As part of the United States Marine Corps’ efforts to transition to a 12-man rifle squad instead of the longstanding “traditional” 13-man squad, 600 units of the M320 standalone Grenade Launchers have been ordered. The Marine Corps has confirmed that each squad will be issued three M320 Grenade Launchers and placed in the hands of specialized grenadiers who will be one of three-man fireteams. Not only does this mark the comeback of the Grenadier role to the Corps, this move signifies the USMC’s serious effort to keep up with today’s rapid advances in technology.
A Marine rifle squad used to consist of three fireteams of four marines and a Squad Leader; the reorganization of the squad now calls for three 3-man fireteams, and now a 3-man command element, which includes a systems operator and assistant squad leader. The modernized Marine Squad will no longer utilize any light or medium belt-fed machine guns, as every member of the squad will henceforth be issued an M27 IAR.
Unlike the post-Vietnam War era M203, the M320 will not be attached in any way to the Grenadier’s rifle, but used as a standalone weapon. The USMC Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Estimates Justification Book summarizes the logic for procuring the M320:
“The M320 Grenade Launcher will replace the M203 in Marine Infantry and Infantry-like units. Due to its side breach, the M320 will allow for the use of more capable 40mm grenades for counter-defilade, breaching and non-lethal applications.”
It is estimated that by beefing up a Marine Squad with these grenade launchers, their firepower will have an increase of 300%. Similar to the squad composition during the Vietnam War where the Grenadier was equipped with the M79, today’s M320 Grenadier will differ in that he will be issued an M27 IAR as his primary weapon.
The future issue of the M320 is one of the results of intensive evaluation and experimentation from programs such as Marine Corps Force 2025 and Sea Dragon 2025; these programs sought to reevaluate and update the capabilities of the Corps right down to the fireteam, the most basic unit. Issuing the weapon is the latest “upgrade” to the fireteam, along with the issuance of M27 Infantry Assault Rifles to the entire squad, a Carl Gustav Recoilless Rifle (MAAWS), an H&K M27 reconfigured to serve as the squad’s Designated Marksman Rifle, an intel-gathering quadcopter drone (used by the systems operator), PRC-117G radio set, Marine Corps Common Tablet, and squad range finder.