After a two-year, $17 million dollar search involving 12 contestants, the U.S. Army has finally picked its first new handgun in 32 years. The Sig Sauer P320 Compact pistol is now the M17 handgun, replacing the M9 Beretta.
In 2014, the Army announced a coming competition for a new handgun to replace the M9. Twelve companies entered the fray, including the Beretta APX, Ceská zbrojovka's CZ P-09, FN Herstal's Five-Seven Mk 2 handgun, the General Dynamics and Smith & Wesson M&P, the full-sized Glock 17 and compact Glock 19; and the Sig Sauer P320. Sig Sauer and Glock were selected as finalists last December. Yesterday, at the 2017 SHOT Show gun industry event in Las Vegas, Army officials notified Sig Sauer of their win.
According to The Firearm Blog, the the Swiss-German P320 won the competition. Miiltary.com reports Army has reportedly chosen the 9-millimeter version of the handgun, which packs up to a 17-round magazine. The Army will buy both full-size and compact versions of the P320. The weapon is fully ambidextrous, with safety and slide catch levers on both sides, and has a bright orange loaded chamber indicator. It features a flap in the trigger well to prevent dirt and debris from entering the pistol. Unlike many of its contemporaries, the P320 doesn't require the trigger to be pulled in order to disassemble it.
Beretta tried to enter an updated version of the M9, the M9A3, but the Army barred it from the competition. The M9 was a generally unpopular weapon. In a 2006 report on U.S. infantry weapons, troops who had used the M9 in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan ranked it dead last compared to the M4 carbine, M16 rifle, and M249 squad automatic weapon. Only fifty eight percent of soldiers who had used it in combat reported satisfaction with the weapon. Of the four firearms, soldiers characterized it as the least accurate and worst handling. Even worse, twenty six percent of those who had actually used it in combat reported the Beretta had jammed.
The XM17 Modular Handgun System competition was crafted to take advantage of new handgun technologies invented since the M9 entered service in 1985. The gun was required to feature a MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rail under the barrel for attaching lasers and lights. It would have a threaded barrel for a suppressor, ambidextrous controls for lefties, and a loaded chamber indicator. The modularity was in a requirement for swappable grip panels of different sizes, to accommodate hands of different sizes.
Even for something as simple as purchasing a handgun, the bureaucracy surrounding the M17 Modular Handgun System contract was oppressive. The Army's Final Solicitation document, which spelled out the terms of the competition, was whopping 351 pages long.
The process was so convoluted even Smith and Wesson teamed up with defense giant General Dynamics to make sense of it. Government officials complained it was unnecessarily difficult: Senator John McCain of Arizona described the rules as "byzantine." Then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates complained, "This is absurd…it's a handgun for God's sake."
Even Army Chief of Staff Mark Miley expressed exasperation with the process, saying, "We're not figuring out the next lunar landing. This is a pistol...You give me $17 million on a credit card, and I'll call Cabela's tonight, and I'll outfit every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine with a pistol for $17 million."
The M17 contract is worth $580 million. The Army will initially buy more than 280,000 handguns, and may purchase another 212,000. The date which the handgun enters service is unknown, but the contract calls for deliveries of up to 6,300 guns a month within a year.
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