SHARE

Operationally, its carrier in the US Military started out among the highest rungs of the special operations community, and was made famous by SEAL Team Six as the assault rifle that was used on the raid that killed terror mastermind Osama Bin Laden.

Now, a half-decade later, the Army and the Marine Corps have selected versions of the rifle, but for wildly different uses. The Marines in particular have anted up with orders for thousands of units, and these weapons also represent an evolutionary change in tactics for the UMSC, one spurred by hard lessons learned over the past 15 years of perpetual warfare in the Middle East.

  German small arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch is world renowned for making some of the finest, most durable firearms on the planet, and they aren’t afraid to go their own way when it comes to design. From being the first adopter of polymer for combat firearms to their super-accurate “lemon squeezer” P7 series of handguns to firearms designed to be used by combat diversunderwater—as well as legendary and widely used weapons like the MP5 submachine, PSG sniper rifle, USP handgun, to the G3 battle rifle.

The company’s achievements go on and on. But outside the special operations community, where budgets aren’t so generous or flexible and procurement is a precarious bureaucratic maze, H&K has struggled to achieve big orders from the Pentagon. Price has a lot to do with it. The company’s firearms aren’t cheap to say the least, even when manufactured in large quantities. But this situation has slowly started to change with the advent of the HK416 assault rifle.

  For a company that likes to go their own way design-wise, building yet another AR-15 derivative seems too pedestrian. But after being spurred by the Army’s tier one counter-terrorism force, better known as the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta or just “Delta Force,” it wound up being a wildly good business decision. Built with the special operator in mind, the HK416 adopts the usual AR-15 format but gets rid of the direct impingementstyle gas system that Eugene Stoner came up with well over a half century ago. Instead, a gas piston and pushrod is used to cycle the weapon when it’s fired, similar to the famously indestructible AK-47 and similar to H&K’s G36 assault rifle.

  Gas-piston AR-15s have been around for some time, and they have become increasingly popular, offering the same ergonomics and modularity of the AR-15, but with a cleaner and more reliable action. H&K also packaged their gas piston AR-15 derivative with a series of smaller additions, include a proprietary grip, butt-stock, recoil buffer system, iron sights, accessory quad rail and even a heavy-duty steel box magazine. But most importantly, the design included a medium contour match-grade barrel, with different lengths available, that had no chrome plating inside its bore to affect accuracy.

All this added up to an incredibly usable, durable, adaptable and reliable design that felt familiar in operators’ hands. Most of all, it was incredibly accurate. The HK416 rifle was chambered in 5.56 NATO just like its AR-15 based cousins (M-16, M4 etc), and a 7.62 NATO/.308 Winchester variant was also developed similar to the AR10/LR308. This rifle was dubbed the HK417.

   Although the first units were delivered to Special Operations Command for “testing” around the middle of decade, with Delta Force trying the weapon out originally, the HK416s were still pretty rare within SOCOM on May 2nd, 2011, when SEAL Team Six took down Bin Laden. The gun that did the job was the HK416. Once this leaked, interest in the HK416 exploded, but the writing was already on the wall for the rifle. Its reputation inside firearms and special operations circles was already on fire, and other special operations and law enforcement units from around the globe and at home begun to purchase it for their most elite operators. H&K also developed slightly downgraded, semi-automatic models for the civilian market—the MR556 and the MR308.

While SOCOM was playing with the HK416 back in the mid and late 2000s, the USMC was evaluating a variant of it as well as part of their decade-long Infantry Automatic Rifle (IAR) initiative. About a half dozen competitors put forward designs to fulfill the Marines’ needs. By 2009 H&K’s entrant was selected as the winner. It was quickly designated M27.

  The IAR competition, and the resulting M27 that came out of it, aimed to replace the belt-fed M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) with a lighter more conventional automatic rifle that put an emphasis on accuracy and range over raw volume of fire. It is a large departure from a fairly well proven and established model, but it’s just one example out of many regarding the changing ways in how USMC ground combat forces fight, and even how they are configured.

The M27 paired with a Trijicon 3.5X magnification ACOG sight and a bipod could reach out to 600 meters in a highly precise manner, and could perform area/suppressive fire out to 800 or so meters. Instead of carrying ammunition in 200 round box magazines or belts, the M27’s automatic rifleman would carry 20 30-round PMAGs that can also be used in M16s and M4s. The idea is that not only is the M27 less than half the weight of the SAW, but ammo could be more easily spread across a Fireteam. The M27s heavier contour 16.5 inch barrel and piston system could handle extended continuous fire, but it could also be extremely accurate, offering more maneuverability and overall flexibility.

The need for such a change came out of the lessons learned primarily in Afghanistan, where being able to hit a target at range was more useful than just spraying suppressive fire over closer ranges. The weight of the SAW, and it’s less than favorable handling at extremely close range has also been a long-time drawback for the weapon.

  After selecting the M27, the USMC spent the next few years deeply evaluating the weapon in multiple environments and combat-like situations. By 2011, four battalions that were deploying to Afghanistan were issued roughly 500 M27s as the exploration of the concept expanded into the operational realm. After glowing reviews from soldiers in the field, 6,500 M27 IARs were ordered, with all the rifles delivered by the end of 2013. Each Marine Fireteam has one automatic rifleman with an M27 or a M249 SAW, the SAW sticking around still for now as an option for certain missions where shear volume of fire is needed over the more balanced M27.

   Then just this month, the USMC has put out an order for a whopping 11,000 M27s, which made some believe the Marines were looking to replace their assault rifles with the HK416 variant, or at least beginning to do so. There have been some signs that the Marine Corps may be interested in actually doing this. Just last November an entire battalion was equipped with M27s instead of M4s during an exercise as an experiment. Now it seems that the force wants to at least insert more M27s into arsenal, further increasing their Fireteams’ overall reach, accuracy, and if need be, volume of fire.
  The M27s aren’t cheap, costing about four times that of the $750 M4, and the USMC moved to universally adopt the M4 for its rifleman over the M16 and longer barreled M16A4 just last year. As such it is unlikely the force will totally divest itself of M4s at this time, but it would seem that a slow, quiet transition could be afoot.

1st Marine Division Major General Daniel O’Donohue told Military.com the following last November:

“I think the fundamental is the accuracy of the weapon, the idea that you’re going to use it for suppressive fires. And at first contact you have the overwhelming superiority of fire from which all the tactics evolve… So it starts with the fire team and the squad, if you give them a better weapon with better fire superiority, you’ll just put that vicious harmony of violence on the enemy.

As for what those more involved with the actual trigger-pulling think of the weapon, Chief Warrant Officer Christian Wade, the infantry weapons officer for the 2nd Marine Division, stated simply:

“It is the best infantry rifle in the world, hands down … Better than anything Russia has, it’s better than anything we have, it’s better than anything China has. It’s world-class.”

  While the USMC falls deeper in love with H&K’s take on the AR-15, the US Army is doing the same for its bigger brother, a derivative of the .308/7.62 chambered AR-10/LR308, the HK417. A variant of the type won the Army’s Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System contract last April which aimed to replace the Knight’s Armament M110, which itself replaced the venerable M24 (Remington 700) bolt-action sniper rifle about a decade ago. Dubbed the G28, H&K’s semi-automatic sniper rifle is lighter (by about 3 pounds) and shorter (by about 3 inches) than the M110, but has familiar layout and does not sacrifice anything in terms of accuracy. About 75 percent of the parts used in the G28 are interchangeable with the standard HK417.

  The Army’s contract for roughly 3,650 sniper rifles is slated to cost $44.5 million, which works out to roughly $12,200 per rifle, although the contract includes other items, like support and spare parts. Either way, the G28 isn’t cheap to say the least, but the best never is.

So what’s next for H&K’s AR-15 like rifle that has reached near mythical status? There has been some rumors that the Army may look at it as a replacement for their M4A1s, but this is unlikely, or at least it was unlikely under the past administration. The M4A1 supposedly takes the lessons learned from Afghanistan and Iraq and incorporates them into an overhauled version of the M4 carbine, which itself is really a shorter version of the M16A2 with some other small alterations. The M4A1 includes a heavier profile barrel for better durability during sustained firefights. The M4’s selector switch, which has semi-auto or three round burst, has also been replaced with one that allows for fully automatic fire. Ambidextrous controls have also been added.

  The M4A1, the latest government reboot of Eugene Stoner’s direct impingement design that had its roots in the special operations community, has had generally good reviews from the field, but it not comparable to the HK416. And even the M4A1 was slated for another light upgrade under the M4A1+ program, which would add a quad-rail handguard and free-floating barrel design for enhanced customization and accuracy.

Other smaller changes were also included like detachable iron sights, pre-camouflaged parts, flash suppressor and improved trigger group. Now that the Army is shelving these plans, there may be an opportunity to introduce the HK416, even if in a limited manner, although the basic M4A1 upgrade path still has years to go and will presumably continue until the end of the decade.

When it comes to “big Army” procurement, price is key. Doling out $3,000 rifles to infantry would mark a monumental increase in what the Army spends on each soldier’s weaponry. Also, the massive Army bureaucracy has an absolutely miserable—so funny if it weren’t true—track record when it comes to following through with long and meandering small arms replacement initiatives. But now that may be changing, as the service did just pick a new sidearm after many years of trying, and a fairly unorthodox one at that. Also, change is clearly afoot in Washington when it comes to sequester and defense budgets. If the Trump Administration opens the floodgates on military spending, maybe the Army will trade in its Chevy Corvettes for Mercedes GTs—metaphorically speaking of course.

One thing is for certain, the HK416 and its many outgrowths is becoming the automatic rifle by which all others are judged. And considering it is packaged in a very American design concept, its penetration into the Pentagon’s small arms portfolio will only continue to deepen.

Comments

comments

39 COMMENTS

  1. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d certainly donate to this superb blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to new updates and will talk about this blog with my Facebook group. Chat soon!|

  2. Generally I don’t learn article on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very pressured me to
    take a look at and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me.
    Thanks, very nice post.

  3. Hi! I could have sworn I’ve been to this site before but after browsing through a few of the articles I
    realized it’s new to me. Regardless, I’m definitely happy
    I found it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back regularly!

  4. Everything is very open with a really clear clarification of the challenges.
    It was definitely informative. Your site is very useful.
    Thank you for sharing!

  5. Hi there! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site? I’m getting fed up of WordPress because I’ve had problems with hackers and I’m looking at alternatives for another platform. I would be great if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.|

  6. Hi there, just became alert to your weblog through Google, and found that it is truly informative. I am gonna be careful for brussels. I’ll be grateful when you continue this in future. A lot of people might be benefited from your writing. Cheers!|

  7. Greetings from Los angeles! I’m bored to death at work so I decided to browse your blog on my iphone during lunch break. I really like the information you provide here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home. I’m amazed at how quick your blog loaded on my phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, amazing blog!|

  8. I am really enjoying the theme/design of your website.
    Do you ever run into any web browser compatibility issues?

    A number of my blog readers have complained about my blog not operating correctly
    in Explorer but looks great in Safari. Do you have any advice to help fix this issue?

  9. Howdy! I understand this is somewhat off-topic however I had to ask. Does running a well-established website such as yours require a lot of work? I am completely new to running a blog however I do write in my journal every day. I’d like to start a blog so I can share my personal experience and views online. Please let me know if you have any ideas or tips for brand new aspiring bloggers. Appreciate it!|

  10. I needed to thank you for this good read!! I certainly enjoyed every little bit of it. I’ve got you saved as a favorite to look at new things you post…|

  11. Wonderful blog you have here but I was wondering if you knew of any discussion boards that cover the same topics talked about here?
    I’d really like to be a part of online community where I can get
    opinions from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest.
    If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Cheers!

  12. My partner and I stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I might as well check things out. I like what I see so i am just following you. Look forward to looking at your web page repeatedly.|

  13. Today, I went to the beach with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I had to tell someone!|

  14. Does your blog have a contact page? I’m
    having problems locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an e-mail.

    I’ve got some suggestions for your blog you might be
    interested in hearing. Either way, great site and I look forward
    to seeing it expand over time.

  15. May I just say what a relief to find somebody that actually knows what they’re talking about on the internet. You certainly realize how to bring an issue to light and make it important. A lot more people really need to look at this and understand this side of your story. I can’t believe you aren’t more popular given that you certainly have the gift.|

  16. Hello would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re working with? I’m looking to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a difficult time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique. P.S Sorry for being off-topic but I had to ask!|

  17. Hi would you mind letting me know which web host you’re utilizing? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot quicker then most. Can you suggest a good web hosting provider at a reasonable price? Thanks a lot, I appreciate it!|

  18. I have read some good stuff here. Certainly value bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how a lot attempt you set to make one of these excellent informative site.|

  19. I’m not sure where you’re getting your information, but good topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for magnificent info I was looking for this information for my mission.|

  20. I am really enjoying the theme/design of your website. Do you ever run into any internet browser compatibility issues? A small number of my blog audience have complained about my site not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Chrome. Do you have any ideas to help fix this issue?|

  21. Do you have a spam problem on this blog; I also am a blogger, and I was curious about your situation; we have developed some nice practices and we are looking to exchange techniques with other folks, be sure to shoot me an email if interested.|

  22. I was curious if you ever thought of changing the page layout of your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or 2 pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?|

  23. I believe this is among the so much significant info for me. And i am satisfied studying your article. However wanna statement on some general issues, The site taste is wonderful, the articles is truly excellent : D. Good job, cheers|

  24. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You clearly know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your blog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?|

  25. Pretty section of content. I just stumbled upon your website and in accession capital to assert that I get actually enjoyed account your blog posts. Anyway I’ll be subscribing to your augment and even I achievement you access consistently rapidly.|

  26. naturally like your website however you have to take a look at the spelling on quite a few of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling issues and I to find it very bothersome to inform the reality then again I’ll definitely come back again.|

  27. We are a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with valuable information to work on. You’ve done a formidable job and our entire community will be grateful to you.|

  28. Howdy! This is kind of off topic but I need some advice from an established blog. Is it very difficult to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty fast. I’m thinking about making my own but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have any points or suggestions? With thanks|

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here