Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are continuing to hound the Corps over its selection of German company Heckler & Koch to produce the Corps’ newest automatic rifle, the M27 IAR, but that hasn’t slowed the Marines’ effort to field the M38.
The M38 is a marksman version of the M27 IAR, born out of the lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan for the need to hit enemy targets at 600 meters. The rifle is being fielded to one designated marksman per infantry squad, but has come under criticism from the Marine sniper community who view the weapon as inadequate for the role it is designated for.
But issues from the Capitol Hill and grumblings from within the Corps have not slowed the Corps’ from issuing the rifle.
Fielding of the M38 squad-designated marksman rifle already has been completed for all three Marine Expeditionary Forces, or MEF, and 216 rifles have been requested for Marine Forces Reserve, according to Barbara Hamby, a spokeswoman for Marine Corps Systems Command.
In total I MEF has received 324 M38s, II MEF 243 and III MEF 81 marksman rifles. The Corps is on track for full operational capability by September 2018, according to Hamby.
A former sniper who spoke to Marine Corps Times called the rifle a “disaster.” “We are going back to 16.5-inch barrels. I guess all the people in charge forgot we fought to get 14.5-inch for years.”
On top of that, “they’re trying to justify using archaic optics they found sitting on a shelf somewhere,” he added.
“Anyone that thinks that optic is acceptable is completely and utterly removed from current optics choices, training, DM [designated marksmen] operations, and reality,” the former sniper said.
The M38 is essentially the M27 with a Leupold TS-30A2 Mark 4 MR/T scope.
However, the now retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade, the former gunner for 2nd Marine Division who led the Corps’ experimental infantry unit aimed at modernizing the grunts, says he’s not surprised that snipers are not fans of the M38.
“I don’t doubt that they [Marine snipers] don’t like it,” Wade told Marine Corps Times. “The M38 is not intended for scout snipers. The M38 is only supposed to be in the rifle squads.”
Though the Corps’ famous gunner did admit that he was “not a proponent of the M38,” it “does fill a requirement, albeit a potentially interim requirement, that’s existed for some time.”
“What I expect is that with the issuance of the M27 to all Marines in every squad, the ongoing mass employment of suppressors, and the development of variable power optics, every Marine in the squad will have the M38 capability in his own rifle,” Wade said. “This would render the M38, as a program, obsolete.”
The Corps could then cancel the M38 program, according to Wade, “since the (soon to be) basic M27 infantry rifle is better than the M38,” he said.
“So I see the M38 as a good thing, for now. The only components of the M38 system which would go away would be the Leupold optic and the KAC QDSS suppressor. We’d keep the base M27s and repurpose them as basic M27 systems with new suppressors and variable power optics. Good stuff for riflemen,” Wade explained.
Though the gunner still described the M38 as a good rifle, he believes the designated marksman rifle’s days are numbered.
“The rifleman with an M27 IAR, suppressor, variable power optic, advanced NODs [night vision], etc. who is fully trained, is a game changer. He can be a rifleman, an automatic rifleman, a grenadier (M320), a Carl Gustaf man, and a designated marksman as each situation requires,” Wade explained.
But Congress may slow the Corps’ effort to replace the M4 with the M27 for its grunts.
On Wednesday, lawmakers with the House Armed Services Committee threatened to withhold 20 percent of M27 funding until they received the Corps’ assessment from Small Arms Ammunition Configuration Study.
Some of Congress’ angst over the M27 stems from the Corp’s decision to source the weapon from a foreign manufacturer.
“Do you believe that it is the best option to not compete a contract that could be as many as 50,814 rifles?” Congressman Joe Wilson, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, asked Marine commanders at a hearing in early March. “Do you believe the U.S. defense industrial base could support such a request?”
Corps officials claim that any new decision on the M27 could delay the Corps by nearly two years from putting the new weapon system in the hands of its grunts.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.