How the Marine Corps is conducting a modernization overhaul of infantry weapons

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The Marine Corps is launching a major overhaul of its infantry weapons and optic systems over the course of the next 10 years, according to the Marine Corps Systems Command’s Program Manager for Infantry Weapons.

The Marine Corps’ objective is to enhance the lethality of the infantry squad, aligning with Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger’s overarching mission to better equip the service to compete against near-peer adversaries like Russia and China.

“This is the largest modernization of the infantry squad in the last 25 years,” Lt. Col. Tim Hough, MCSC’s program manager for Infantry Weapons, said in a Marine Corps news release.

As part of the modernization process, the PM IW is working to replace Marine Corps pistols with the Modular Handgun System that features a plastic clip-on piece to provide grip size variety.

“The MHS improves on the precision and reliability of the legacy platforms, while also bringing with it new, more effective ammunition,” Maj. Mike Brisker, weapons product manager for PM IW, said in a Marine Corps news release.

Brisker said that there are two rounds of ammunition that are used with the MHS: M1152 and M1153 9mm rounds.

“The M1152 ammunition is expected to have increased penetration through various mediums, and M1153 Special Purpose (SP) is intended to cause more damage than the M1152 ammunition in soft tissue targets,” Brisker said in an email to Marine Corps Times. “The choice of ammunition for an engagement is threat- and mission-dependent.”

The Marine Corps has already started to procure the MHS, and Marines will start fielding it later in the fiscal year.

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Likewise, more Marines will get access to the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle that was first introduced to infantry units in 2011 by the end of the fiscal year. The rifle was popular with Marines, prompting the service to field the M27 to all rifle platoons as their primary individual weapon to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.

The Marine Corps initially said it was partnering with the Army to procure the Next-Generation Squad Weapon system and that it planned to swap out the M27s for the 6.8mm rifle and automatic rifle as the primary individual weapon for infantry units. But the service later said that information was inaccurate, and that no decision has been made regarding procuring the NGSW.

“The Marine Corps is participating in and will continue to assess NGSW solutions for maturity, suitability and affordability to meet our operational requirements in order to inform a decision on if and when to begin procurement of these improved capabilities,” Marine Corps Systems Command spokesperson Monique Randolph said in a statement.

Task & Purpose first reported that the Marine Corps wasn’t planning to replace the M27 with the NGSW, which General Dynamics, Sig Sauer and Textron Systems are developing.

The service is also revamping some optic systems. For example, the Marines are upgrading and fielding the Squad Binocular Night Vision Goggle this spring to replace the AN/PVS-14 Molecular Night Vision Device. The new goggle is worn on helmets and is designed to provide greater depth perception, as well as a greater ability to spot targets in low lighting or in poor weather.

Additionally, the Marine Corps awarded a contract in February to Trijicon, Inc. to develop Squad Common Optic systems — a new magnified day optic.

“The Squad Common Optic enables Marines to see farther and identify the enemy more quickly,” Hough said.

The Marine Corps will start fielding the optic system in fiscal year 2021 and is set to obtain roughly 19,000 units by fiscal year 2023.

Berger, who has served as the commandant of the Marine Corps since July 2019, has signaled that he would aim to eliminate some legacy systems, swapping them out instead with new platforms.

“In line with the Commandant’s Planning Guidance, we’re looking to lighten the load and increase the overall lethality of Close Combat Forces — specifically infantry Marines,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 David Tomlinson, an infantry weapons officer with PM IW.

“These efforts show we are focused on staying abreast of advancements that are coming quickly,” said Tomlinson. “It also shows our desire to stay persistent, look toward the future, and make sure our Marines receive the best [systems] we can buy.”

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