Amid concerns about keeping the force ready to fight a highly skilled ­enemy force, small groups of ­Marines are testing gear and ­re-evaluating tactics at the squad level with ­close-quarters methods to kill the ­enemy in a gunfight.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 “Gunner” Christian Wade has been leading an effort to modernize the infantry squad, using reconnaissance units, special operators and infantrymen as testers for new, versatile and more lethal Marine gear and tactics.

Speculation that infantry Marines could face more enemy tanks is prompting an effort to put an improved 84 mm recoilless rifle into squad-level tactics, giving an explosive punch to a group of a dozen Marines to knock out tanks if necessary.

The Army recently approved a ­contract for 1,111 Multi-Role ­Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel System weapons, or MAAWS. The M3E1 is the improved version of the Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle in use in some form since 1946. The new version is a third lighter and nearly 3 inches shorter. 

“MAAWS is a game-changer … to the way in which we fight,” Wade said in an email. “I like rifles, but I love high explosives.”

The weapon can overpower the ­rocket-propelled grenade systems commonly used by enemy forces and gives Marines the ability to carry and fire more rounds than the single-use AT-4.

The new weapon, along with a host of other items that the gunner and Marines in designated “experimental battalions,” are working with call for new ways of thinking about small-unit warfighting, Wade said.

Some of the experimenting has ­included the following:

  • Suppressors on all squad weapons.
  • Improved body armor.
  • Upgraded small unit communications gear.
  • Advanced individual rifles with semi, burst and fully automatic modes.
  • Improved rifle optics for greater range ­shooting.
  • Incorporating drones into small unit operations.
  • Next-generation night vision goggles.
  • Advanced hearing protection.
  • Improved M320 grenade launchers.

Combined, this equipment could revolutionize small units. Suppressed weapons coupled with improved ­communications gear create a kind of stealth infantry, Wade said.

Having the firepower of a MAAWS in the squad makes even a small unit a threat to mechanized opponents and otherwise impervious armor adversaries.

Giving optics and fire selection with grenade launchers means a squad is no longer limited to an individual light machine gunner, grenadier and rifleman. Each Marine can do any and all jobs with the equipment at hand.

This gives the squad leader and ­platoon commander nearly endless ­options for tailoring their firepower to the ­mission and adjusting their capabilities on the fly, Wade said.

Earlier this year Marines carried rifle suppressors on Norway deployments and used them throughout live-fire exercises.

Most of the new gear and tactics are being tested among select Marine units over the course of the past year with work expected to continue for perhaps another two years, Wade said. But as items see success, they can be ­integrated into deploying units.