When we talk about underappreciated Special Ops troops, we can’t ignore the Marines serving in Force Recon (although they’re technically considered “special operations capable,” rather than a part of SOCOM). They never get the glory or budget they deserve. Force Recon has long been an elite force within the Marine Corps dedicated to deep reconnaissance and direct action operations. They specialize in ship-to-shore warfare, Visit Board Search Seizure missions, and even Personal Security details. As such, they often field gear unique to their mission sets, and today we are going to break down the Force Recon Rifle.
Force Recon uses a wide variety of rifles, but I’m specifically referring to the general issue M4 rifle most Recon bubbas carry when I say Force Recon rifle. I’ve gazed upon dozens of photos of Marine Force Recon training, operating overseas, and have seen a wide variety of Force Recon rifles. As of 2021, I think it’s safe to say this is the most common configuration of the Force Recon Rifle.
The Core of the Force Recon Rifle – M4A1 Carbine
At the heart of the Force Recon rifle sits the M4A1. The M4 series of rifles are carbine variants of the famed M16 series. The M4A1 ditches the crappy burst setting and utilizes a full-auto setting instead. The M4A1 carbine has crawled into the hands of most special operations personnel.
The Force Recon rifle appears to be what most would call a Block 1.5 rifle. SOPMOD, or Special Operations Peculiar Modification kits, comes in Blocks; Block 1 and Block 2, to be specific. When they pull these out of their AR 15 gun cases it’s These blocks break down the various accessories Special Operations forces can utilize, and include lights, optics, lasers, and more.
So what exactly is a Block 1.5 rifle? Well, it’s a Block 1 rifle using Block 2 accessories. Block 2 rifles are M4A1s with different rails, often different sights, and stocks. Block 1 rifles have the famous fixed front sight base, commonly use Knight’s RAS rails, and the standard M4 stock.
Knight’s RAS Rail
Speaking of rails, the Knight’s Armament RAS rail has been the Marine Corps’ go-to rail system for most of the Global War on Terror. The RAS rail system gives the operator four rails placed at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions. These Picatinny rails allow users to mount a wide variety of accessories ranging from lights and lasers to vertical grips and anything else the user’s heart may desire.
Knight’s rails are made entirely from metal and are extremely stable. From my own experience, I can tell you they can take a beating and seemingly never break. Most infantry Marines are 18 years old when they get their first rifle with a Knight’s rail, and it shrugs off that fiery 18-year-olds piss and vinegar stage with ease. They tend to be heavy though, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Force Recon rifle wearing Daniel Defense rails sooner than later.
The PEQ 16 is a laser aiming unit with a variety of settings that include infrared and visible laser aiming tools, as well as an integrated white light and IR illuminator. It’s replaced the PEQ 15 in the Marine Corps, as part of the goal to reduce the needed accessories on Marine’s rifles.
The IR laser allows operators to effectively aim the Force Recon rifle under night vision. It makes it a point-and-shoot affair that allows rapid and accurate close quarter’s engagement. In my experience, the visible laser is rarely used but can be used in coordination with the unit rules of engagement as part of the Warn phase.
The weak point of the PEQ 16 is the integration of the weapon light into the device. It’s not all that bright at only 125 lumens with an LED bulb. To give you a sense of just how underpowered that is, my Keychain-sized Streamlight Pocket Mate has 350 lumens of light.
Magpul PMAG 3rd Gen
The Force Recon rifle is fed from Magpul PMAGs, specifically a 3rd generation model. The 3rd Generation PMAGs have been widely adopted broadly by American fighting forces for good reason. They are extremely reliable and provide a magazine that can go through hell and keep working. In the Marine Corps, the PMAGs go beyond the Force Recon rifle and are already used fleet-wide.
Force Recon does a lot of sneaky work, and these magazines tend to clang around a lot less than the old aluminum models did. Plus, the window on the side of the magazine allows you to make visual inspections of how much ammo you have left in the magazine.
Like most special ops rifles, the Force Recon rifle wears a suppressor. There is an old joke (or truth) about the Marine Corps getting hand-me-downs from other services, and that axiom holds true in this department. The NT4 is an old-school suppressor from Knight’s Armament that’s been in service with Spec-Ops bubbas for lord knows how long.
It’s not the quietest or lightest can, but it sure is tough. The NT4 can take an absolute beating (as can most Knight’s gear) and keep on kicking. The Marine Corps recently chose the NT4 to outfit infantry Marines, and it makes sense to keep a common suppressor force-wide. The Force Recon rifle is still a Marine Corps rifle, after all.
Suppressors reduce noise and flash signature on top of helping reduce muzzle rise and recoil. They make it harder to locate Marines engaged in combat and allow for greater communication between the team and squad members. They don’t reduce the noise of a rifle now to the levels you see in film and media but create a substantial difference.
The future of warfare is suppressed rifles and possibly machine guns.
The Optics – Vortex Razor HD Gen 2 / Aimpoint T2 / Eotech SU-231/231A
One of the big areas we see a ton of individual options for the Force Recon rifle is in the optic department. As of late, we see Marine Force Recon adopt low-powered variable optics, and why not? The entire branch is moving to adopt the LPVO due to its versatility and usefulness in most environments.
Big Marine Corps went with Trijicon, but Force Recon seems to be wielding the lighter and shorter VortexRazor Gen 2 HD 1-6X optics. The Razor series have been making lots of strides for Vortex, and Force Recon Marines can certainly see their benefits. The Razor makes the Force Recon rifle a capable choice at all ranges.
Beyond the LPVO, we also see the Force Recon rifle wearing a variety of reflex sights. The three most common are the Aimpoint T2, the Eotech SU-231, and SU-231A. These optics do offer better close-range fighting capability than an LPVO. They make close quarter’s engagements as easy as getting the dot on the target and pulling the trigger.
The Aimpoint T2 provides Marines with a lightweight and compact red dot that presents a very small but usable optic for close quarter’s shooting. The Eotech models are very similar with some differences in size, and the SU-231A has proven more durable. The SU-231 has been discontinued in favor of the SU-231A, but I’m sure some are still kicking around the arms room.
These are holographic optics that provide a more complicated reticle and the ability to function with a broken lens. When combined with a magnifier, they provide a very versatile option for both close to moderate range.
The Marine Corps is a Corps of riflemen, and their rifles are quite important to their warfighting capabilities. When they open their AR 15 gun case they want a weapon that works. When compared to other Spec Ops rifles, some of the features of the Force Recon Rifle seem a bit outdated. However, each piece of gear has been well proven. The Force Recon Rifle is only as good as the Marine behind it, and Force Recon Marines do more than make do with their weapons.