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Never outgunned… we hope!

I recently read the article the Washington Post put out asking why the Corps hasn’t fielded a long-range rifle to keep up with the other branches of service and more importantly potential future adversaries. The article I can only assume purposely glanced over two larger caliber rifles in current use by the Corps, however, it has once again brought a deficiency to light.

The Corps larger caliber rifles
The Corps currently has two larger caliber rifles in use that were not mentioned in the Post’s article. The Mk13 is a special built .300 win mag rifle made by NSWC Crane for MARSOC. Those in MARSOC, who have employed these rifles overseas, have achieved some amazing results at ranges beyond what the Mk13 was intended for. There are numerous reports and after action reports where Marines have successfully killed targets beyond 1500m, some just over 2000m.  This is a real testament to the talent of the Marines behind the glass. The Post article also failed to mention the Corps Barrett M107. While some of the Corps M107’s are MOV (minute of vehicle) rifles, some have no issue shooting MOA (minute of angle) at distance with decent lots of Mk211.The Mk211 round is a high explosive, armor piercing, incendiary projectile manufactured by Nammo in Raufoss Norway. It’s a very accurate and lethal round, whose payload has helped change the outcome of many battles.  Again some of the talented Marines who employ the M107’s have pulled off some remarkable shots beyond 2k while in Afghanistan. While the Mk13 is not fielded by the Fleet Marine Forces, the M107’s can be found in every infantry battalion along with LAR and the reconnaissance units. While some Marines think that the M107 needs to go away, it’s a tool that should never leave the proverbial toolbox. Far too often the U.S. military focuses its equipment & tactics on past conflicts. Those calling for the M107’s removal have lost the foresight that we may someday face a force with lightly armored vehicles in quantity. So despite what the Washington Post article said, there are larger calibers in use by the Corps other than the 7.62X51mm NATO.

A MARSOC operator with his Mk13 Mod 5

A MARSOC operator with his Mk13 Mod 5

Lack of requirements
I saw some comments on social media stating that the Corps does not have any written demand for a larger caliber rifle. In doing some quick research on a few different systems, I found a few urgent needs statements (UNS’s) and UUNS’s dating all the way back to 2004 specifically asking for .338’s. The requirements are there and had been submitted up the chain, they just fell on deaf ears at some point.

Let’s rebuild (again)
Instead of doing what most militaries do when upgrading capabilities (procuring a new weapons system), the Corps has a long history of making things last forever. The M40 turned into the A1, then the A3, to the A5 and as of current they are still planning on building another bolt action (the A7), in you guessed it- 7.62 NATO. The guys providing input into the project know there are much better platforms out there. However, they have their hands tied using the existing Rem 700 short actions. A majority of the semi-auto 7.62 NATO rifles the Corps employs have decent accuracy at distance and allow the Marine to carry one rifle vs. a bolt gun and an M4 for defense. So building another bolt action 7.62 NATO rifle makes ZERO common sense.

Got ammo?
Logistically speaking before a new rifle could be fielded, the MPF (Maritime Prepositioning Force) ships, ASP’s (Ammunition Supply Points) and other locations across the globe would have to stock up on parts and ammunition to support the new rifles. Again this takes time and money. The last thing you would want is to go to war and not have your logistical supply chain ready to support those on

A stick with more than one trick
The SOCOM (Special Operations Command) Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR) program lead to the successful fielding of the Remington MSR. The PSR program called for manufacturers to build super accurate multi-caliber rifles. I had worked with 3 of the companies who submitted rifles, and these rifles could shoot their asses off. Most of them allowed for the rapid change of calibers to best match the mission. Remington, Barrett, Desert Tec, and AI all had great designs, with Desert Tec being the only outside of the box bull pup submission. The PSR program specified that rifles must be able to convert between three calibers, 7.62X51, .300 Win Mag and .338 Lapua Mag. Being able to use the existing match grade 7.62 & .300wm ammunition gave the end users more flexibility both operationally and in training. While the MSR rifle from Remington is a great rifle, I think that the Corps should look into a heavier switch barrel design. One that could fire existing .50 BMG munitions, however, should one adopt an actual long range performer like the .375, .408 or .416 it’s a mere 1-2 min change and your back in business.  

The Remington MSR, SOCOM's PSR

The Remington MSR, SOCOM’s PSR

Modern Calibers
There was an article in the Marine Corps Gazette 20+ years ago written by a LtCol who had taken the time to educate himself on the current calibers both our nation’s two top units were using, and the calibers dominating civilian long range competitions. The article was rather in depth and covered the +/-‘s of doing a caliber change. A lot has happened in the past 20 years. The Army had the foresight to field long-action M24’s back in the day that were chambered in 7.62 NATO. The Marine Corps M40A series consisted of a short action. The Army knew that someday they might want to go to .300WM… 25 years later that’s exactly what they did with the M2010. The M2010 is an entirely upgraded M24 built by Remington. It’s not technically a “new” rifle, as the existing M24 contract had an ECP (engineering change provision), thus allowing the Army to quickly “upgrade” the M24 without having to jump through the standard hoops. The Corps can’t do that. Thus, they would need an entirely new rifle. If you’re starting fresh one should also look at selecting the best caliber for the future, NOT what can be rapidly acquired through the other services existing ammunition contracts. There are some great calibers out there these days, however, most shooters just default to the .338 Lapua Magnum. While this is a good round, I would consider it only a starting point for discussions. The .338 Norma Magnum is having great success in a few SOF units. What’s the difference between the LM and the NM? The Norma cartridge was designed to optimize the 300 grain HPBT projectile and do so in a standard length magazine. It’s also reportedly easier on the barrel throats, so a longer accurate barrel life is a byproduct. There are lots of great long range cartridges out there to choose from. If you’re starting with a clean slate, one must dive into the caliber debate head first & do so with guys who have a full understanding of modern ballistics (PhD’s).

Some of the more popular long-range cartridges out there today.

Some of the more popular long-range cartridges out there today.

SYSCOM is in the driver’s seat
Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM) or “SYSCOM” for short is charged with equipping and sustain Marine forces with current technologies and aiding in crisis response capabilities. They are the ones driving the train here. If SYSCOM wanted to answer quickly the call for a larger caliber rifle, they could take one of the easiest routes and implement what SOCOM has done with their PSR program. While this is not the standard route, it would get the Marines a multi-caliber rifle much faster. Doing so might be easy for those at SYSCOM to accept however it would get our Marines a more flexible long range rifle in their hands a lot sooner. I know a lot of great Marines and civilian staff who have worked or currently work at SYSCOM. However, a majority of their counterparts have proven to be incapable of forward progress promptly. A great MARSOC Marine, who is unfortunately no longer with us, said not too long ago “SYSCOM can’t move at the speed of war”… he’s spot on. The levels of bureaucracy on Planet Quantico is indeed mind blowing.

Saving up for new toys
No matter what way the Corps decides to go, if they roll outside of their standard calibers and simple bolt-on upgrades, it will take time to implement. First off one must allocate funding for any new rifles and associated ammunition. You need to understand fully the planning, programming, budgeting and execution (PPBE) process to grasp the timelines associated with funding a weapons system Corps wide. While sometimes I hear Marines who know more than the rest throw out the term “they have to POM (program objective memorandum) funds years in advance”, the POM is only a small subcomponent of the all-encompassing PPBE process. Before it is considered to hit even the POM as an initiative, it has to receive DOTMLPF (Doctrine, Material, Leadership & Education, Personnel, and Facilities) review.  That review is just a high five from some old broke warriors who wear Polo shirts, and beer bellies, are mostly GS13-15’s and are now called “operations research analysts.” They need to verify that the initiative is doctrinally sound with how Marines fight.  These guys work on Planet Quantico in places like SYSCOM, MCOTEA (Marine Corps Operational Test and Evaluation Activity), MCWL (Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory), and MCCDC (Marine Corps Combat Development Command).  It’s a lot of alphabet soup, I realize this but weapons systems and major end items have to go thru this churn in order to get properly vetted and end up with dollars lined up in the out years for their procurement. This process is mainly overseen by the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, then signed off on by the Commandant himself. While the process can be fast-tracked if the right Generals express interest, it’s typically a rather slow process.

The Future

Hopefully, the Washington Post’s article kicked up enough debate to get the Corps senior officers behind the push for a new long-range rifle system  What will the Marine Corps do? I haven’t a clue. What I can say is that they should look into the latest technological advances and balance the costly cutting edge technologies with available budgets. I would also caution them on letting outsiders influence their decision. Pick the brains of everyone in the world, and then come to your own conclusion. After all it’s the current active duty Marines who will have to carry and employ these weapons around the world.