The great caliber debate has been around for centuries, perhaps since the 10th century Chinese fire lance evolved into the cannon in 1320 and became the first actual short-barreled firearm with the epiphany of the lock, giving us the French arquebus. From the moment man realized he could fire shrapnel from a tube, caliber has been an ongoing quest. 9mm became the standard for the US military in 1985, and when SOCOM (Special Operations COMmand) came into being in 1987, they were almost immediately displeased with the caliber of weapon their men were expected to use. And so, in 2005, when SOCOM got serious about returning to their pre-standardization .45 roots, they began a study.
The Foreign Comparative Testing study was put into action by SOCOM specifically to decide how best to replace the Sig P226 Mk25 (the 9mm so widely issued to Navy SEALs since the 1980’s it has an anchor engraved onto its slide). But it wasn’t only SOCOM considering upping the firepower ante, and when the Marine Corps and the Army put their hats in the ring, the US Joint Combat Pistol (US JCP) project was born. There were a few specific requirements to the great pistol search: they had to be chambered in .45 ACP, have an integrated Picatinny rail and day/night sights and, of course, they had to accept suppressors. The joint study was off with a bang, and multiple firearms manufacturers joined the contract-winning fray, including Heckler and Koch, Sig Sauer, Ruger, Beretta, and Glock – and, proving the government is always out for a good deal, Taurus.
Substantial funds were poured into testing, all because the military was finally ready to acknowledge what firearms aficionados have known for years: although the 9mm is a capable round and all rounds work only if applied properly to the target, .45 ACP is, quite simply, a one-shot stopper. Bringing ballistics down to their basest level, it is true that 9mm rounds are lighter and, therefore, capable of greater muzzle velocity. .45 ACP will always be heavier, and although adding +P has many benefits, it’s a big round – which is the key. Muzzle energy, or foot-pounds, tells you what impact a round is capable of making. Have you ever been in a fistfight? Foot-pounds refer, quite simply, to how hard you can hit. The .45 ACP means your punch has more oomph, and SOCOM knew giving its operators more punching power was in their men’s best interest. SOCOM wanted all its men to have the weaponry designed to hit the enemy so hard they’d be knocked down and not getting back up anytime soon – if ever.
The US JCP project began in 2005, and in 2006 they were no closer to making a decision. It was in 2006 the Army left the project for one of a multitude of reasons still argued over to this day. That withdrawal effectively dropped the contract size from 645,000 sidearms to 50,000. By the fall of 2006, US JCP – which had really become SOF CP, dropping the “joint” designator – was suspended. And then, in 2007, $5 million was appropriated for the study. A bit of irony, here, for $5 million, approximately 2,941 HK Mk 23’s could have been purchased at current civilian prices (a little Mk 23 humor, there). Where did that $5 million go? No one seems to know.
Bison vs. Bee
This story has a years-long and somewhat disjointed conclusion. First, it is worth noting many Special Forces and SEAL operators have always and will always use .45’s, often purchasing them personally, because those men desire gore-like-an-enraged-bison over sting-like-a-9mm-bee. But there is more to the SOCOM community than our favored SEALs, including Night Stalkers (160th SOAR(A)), who were among the 9mm-issued, and the return to .45 standardization affected them as well. In October of 2010, a rumored 450 new sidearms were said to be set for delivery to SOCOM, and the winner of years of debate? Heckler and Koch, of course. Despite the issues attributed to the also-.45-cal HK Mk 23, SOCOM stayed loyal, and the creation of the HK Mk 24 Mod 0 was just what the Special Forces ordered. At last, gone are the cold, lonely days where SOCOM’s standard issue was the P226 Mk25, and in was ushered a new-yet-not-new future, and it came chambered in .45 ACP. The question that follows is, of course, what about the other branches of the military?
Joining the Fray
The Marine Corps ordered 12,000 .45’s in 2012, mostly for their branch of SOCOM, which is MARSOC (MARine Special Operations Command). Although they did, indeed, begin to issue refurbished M1911’ss to their men several years ago, it wasn’t until recently they took the plunge and placed an order for new guns. The new toys – guns – were ColtCQBP (Close Quarter Battle Pistol) and met many of the initial US JCP requirements. It was almost as if the Marines wanted to see how the caliber upgrade worked out for the SEALs before standardizing for MARSOC.
The Army placed an order in 2012 as well – for 100,000 M9s. Remember that although this is a discussion of SOCOM changes, the Army joined US JCP with broader aspirations of changing their common carry sidearms across the board. But, refusing to give up the 9mm ghost, the M9 continues to be issued in the Army today, in 2014. Although it is absolutely true the infantry predominantly uses rifles, and if they’re backed into a corner where they’re required to resort to their sidearm, it is mostly likely a Charlie Foxtrot situation, some among them would most certainly like a higher caliber of weapon. Others prefer the higher capacity of their current 9mm’s, since jumping to a .45 would basically cut their mag capacity in half. Of course, Delta Force has long since used 1911’s, although they did change to both .40 and .45 cal Glocks a few years ago – evidence they understand the value of higher calibers, in general.
[quote_right]”When our men are out there facing the enemy, they should have the satisfaction and safety of knowing the rounds they gift to the enemy will take them out of the game, hard and fast.”[/quote_right]And so, here we are, halfway through 2014, and through the rumor mill, whispers of Army sidearm upgrades have been rumbling for some time. Again. They say the M9, which seems to be far more unpopular than it is liked or trusted, may finally be replaced. No word on the caliber of the potential M9 replacement, but one thing is for sure: the Army knows what to do with its renewed zeal for sidearm changes. A study! The Army’s new study is estimated to take 3 years and untold millions while they attempt to decipher the mysteries of sidearm calibers.
The caliber debate will live on in infamy. Although the SEALs settled firmly in .45 land with their HK Mk 24’s and the Marines finally got ColtCQPB’s, it is not entirely clear what the Army is doing. Even those who will go to their graves proclaiming the cost-effective, lower-recoil joys of the 9mm must grudgingly admit .45’s make a bigger hole.
When our men are out there facing the enemy, they should have the satisfaction and safety of knowing the rounds they gift to the enemy will take them out of the game, hard and fast. The .45 grants not only a nice, hard punch, but a decisively destructive wound track, which makes for a nice souvenir for the average terrorist. Sometimes, a gift that keeps on giving – such as the larger capacities of the M9 – is not the way to go. Sometimes, you want the gift to end all gifts. A gift so big and bold no other gift is ever needed and the recipient is simply blown away by your magnanimity. In today’s military, that gift comes chambered in .45 ACP.
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