ARLINGTON, Va. ― The Marine Corps rifle squad has lost a member but will gain a suite of capabilities in a servicewide initiative to bring powerful tools from information to precision fires to the lowest echelons of combat.

Commandant Robert B. Neller told a crowd of hundreds at the Marine Corps Association and Foundation Annual Ground Awards Dinner on Thursday that the new configuration would consist of three, three-Marine fire teams and a command element of three ― a squad leader, assistant squad leader and squad systems operator.

The systems operator will be the most tech-capable Marine in the formation, Neller said. Rather than create a new Military Occupational Specialty, the systems operator will come from the infantry ranks.

And all squad members will carry the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle.

Each squad will have a squad designated marksman, which is set to be the M38, an accurized version of the M27. The foundational formation of the infantry will also carry a common handheld tablet, multi-channel radio and replace M203 grenade launchers with the M320 grenade launcher.

But for all the accessory weight such as night vision goggles, a sound suppressor and laser sighting tools, other areas will have to be trimmed, he said.

“Everything that Marine wears is going to be changed,” Neller said.

In recent months there had been some debate on the size of the squad and the rifles they would carry.

The sizes being considered were 11-, 12-, or 14-man arrangements, and some considered having the squad systems operator carry the M4 carbine to reduce the load, as it is a smaller, lighter weapon.

But Neller said that he decided against keeping the M4 in the squad because he didn’t want the systems operator to stand out and be easily identifiable on the battlefield.

The M4 will eventually replace the M16A4 carried by most non-infantry Marines, Neller said.

While the squad loses a number in manpower, the 13-man variation will remain on paper because as with all the equipment and formation changes that Neller announced, it must be “reversible.”

Other changes included adding drone capabilities at the rifle company level, adding engineer platoons to infantry companies and shifting the engineer squad from nine Marines to 13, he said.

The company commander will also have an intelligence operations cell and a logistics cell at his or her disposal.

Javelin and 81 mm mortar formations will get their own MRZR, a two-person all-terrain vehicle now used by recon marines.

Neller said some changes would happen as quickly as in the coming months while others would take longer, such as developments to extend precision fire ranges and add Active Protection Systems to tanks and other ground vehicles.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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