The modern infantryman eagerly awaits the fielding of the infantry automatic rifle (IAR) to the units designated to receive this new capability. There has been considerable ink dedicated in print and electrons on blogs and web forums that have outlined the solicitation, testing, and selection process. CWO5 Jeffrey Eby has undoubtedly spent a considerable portion of his career serving as an advocate for the capability that the IAR will provide to infantry and light armored reconnaissance (LAR) units. He has written several articles regarding the search for a true IAR, and many observers would consider him the current duty expert on the subject. He has served the Corps well as he breathed life into the concept, and now it is the responsibility of the infantry and LAR communities to continue that work and integrate this new capability into the force.
There are, however, several topics concerning IAR fielding that have not been previously published or discussed, and this article is aimed at forming that discussion and illustrating several recommendations to ensure that the IAR is fielded with as little consternation as possible and that it can begin to provide the accurate fires for which it was designed. These topics follow the flow of a doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, and education, personnel, and facilities analysis and will focus on the areas of doctrine, training, materiel, and personnel.
Marine Corps Systems Command released a limited fielding plan for the M27 IAR while this article was in draft, and the Technical and Administrative Information from Appendix A of that document is outlined in Table 1.
First and foremost, doctrine supporting IAR employment must be developed, tested, and promulgated before the IAR is fielded. A significant amount of thought and analysis has already been accomplished during the testing and experimentation in which CWO5 Eby participated several years ago as the Corps began to explore a replacement for the M249 squad automatic weapon (SAW). Our current reference for tactics, techniques, and procedures at the squad level, Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3–11.2, Marine Rifle Squad, is unfortunately very outdated and doesn’t even provide a basic conceptual foundation for employment of the SAW that the IAR is expected to supplant. Every use of the IAR will certainly be “situation dependent,” as we often say, but that expression is just an excuse for not applying critical thought to how the IAR should be employed. For example, is the IAR just another weapon at the fire team level that can be easily employed by another Marine should the IAR-man become incapacitated? Should it be manned at all costs, per the mantra that grizzled platoon sergeants once told me to follow with the M249? Should the IAR be supported by the other members of the fire team, who facilitate the movement of the IAR-man into a firing position that allows for target engagement and neutralization as other fire teams execute fire and movement to the next piece of cover? Finally, is the IAR-man expected to move as part of a buddy pair with another rifleman, juxtaposed against another pair formed by the team leader and a rifleman? These are all important questions that must be explored and answered lest we end up with a future debate similar to the argument that the SAW supports fire team movement versus the converse that the team members with rifles are supposed to focus on getting the SAW into a firing position, and then fight to establish the next firing position forward along the line of attack. The bedrock NCOs who understand minor tactics will always find a way ahead if they are left to integrate the IAR into their formations without guiding principles, but it need not be that way.
Due to its lineage as a rifle akin to the current M16A4s in our inventory, an IAR marksmanship data book is required to provide the same support for IAR qualification courses of fire that our current known-distance (KD) qualification data book does. Just as a Marine attends sustainment-level qualification training and evaluation with data book in hand, the Marine who is issued an IAR requires the same resource. IAR handling procedures, safety considerations, employment techniques, and detailed marksmanship fundamentals information (e.g., scope theory for the optic, firing positions, wind effects, etc.) should be provided in the front of the data book, similar to the KD qualification book. I have never attempted annual qualification without the requisite data book, and a similar tool can be developed to support IAR training and employment with minimal effort. IAR-men could refer back to the front of the book for sustainment training information, maintain their dope, and even review employment considerations if the detail of the information is allowed to be that indepth.
Although information circulating on the Internet suggests that the Marine Corps is also exploring a large-capacity drum magazine solution for IAR ammunition, the ammunition carrier at the outset will be the standard 30-round box magazine with which every Marine is familiar, issued at the quantity of 10 as annotated in Table 1. Considering the full-automatic capability inherent in the IAR, the standard load must not only be defined, but supporting equipment must also be designed and fielded to accommodate any combat load in excess of what a rifleman is typically issued (six to seven magazines). The current complement of rifleman suite issued ammunition pouches is not going to be sufficient for the combat load envisioned. The mere addition of extra pouches to current or future body armor carriers might not be the answer, considering the most likely firing positions for the IAR and the ergonomics involved. A new chest rig or split harness may be the best option, based on optimal weapon carry and firing positions that have been observed during operational testing and evaluation. Additionally, decisions must be made concerning whether other members of the team and squad are going to be expected to carry dedicated ammunition for the IARs in box magazines or simply contribute magazines to the IAR-man in extremis once his combat load has been expended and the fire team leader directs ammunition redistribution.
Finally, one size does not fit all when it comes to the selection of a sling and its mounting hardware. A query was submitted at the time of this article’s writing to a project officer from Program Manager, Infantry Weapons, in an attempt to determine why the current three-point combat sling was chosen to be the issue sling. The project officer replied that the three-point sling was selected because it is standard issue for the M4 and M16A4 rifles and is in our supply system, and that there are no current user requirements to pursue a different sling. I suspect that once limited fielding is initiated, the requirement will surface for a solution that better integrates the rifle to the worn combat load. I know of no serious practitioners of modern gunfighting techniques who use the issued three-point sling because it is simply not as effective a device as many uniformed users may think. It may have been a step up from the parade sling with sling keeper that we used for years, but weapons manipulation technique has moved into the realm of adjustable two-point and single-point slings, and many infantrymen either procure their own, or their battalion purchases slings prior to pending combat deployments. The amount of money spent on slings alone should be a metric that tells the tale. The positive aspect of our acquisition process is that the requirement can be changed several ways, to include an urgent need statement from end users, so the battalions that will receive the IARs under the limited fielding plan should train with the weapon and inject feedback that rectifies the sling shortfall. On another positive note, the IAR will be fielded with a detachable sling mount adapter, which will allow for mounting at any point along the Picatinny forearm rail. The issue of weapons carriage may seem like a minor concern, but carry comfort will play a significant role in ensuring that the IAR is not issued to the junior Marine in the fire team, as was the case with the M249 SAW in just about every unit I served in and observed over the past 10 years.
Another concern about the new IAR is the personnel assignment component. The table of organization in infantry and LAR battalions calls for the second-most senior Marine at the fire team or scout team level to be the assistant team leader and automatic rifleman, yet the norm is for the junior Marine to be assigned to carry the M249 SAW. I use the term “carry” deliberately, because these junior Marines typically do not have the requisite training or experience to employ the M249 as effectively as possible. They only achieve a level of familiarity and training after considerable time spent operating with the weapons system, but there tends to be a disconnect with employment capability because they have not been exposed to the finer points of fire team functions, squad organization, minor tactics, and the roles and missions of the rifle squad or scout section. This exposure comes over time and as the rifleman or junior scout moves up in seniority within the team. The IAR, like the M249, is not a weapon for the most junior Marine in the team, and once it is introduced to the Operating Forces, it will be the prime time to break the self-destructive cycle of ignorant personnel assignments.
The IAR has the potential to be exactly the fight breaker that it was designed to be, delivering sustained, accurate fires via a magnified optic, with the option to provide fully automatic fires as required, while minimizing weight and handling concerns from which the M249 SAW suffered. The Operating Forces will “figure it out” if the weapon is fielded with merely new equipment training and a qualification course of fire, but so much more can be done to capitalize on that resource, with very little investment and time required.
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