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Iconic Machine Gun Going the Way of the Browning

The M249 ‘SAW’ machine gun for infantry units is being replaced by the Infantry Automatic Rifle, which costs less and can be used to deliver accurate and deadly single shots.

By Sgt. James Mercure, Regional Command Southwest

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SABIT QADAM, Afghanistan - As full integration of the Infantry Automatic Rifle into the Marine Corps’ arsenal becomes complete, the M249 Light Machine Gun, formerly the Squad Automatic Weapon, slowly fades into the history of the Corps.

The SAW has seen action since 1984 and has protected Marines since. Replaced by an automatic rifle of similar size and weight of the M16A4 service rifle already issued to rank and file Marines, the familiarity with the new weapon is almost instant.

“The IAR has fewer moving parts than the SAW does making it a lot more ‘grunt friendly,’” said Lance Cpl. Tyler Shaulis, an IAR gunner with 4th Platoon, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7. “It has a direct piston system, so there are fewer jams. It stays cleaner, longer with less carbon build up after it’s been fired. The muscle memory stays the same with it as it would an M16. If an IAR gunner goes down, any Marine could grab the weapon and lay down accurate suppressive fire without thinking twice.”

Related: Read the IAR Specs on Colt.com

For the Marines at this austere forward operating base, the change has been a positive one, with only a few minor suggestions for the new rifle issued to them before they deployed during early October.

“It’s a huge improvement to have a more accurate weapon,” said Staff Sgt. Mathew Henderson, Personal Security Detachment platoon commander on his fourth combat deployment. “We want to broaden the application of its use. For instance, using an IAR in a sniper platoon instead of a SAW would be a huge advantage.”

To potentially lower costs, Marines with the battalion are looking at ways to implement the IAR in place of a more expensive weapon already in use. 

“This weapon platform could be used as multipurpose weapon system in the infantry squad, i.e., using an IAR as an automatic rifle and as a designated marksman rifle,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Chris Jones, an infantry weapons officer. “In the current fight when there is a limited exposure and a fleeting target that blends in with the local populace, it is more important to have a more accurate rifle with a better optic. If you can get (positive identification) faster, you can kill the enemy rather than a weapon that provides audible suppression. Audible suppression being the bullets hitting everywhere but on target, and the enemy only hearing the sounds of gunfire.” 

“In a time of fiscal restraints, one rifle potentially serving two purposes would be huge,” said Jones from Sullivan, Ind.

Although the SAW will be missed by some of the “saltier” Marines who have used it before, the IAR brings about a new breed of machine gunner and the squad he supports with it. 

“We’re going back to what we had in WWII with the Browning Automatic Rifle,” Henderson said. “Since the 1980s, we gave the infantry squad the light machine gun, and now we’re having another shift in the Marine Corps to get back to what we were doing right the first time.”

LRRPF52 November 20, 2012 at 11:37 PM
This article is such a piece of BS. Having served as a SAW gunner in several different units over the years, there is no way you are ever going to replace a belt-fed weapon with a magazine-fed one...period. As much as I hate the SAW, there is no way you are going to provide suppressive fire capability with the IAR. We tried this several times in US history, and failed every time. The specific feedback I have heard from boots in a STA platoon who fielded them first in cornholistan chose to go out on missions with SAW's, and left the IAR back at the FOB. In one instance, they were ambushed, with the point man hit first. They responded with suppressive fire from the 200rd sack-fed SAWs, which allowed them to get the wounded out of the kill zone and un-ass the AO. If your response is to use the 60rd SF mag, the first time I ever tried the SF 60, it malf'd, like all coffin mags have done historically. We need a new Belt-fed LMG that is lightweight like the Stoner LMG, chambered in something that will bridge the gap between 5.56 and 7.62 NAT0, without the 7.62 weight/recoil penalty.

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