Marines with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, got their first opportunity during a division mortarmen range exercise arranged by the Division Training Center April 19, to fire the new M224A1 mortar weapon system. It is an updated version of the M224 Legacy, formally the main tool employed by the division’s mortarmen.
Marines spent the day firing mortars onto a range from different positions at targets of varying difficulties during the exercise. But even before the first 60 millimeter, high-explosive rounds were fired, the Marines attending the exercise were already enjoying the changes to the updated system as they took their positions.
“The first thing we all noticed when we first got to see the (M224)A1 was the spread cable was gone,” said Sgt. Justin Vandertang, a mortarman, Company G, 2nd Battalion.
The spread cable is a piece on the M224 Legacy that was meant to keep the bipod in position when the weapon was fired. Vandertang, a Black River, N.Y., native explained while the cable did its job, a Marine would have to readjust the weapon system every few rounds because it would still move out of place.
“It was probably one of the most time consuming things about the (M224) Legacy,” said Vandertang. “When you’re in an active combat zone and you need to get rounds down range you can’t afford to be fighting your weapon. The (M224)A1 now has a locking mechanism for the bipod instead which makes the weapon incredibly steady and accurate.”
The M224A1 also has a new type of alloy, barrel lining, allowing it to perform better under intense heat so the weapon is less likely to break down in a time of need and it reduces the overall maintenance needed for it to remain functional. The system is also nine pounds lighter than its predecessor.
“The (M224) Legacy was a heavy 44 pounds and each 60 millimeter round was about four pounds,” said Cpl. David Dias, a mortarman with Company E, 2nd Battalion. “It was never easy to lug it around on deployment and it would slow down the unit that was using it because it was just too heavy to deploy quickly. Most of the time, we wouldn’t be able to fire it from the conventional position with the bipod. Instead, we would have to use it in hand-held mode, stabilizing it with our bodies. By comparison, this 35-pound model feels like a feather weight.”
Dias, a Hanford, Calif., native said the light weight gives the unit carrying it more mobility which gives them the ability to control a larger area more efficiently. Additionally, the updated weapon will make it easier for the division’s mortarmen to teach their riflemen counterparts the basics of using a mortar system.
“Marines in an infantry platoon are always training on all the weapons their unit uses,” said Cpl. Seth Desplinter, a mortarman with Company E, 2nd Battalion and Kewanee, Ill., native. “Even though they won’t be on a professional level like myself or other mortarmen, if a worst case scenario comes up and we need to get mortars down range and all the mortarmen have been taken out, then our (riflemen) can still accomplish the mission. The (M224)A1 is lighter and considerably more accurate than the (M224) Legacy, which makes it very easy to teach. Marines who have fired the (M224) A1 get a lot of confidence in their abilities because they don’t have to fight the weapon. This gives commanders a unit that can capably and effectively utilize the mortar system whenever it needs to.”
Along with 2nd Battalion, mortarmen from 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, and 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, and the 1st and 3rd Battalions from 6th Marines attended the exercise, giving most of the division the opportunity to feel the differences made to updated system and to see how they performed.
“This update is going to change a lot of things for the division’s mortarmen,” said Capt. Jacob Womble, project officer, Marine Corps Systems Command, who was overseeing the exercise. “It’s lighter, more accurate and more deployable than the M224 Legacy and that is ultimately going accomplish the mission and kill the enemy much more quickly than before. All of these guys are great Marines who are experts at what they do and we’re making sure that they have the best tools for the job.”