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M249 Becomes an Endangered Species in the Corps

Cpl. Eric Bobst, an Infantry Automatic Rifleman with personal security detachment, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7, fires his IAR at a close-quarters range at Forward Operating Base Sabit Qadam, Oct. 22. The IAR is replacing the M249 Light Machine Gun as the automatic weapon organic to the infantry squad. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. James Mercure)

As full integration of the Infantry Automatic Rifle into the Marine Corps’ arsenal becomes complete, the M249 Light Machine Gun, formerly the Squad Automatic Weapon, slowly fades into the history of the Corps.

The SAW has seen action since 1984 and has protected Marines ever since. Its replacement, however is an automatic rifle of similar size and weight of the M16A4 service rifle already issued to rank and file Marines. The familiarity with this new weapon is almost instant for Marines.

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“The IAR has fewer moving parts than the SAW does, making it a lot more ‘grunt friendly,’” said Lance Cpl. Tyler Shaulis, an IAR gunner with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7. “It has a direct piston system, so there are fewer jams. It stays cleaner longer, with less carbon build up after it’s been fired. The muscle memory stays the same with it as it would an M16. If an IAR gunner goes down, any Marine could grab the weapon and lay down accurate suppressive fire without thinking twice.”

For the Marines at this austere forward operating base, the change has been a positive one, with only a few minor suggestions for the new rifle issued to them in early October before the deployment.

A Marine with 1st Intelligence Battalion fires a M249 squad automatic weapon during a pre-deployment training program field exercise July 12, 2011. The SAW is slowly becoming a thing of the past as Marines in Afghanistan become acquainted with the Infantry Automatic Rifle.

“It’s a huge improvement to have a more accurate weapon,” said Staff Sgt. Mathew Henderson, the platoon commander of Personal Security Detachment, 2nd Bn., 7th Marines, currently on his fourth combat deployment. “We want to broaden the application of its use. For instance, using an IAR in a sniper platoon instead of a SAW would be a huge advantage.”

To potentially lower costs, Marines with the battalion are looking at ways to implement the IAR in place of a more expensive weapon already in use.

“This weapon platform could be used as a multipurpose weapon system in the infantry squad, i.e., using an IAR as an automatic rifle and as a designated marksman rifle,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Chris Jones, infantry weapons officer, 2nd Bn., 7th Marines. “In the current fight when there is a limited exposure and a fleeting target that blends in with the local populace, it is more important to have a more accurate rifle with a better optic. If you can get positive identification faster, you can kill the enemy rather than a weapon that provides audible suppression; audible suppression being the bullets hitting everywhere but on target, and the enemy only hearing the sounds of gunfire.

“In a time of fiscal restraints, one rifle potentially serving two purposes would be huge,” added Jones from Sullivan, Ind.

Although the SAW will be missed by some of the “saltier” Marines who have used it before, the IAR brings about a new breed of machine gunner and the squad he supports with it.

“We’re going back to what we had in World War II with the Browning Automatic Rifle,” Henderson said. “Since the 1980s, we gave the infantry squad the light machine gun, and now we’re having another shift in the Marine Corps to get back to what we were doing right the first time.”

  • Anonymous

    I never had to deal with being a subpar Marine. You must know a lot about that, 13 year Ssgt. I have some insight on SAWs seeing as I was given Meritorious Mast for just that in Albania in ’04. The only one in the battalion to get one. Further commendations in Afghanistan later that year. But, you should probably just harp on a grammar error… that will prove your point.

  • Guest

    I never had to deal with being a subpar Marine. You must know a lot about that, 13 year Ssgt. I have some insight on SAWs seeing as I was given Meritorious Mast for just that in Albania in ’04. The only one in the battalion to get one with further commendations in Afghanistan later that year. But, you should probably just harp on a grammar error… that will prove your point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.wolf.501 David Wolf

    Nope. made it on time, thanks. Guess you never had to deal with the halcyon years of locked out MOSes. and it would be “your”. Might want to see your Training NCO about ordering the appropriate MCI.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.wolf.501 David Wolf

    Get off, boot. I got real work to do. Just because you prefer accuracy through volume, doesn’t mean it’s the best way to go about the business. I qual’d just fine with the SAW and carried it for three years. I’m guessing you’re an 0331…or just want to be.

  • AK Cha

    I like it!!! I understand you can’t put as many rounds down range, but its light weight. Sure the gunner will have to carry more magazines, and go through them quickly, but with some proper training a marine will become fluent with the weapon. The upside is no more extra weight i.e (drums extra barrel). Which makes for a lighter and quicker marine!!!!

  • Anonymous

    All of the reasons against a SAW you gave just displays your non-proficiency with it.
    Not accurate? Operator error.
    Not suited for foot patrols? Operator needs to spend less time with doc in the follow vehicle during training hikes.
    Not suitable in MOUT? Operator too weak to maneuver it.

    Since you’re with doc anyway, have him give you something for the burn.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.wolf.501 David Wolf

    DId you read the article. Direct piston as opposed to gas impingement operation. It operates better for longer and has an optimized optic. And the 0311 Automatic Rifleman was never meant to be a “machine gunner”. The IAR is a great weapon; it’s accurate out to long range and that provides the best kind of suppressive fire, the kind that actually kills the enemy. I carried that SAW for three years and through two deployments. It was a POS and poorly suited for foot mobile combat and especially MOUT. SAWs are better suited to static defense, use the IAR out on the real patrols. Just because any infantry Marine “could” grab a SAW and operate it if need be doesn’t mean that they’d be proficient with it. There is a lot more similarity to the IAR.

  • DKVarble

    I was one of the first to use the M249 SAW back in 84′, loved the sustained rate of fire for the weapon, but agree whole heartedly that it was a b*tch to clean. I did not feel that the weapon gave up anything to accuracy, like anything else, a Marine had to train with his equipment to become proficient.

  • SgtP

    Makes about as much sense as telling a grunt “based on the new Geneva rules, you are only authorized to load 10 rounds between loads” – even though you have a 30 round magazine. Guaranteed some paper pushing officer is being paid under the table, handsomely (and guaranteed civilian job), and using the same excuse “…WWII we used the B.A.R., we now need to change too” – A civilian gun contractor get’s his bid chosen over other candidates. Corrupt politicians making changes without consulting those who actually use the weapon. Only to benefit their pockets and not really looking after the grunt’s best interest.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rudi.santana Rudi Santana

    Shouldn’t it have a higher capacity than 30 rounders? Isn’t it just another AR on the field without sustainable auto fire?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.buesking Fritz Fotos

    Being air force tact. support I have spent time with a squad that had a 249 I would rather have that behind me making heads duck than anything else while moving position.

  • http://www.facebook.com/clarence.perry.7 Clarence E. Perry

    NOOOOOOOOO, I loved that weapon as a 0311!!!! It was abitch to keep clean but as far as rounds that you could put down range was great!!

  • Anonymous

    What’s the difference between this and an A1 other than fancier hand guards? Why would you want a “machine gunner” to have to switch out mags every 3 seconds? You better be supplying drum mags, otherwise this is a horrible idea. The idea that “any Marine could grab the weapon and lay down accurate suppressive fire without thinking twice.’ is flawed logic to support it’s use. If a SAW gunner went down, any Infantry Marine could do the same. Give these to the POGs that will never use them anyways. Let them collect dust as they walk to the chow hall.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rick.defehr1 Rick DeFehr

    How about, Real OLD SCHOOL ? 7.62, Show Stopper…..