it a good idea or not? History clearly has something to say about this idea. I learned a lot of things in the Marine Corps. One thing that I learned is that Cheating and bend the rules are two different things. Lead a platoon against platoon operation? Well, is it cheating if I go to the headquarters tent to ask Gunny for a jug of water and take a picture of the map showing each platoon’s location? No, it collects information. It’s a violation of the rules.
And the Marine Corps pulled its own version of the rule when it took the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle and used it as an official replacement for its service rifle.
The military has conducted what seems like half a dozen attempts to replace the M16/M4 series of rifles, and they usually spend a ton of money and accomplish nothing. The Marine Corps adopted the M27 IAR originally to replace the SAW. IAR stands for Infantry Automatic Rifle, and the Corps wanted to replace the SAW with a lighter, more maneuverable automatic weapon.
The M27 IAR replaced the SAWs, then it became the designated marksman rifle, and now it is the rifle issued to all naval infantry and most combat arms. Sneaky Marine Corps. Interestingly, this isn’t the first time an IAR has been issued on a belt-fed weapon. In fact, this is the fourth time the US military has attempted to use an automatic rifle in the squad support role.
Here are the other three times we’ve done this dance.
The Browning Automatic Rifle
The OG infantry automatic rifle came from John Moses Browning. It was originally designed for World War I, and at the time Browning’s son was serving overseas. The BAR was produced a little too late for WW1, but as we know the aftermath of WW1 came along and WW2 gave the BAR some action.
To like a lot of action. He served admirably in Europe, the Pacific and North Africa. Chambered in the powerful 30-06 round, the M1918A2 BAR spewed 30 caliber man plugs at a relatively slow and controllable rate of 300 to 450 rounds per minute. At a time when most rifles were bolt-action and most machine guns weighed hundreds of pounds, the BAR offered tremendous firepower and mobility.
It made a big difference and allowed American maneuver warfare doctrine to succeed around the world in the face of unprecedented evil. The BAR did not see the end of its service until the early days of Vietnam. Even then he saw plenty of action with South Vietnamese forces. However, a 4-foot-long, nearly 20-pound rifle was not exactly effective by modern standards.
By the time Vietnam arrived, the M14 was the rifle of choice, and the M60 had become one of the first true general-purpose machine guns. The M60 was carried by dedicated machine gunners and weighed nearly 24 pounds. It did not fill the void of a light machine gun, so the US Army board set about designing an infantry automatic rifle version of the M14.
Have you ever wondered why we have an M14 and an M16 but no M15? Well, the M15 was a heavily modified M14 designed for the squad auto role. Known as the M15 Squad Automatic Weaponthe rifle was identical to the M14, except that it carried a heavier barrel and stock, a fore and aft pistol grip, a hinged butt plate, and a bipod.
However, it was never put into service as it turns out that an M14 with a bipod and hinged butt plate works just as well as the M15. So what we saw was the M14E2, which became the M14A1. The M14A1 used a bipod, BAR sling, vertical folding pistol grip, rear pistol grip, plastic upper forend and muzzle compensator.
Some went to Vietnam, but this infantry auto rifle kind of sucked. The BAR’s added weight and slow rate of fire made it a success. The lighter M14A1 and its 750 rounds per minute rate of fire made it overheat quickly and hardly controllable. It was abandoned, and it appears most were given to ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) forces.
The Stoner 63 automatic rifle
The Marines took several hundred Stoner 63s to Vietnam for testing and evaluation. The Stoner 63 had various configurations including rifles, machine guns and the infantry automatic rifle variant. The infantry automatic rifle variant used a top-feeding magazine, much like European Bren guns. It chambered the lighter 5.56 cartridge, fired in fully automatic mode only from an open bolt setup, and used a bipod for added control.
During testing, the Marines found the automatic rifle version useless and returned it. It was an interesting design, but magazine weapons don’t provide the best suppression in vicious firefights. The top-loading magazine allowed for a good low position with a bipod, and the gun was superbly light compared to the M60, but nobody liked it.
In the 1980s, the USMC fielded a more modern infantry automatic rifle. Somehow. In fact, at the time, it was actually an older weapon. The marine fire teams each featured an automatic rifleman armed with a fully automatic M16A1. The only real change they made to the rifle was attaching a bipod to it.
The M16A1 offered fully automatic tuning and was actually quite controllable. With its closed-bolt design, it had some of the best characteristics of a rifle in the automatic rifleman position. The poor Marine pulled out an infantry automatic rifle carried overhead twenty magazines but.
The downfall of the M16A1 as an infantry automatic rifle is really down to the fact that it was not designed for this role. It would overheat quickly, get too hot to handle, and again, 30-round magazines wouldn’t provide much firepower in the long run.
Is an infantry automatic rifle a bad idea?
We’ve seen the rise and fall of the infantry automatic rifle time and time again, which makes us wonder, is this a bad idea? Well, admittedly, an automatic rifle cannot deliver the same level of firepower as a belt-fed machine gun. A magazine-fed gun just can’t fit a belt.
However, a lighter, more maneuverable weapon is much better suited to a fast moving force like the USMC. Most Marine Corps platoons are supported by a machine gun team with medium machine guns. Also, when you equip everyone with an M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle, everyone has suppressive abilities, and the gap between an IAR and a real machine gun decreases significantly.
The USMC’s M27 features a design intended for fully automatic fire. Additionally, each infantry company will keep six SAWs in the arsenal, just in case a platoon needs a little more firepower. Adopting an infantry automatic rifle can be done well, and it looks like the USMC could do just that.
Additionally, the Trojans mounted a new service rifle in the Corps without a large, costly lawsuit and maintained the greatest tradition of being the stepchildren’s fighting force. What are you saying people? Can an IAR work in the infantry?
Or should we go back to federal belts? Let me know what you think below.
Travis Pike is a retired Marine Gunner who served with the 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU (SOC) during a record 11 months at sea. He trained with the Romanian Army, Spanish Marines, Marines of the emirate and the Afghan national army. He is an NRA Certified Pistol Instructor and teaches concealed carry courses. This first appeared in Sandboxx News.