Do the benefits of suppressing every weapon in an infantry battalion outweigh the costs? The United States Marine Corps is doing some experiments to answer that question.
The Marine Corps is in the middle of some proof-of-concept testing involving suppressing every weapon in a company from three infantry battalions: 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, and 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines. So far, they've successfully suppressed all of the individual weapons in those units, including the M-4 and M-16 rifles as well as the M-27 Infantry Automatic Rifles.
All of the companies are part of the Camp Lejeune, North Carolina based 2nd Marine Division. Plans are currently in the works to suppress the M-240G and M-2 machineguns in those companies.
Major General John Love, the division commander, described how the experimentation with suppressing every weapon in those units is going during at speech at the Marine Corps Association Ground Dinner in November 2016:
What we've found so far is it revolutionizes the way we fight. It used to be a squad would be dispersed out over maybe 100 yards, so the squad leader couldn't really communicate with the members at the far end because of all the noise of the weapons. Now they can actually just communicate, and be able to command and control and effectively direct those fires.
Anyone who has spent any time with suppressed firearms knows that, while they do reduce the noise produced by shooting the firearm, they're not silent by any stretch of the imagination (especially when shooting supersonic ammunition). However, suppressors do make it much more difficult to determine the source of the gunshot, which can be a big advantage when hunting as well as on the battlefield.
The Marines have also discovered that, even though Marines are renowned for their individual marksmanship, their ability to accurately place their fires during training improved after they started suppressing individual weapons. They theorized that is because the noise generated by gunfire gives an illusion of being effective. On the other hand, when weapons are suppressed, they've found that Marines are even more disciplined with their marksmanship.
The big downside to suppressing every weapon in a large military unit like that is the cost and additional maintenance associated with the task. For instance, it costs about three quarters of a million dollars to suppress every weapon in an infantry battalion. While costs are coming down and suppressor technology is improving all the time, it's still something to consider.
We'll see how things progress with the experiment, though. If the suppressors provide a significant advantage to the Marines using them, it will be easier to stomach the price of buying and maintaining that equipment.