The US Army’s last standard issue pistol, the iconic Colt M1911, had one of the longest service careers of any 20th century handgun – 74 years, officially, and in reality it’s still hanging on in a few corners today. It’s an old design but still rugged and reliable, and it has earned its place in history as one of the most successful pistols of all time. The Beretta M9 that replaced it hasn’t earned the same affection, though. Troops have complaints about its reliability and some early ones spectacularly self-destructed when the cutaway slide broke up. That wasn’t actually the weapon’s fault – the ammo being used exceeded NATO pressure standards – but it didn’t exactly inspire confidence. There are also ergonomic issues, with some troops having trouble with the slide-mounted safety catch.
So now, 30 years after it was adopted, the M9 is slated for replacement and the Army is looking for a new design. This is a major contract, with close to 300,000 handguns required by the Army and potentially 210,000 more from the other services. It’s encouraging that all the services are at least considering buying a common pistol, but the big question right now is what to buy. The House Armed Services Committee and Beretta both want the Army to buy a product-improved M9A3 version that, the manufacturer claims, fixes “most of” the M9’s issues. Congress has a simpler motive – they say it will be cheaper. If the procurement process turns into the usual DoD mess they could be right, but the Army is arguing, quite sensibly, that technology has moved on a lot since 1985 and the M9, which is basically a 1976-vintage Beretta 92, can’t be upgraded to match current weapons.
Ironically one contender is likely to be the SIG-Sauer P226. This lost out to the M9 in 1985, mainly on cost grounds, but it’s a popular weapon that’s still reasonably up to date; the US military uses a few thousand of the compact P228 version as the M11. The handgun of choice for the SAS and British special duties troops, it’s far superior to the M9 but Swiss quality still comes at a price. That’s cost the SIG quite a few orders. The British Army was happy enough to pay for it as a special purpose weapon, and also ordered a larger batch for issue to troops deploying to Afghanistan in place of the ancient L9 Browning Hi-Power, but when it came to ordering a new standard pistol to replace the whole L9 fleet, they balked at the price tag and went for the cheaper Glock 17 instead.
There’s going to be a lot of pressure on the Army to go for a US design, which is understandable, and a lot of people are also arguing for a larger caliber – .45 ACP and .40 S&W are being mentioned. That’s baffling to most NATO members, because a caliber change would violate standardization agreements that the USA has been very keen to enforce on the other members, and in any case the alleged low power of the 9mm NATO round doesn’t seem to be a problem for anyone else. In terms of physics it’s actually considerably more powerful than the .45, and also a lot more controllable. Most US special operations units have opted for 9mm weapons like the P226 and Glock 19, while the FBI and many US police forces that started to move to .40 are reversing that decision. The simple fact is that no pistol round has one-shot stopping capability, with the possible exception of the horrific .455 Webley Mk III “Manstopper” – a soft lead cylinder that seemed designed to violate every treaty ever written, and that only works in huge 19th century revolvers anyway. Given that, it makes more sense to maximize magazine capacity and put the enemy down with four or five 9mm rounds.
So far the only entrant that’s definite is Smith & Wesson’s polymer M&P model, a modern design that’s available in a range of calibers. It’s likely the competition will be swelled by the latest models from SIG-Sauer, Glock and FN, as well as a range of US manufacturers. Let’s hope the final choice is a good one, because it’s likely to be around for a while.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.