U.S. Marine Corps Chooses H&K To Make SAW Replacement

Published: 2 Dec 2009 12:51
Courtesy of Defense News & Backwater Tactical Weekly

The U.S. Marine Corps has selected the infantry automatic rifle made by Heckler & Koch as the weapon that will replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon in infantry fire teams, a senior service official told Marine Corps Times on Wednesday.

The H&K IAR "was truly the best in the class on multiple levels and will finally allow the billet of automatic rifleman to be performed as intended without the disruption of the squad integrity that the M249 created," Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jeffrey Eby, the Corps' senior gunner, said in an e-mail.

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The final contract competition also included two models from Colt Defense LLC and one model from FN Herstal.

Like the SAW, each IAR finalist is built for 5.56mm ammunition. Unlike the SAW, they are not designed to operate with a 200-round drum, a point of contention for some U.S. Marines concerned about a loss of firepower. The IAR is designed to use the same 30-round magazine used with the M16, although industry, including FN Herstal, is also developing high-capacity 5.56mm magazines for the weapon that could hold 100 or 150 rounds.

The H&K IAR is the lightest of the four weapons the U.S. Marine Corps tested this summer, after selecting finalists for the competition in December 2008. It weighs 7.9 pounds empty, with a barrel length of 16.5 inches and a collapsible stock that extends from 33 to 36.9 inches, company officials have said. It has a gas-operated system and fires from the closed-bolt position.

Marine Corps Systems Command, based at U.S. Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., had not announced the winner of the IAR competition as of Wednesday morning. SysCom officials said in September that they expected a decision on the IAR to be made in October, but have declined interviews since. Eby, who oversees the Corps' infantry weapons experts, said he has known who won the contract for about a month, but referred questions about why it has not been announced to SysCom.

A formal protest was filed with the U.S. Government Accountability Office by FN Herstal to a Marine contract decision Oct. 30 and updated Nov. 23, but GAO officials declined to discuss whether the protest was related to the IAR decision. Colt currently has no contract protests filed with GAO.

Eby said initial operational testing is scheduled to take place from January to May in locations ranging from Panama to the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center and Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center in California.

"If successful and awarded full-rate production approval, then we should see initial operational capability by late summer 2010," Eby said.

Company officials could not immediately be reached for comment