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Two Marines carrying Reconnaissance Weapon Kit-equipped M27s during a training exercise in May 2022. USMC / Cpl. Henry Rodriguez
For more than a year now, U.S. Marines with the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion have been armed in part with a new short-barrel variant of the service's 5.56x45mm M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle. The M27 is itself a version of the widely successful Heckler & Koch HK 416 rifle, which Marines first began issuing as a substitute for the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon over a decade ago now. Since then, the Corps has pushed to expand the use of the M27 both as a more general-purpose infantry rifle and in specialized roles, such as that of a designated marksman weapon.
The 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, part of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, first began using the short-barrel versions of the M27 in May 2021 as part of a limited user evaluation, Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM) told The War Zone in a statement. The guns are issued in the form of replacement upper receiver groups, or URGs, also referred to as the Reconnaissance Weapons Kit, which are used to convert existing M27s into the more compact configuration.
The most obvious difference between standard M27s and those fitted with the Reconnaissance Weapons Kit is the shortening of the barrel from 16.5 inches down to 11 inches. The new Reconnaissance Weapons Kit uppers also feature enhancements to the HK 416 series that Heckler & Koch first introduced with the improved A5 version. This includes a change to the gas system that allows it to be toggled, without special tools, between a normal setting and one intended to ensure the gun functions reliably when equipped with a suppressor.
The shortened Marine guns are still chambered in the standard 5.56x45mm.
A close-up of the front end of a Reconnaissance Weapon Kit-equipped M27, showing the adjustable gas system. In this case, it is set to "N," or normal, rather than "S," or suppressed. USMC / Cpl. Henry Rodriguez
Though the Reconnaissance Weapons Kits are currently issued only on a limited basis, "there is a need for a shorter barreled URG in the reconnaissance community in order to conduct some of the specific mission sets given to that community," a MARCORSYSCOM spokesperson told The War Zone. Short-barrel rifle-caliber guns can be useful for providing additional firepower in various close-quarters situations, including inside buildings or even on ships, and can simply be easier for personnel to maneuver with and carry in various circumstances, such as when entering or exiting vehicles or jumping out of aircraft.
Dismounted Marine reconnaissance units like the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion are primarily tasked to provide reconnaissance and surveillance missions in support of amphibious landings and ground operations ashore. They are also capable of performing various direct action missions, including raids on ships or targets on land. The overarching Marine reconnaissance community also includes Force Reconnaissance units, which are more specialized entities capable of carrying out deeper-penetrating reconnaissance and direct action missions behind enemy lines or into otherwise sensitive areas.
The issuing of the Reconnaissance Weapons Kit-equipped M27s to the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion comes at a time when the Marine reconnaissance community as a whole has seen new emphasis as part of the Corps' new Force Design 2030 plans. Force Design 2030 is centered heavily on the idea of readily deployable and relatively small "stand-in" forces with significant reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance capabilities, among other things, to help deter potential hostile action. Failing that, they are intended to be well positioned to frustrate an opponent's battle plan. You can read more about the general Force Design 2030 concept, which also involves trimming back or eliminating heavier forces, including the total divestment of Marine M1 Abrams tanks.
What exactly the Marine Corps' final plans for issuing short-barrel Reconnaissance Weapon Kit-equipped M27s on a broader basis remains to be seen. However, the service's reconnaissance units certainly look in line to get various new and improved capabilities in the near future as work continues to refine and implement the Force Design 2030 plans.
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USMC - Marine Force Recon