When I was in the military, I had the privilege to serve in the Marine Corps Infantry in a Weapons Squad. My job was to support other squads of Marines with heavier firepower, and fill in wherever they needed help. While I was in, the Marine Corps saw a few fundamental shifts in policies and gear. I was around during the times where the MK12 became the standard weapon issued to one man in a squad who would be turned into our Designated Marksman. This gave our squads the capability to take out individuals who would engage us sporadically with a mere hope to keep us occupied and harass us at range. I saw the benefits of this change first-hand, so I appreciated it before I was able to judge the concept. After I got out, the Marine Corps underwent further changes in gear and weaponry. Such changes included replacing the M249 SAW with the M27 IAR and going to the new M855A1 round to replace the old “Green Tip” round that we all came to hate. The newest thing the Marine Corps has been toying with is the idea of outfitting an entire Infantry Battalion with suppressors. This is a big deal in more ways than just keeping their ears safe in a firefight.
Being in an Marine Infantry Rifle Squad in the middle of a firefight is a unique experience. It is in these moments that you realize why you are always yelled at and why doing everything with speed and intensity is so important. When the rubber meets the road, the only way to win in a gunfight is to be vicious, precise, and fast. This has led the Marine Corps to become legendary in the way we fight and win at everything.
In order to be a functional fighting force in combat, you need to be able to do a few things. You need to be able to SHOOT, MOVE, and above all you absolutely must COMMUNICATE. Under the report of a dozen rifles and machine guns, the squad leader has to communicate and give orders to his 3 fire team leaders, who in turn has to direct the 4 Marines under them as well. This can be challenging to do, but not too challenging from my experience. From what I remember, your ears get used to the noise and you learn to tune out the reports. But now the Marine Corps is looking at fixing the problem of having loud guns in a firefight by equipping an entire Infantry Battalion with suppressors.
According to a few people who were interviewed, the suppressors not only improve the squad leaders ability to communicate orders down the line, but apparently they are finding that the Marines are even shooting better. According to some sources, the Marine Corps wants to invest a huge load of money on an entire Infantry Battalion in order to do a field test to see how it goes when you give every marine a suppressor. Now we are not just talking about suppressing the rifles. The plan is to also suppress the machine guns from the M249 SAW to the M2 .50 cal machine guns.
When you take a step back and look at this from a perspective of reality, you need to realize that there are going to be a ton of issues. Of course the first issue is that this will cost a lot of money to keep up with maintenance and cleaning, which has been estimated to be about $700,000 just to get started. I do not like the idea that the fouling is increased, because on the operations I participated in, we didn’t have the luxury of breaking down our rifles and nurturing our internals. I don’t like the idea that they already are seeing parts wear faster and get fouled up very early on. But then again, this is just what you get into when you suppress a rifle or pistol. You get a ton of gas and fouling that kicks back into the action compared to running the weapon un-suppressed.
Another factor that I feel is important to consider is the added weight and overall length of the rifle. For me, I am a fan of bullpups now because I had no choice but to use an M4 or M16 to do house to house fighting. Now they want to throw on another 4 to six inches of length on the rifles, and another pound or so. I can tell you from experience that this will not work out well with a unit in constant contact for weeks at a time. Take into account that the Mk12 uses a suppressor, and the weight of it causes the rifle to feel awkward unless it was rested on a barrier for stable shooting. Our Designated Marksmen often took the suppressors off until we got into an engagement and they were needed. This of course will depend on who is carrying the rifle and if they are allowed to take off the suppressors.
Now I also want to add in the fact that the people being used as Guinea Pigs were using the suppressed rifles only in a training environment. This means they were using hearing protection all the time during live fire with the rifles unsuppressed. I am sure they allowed them to not use hearing protection with the silencers during testing just to get feedback. This could cause some confusion if you never shot your rifle without hearing protection in before, which would give the illusion of performing better with a suppressor attached. But in a firefight, I found that there were alot more interesting things to worry about other than what I was going to hear when I pulled the trigger. But in a training environment, i imagine all the Marines were thrilled to have this cool gear to play with, and of course they will give more positive feedback. They all feel like bad asses with suppressors on their rifles, so who wouldn’t?
Overall, if I were still in, I would not appreciate a suppressor just because it made the gun less loud. My rifle would have less noise, but I would have to clean more, worry about breakages alot more, and I would have to carry around a rifle that has terrible balance. I am sure the guys in SF had no issue because they lugged around short rifles with suppressors that evened out the length, but carrying a full sized rifle with a suppressor will just give you something more to complain about. But only time will tell for 6th and 8th Marines, who already have suppressors on all their rifles, and are prepping to get back into the fight, yet again.