Standard Issue Pistols – The Debate Heats Up

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.

Sig SauerIronically 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.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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9 thoughts on “Standard Issue Pistols – The Debate Heats Up

  1. Why not the Paraordnance P14 type pistol in 45acp? You have 14 rounds of ammo plus the famed end result of a 230gr bullet even in a FMJ configuration. Don’t let the rest of the world dictate what our military should use. We are paying for our own weapos.

  2. “Why not the Paraordnance P14 type pistol in 45acp?”

    Because it’s an ancient design with a huge grip that many soldiers, especially smaller females, can’t handle easily.

    “Don’t let the rest of the world dictate what our military should use.”

    On the other had the USA has never been shy about dictating what everyone else in NATO should use. That’s why the British Army has been stuck with 7.62mm (which is pretty good) then 5.56mm (which is awful), instead of adopting an excellent cartridge very like the 6.5mm Grendel in the 1950s.

    Don’t get me wrong; I love the M1911. But it’s an obsolete design in an obsolete calibre. In combat you’re much better off with a good modern 9mm. It’s more compact, more controllable and your allies won’t shake their heads sadly when you need ammo replen.

  3. Sig hands down. I own a P250C in .45acp. After learning the trigger pull better for a DAO trigger I hit a lot of bullseyes! Easy take down and reassemble, easy cleaning, can’t wait to try the newP320 in 9mm. P226 should be the SI weapon. I think the Seals would agree!⚓️

    1. I had a P226 as an issue weapon for a while and I loved it. It’s not cheap but the engineering is pretty much unbeatable. For an order this size I’m fairly sure SIG would set up a US factory, as well.

  4. The only thing I would add of course is importance of having an American manufacturer. We do need more contracts of this size state side.

  5. I think you either spend the money on the Sigs, M&P 9, or go with a Glock 19 or 17 for capacity and reliability. If the military is concerned about the lack of a manual safety on the Glocks, that can be fixed easily since there are at least a few folks out there that install them in the civilian world. All the pistols I mentioned are proven reliable and can be loaded with +P loads.

    1. As of now the British Army has decided that no external safety is fine; the SIG doesn’t have one, after all. On the other hand I’m hearing rumours of fearsome ND rate with the first batches of Glocks, suggesting this may be more of a problem than the bean counters think it is. At any rate Glock have a safety-equipped version of the 17 in their range and another one with a push-through safety was made for the British trials, so they can certainly supply them if required.

  6. Throwback…Tuesday? Bring back the 1911. Aside from sex appeal, it’s a great handgun. It’s got 230 grains of diplomacy, and while the standard magazines have “capacity issues” a pistol is 1) not a primary weapon and 2) the single-stack configuration is perfect for all hand-sizes. I have average-ish hands, I prefer a 1911 to the M9 and the venerable brick I mean Mk23, however I’m also comfortable on the Glock 19 and P226.

    End opinion.

  7. When I was in the MARINES we carried
    The 45 I loved it!!! Now that I’m older
    I carry the Glock 19 with a Glock 42 as
    A back up.

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