By now, you’ve probably heard the U.S. Army said farewell to Beretta and its aging M9 platform. The winner took home the trophy (worth $580 million), and Sig Sauer now stands to benefit from all that sweet government money.
Back in 1985, the U.S. Army adopted the Beretta 92 / M9 after shelving the venerable 1911 and its massive .45 ACP caliber for the smaller, sleeker, and newer 9mm weapon system. Among more than a little controversy and grumbling, the Army moved forward with the M9. It was far from universally loved, but it served the military dutifully for well over 30 years.
Fast forward to 2011. The Beretta is showing its age. The Italian pistols were reaching the end of their service life, and the military wanted something new. The contract was up and they saw a need for a handgun they can easily swap parts on or possibly change the weapon’s caliber, grip, sights, and even the frame. Most importantly, they also wanted a one-stop shop for parts, optics, suppressors, and ammunition. This would later come in handy for Sig.
Pictured: There were many entrants into the Army’s XM17 Program. Glock entered variants of the G17 and G22, KRISS entered an MHS variant of the Sphinx SDP, STI International and Detonics Defense partnered together to enter an STX model, Smith & Wesson partnered with General Dynamics for a new M&P9 handgun, FNH reportedly submitted a new version of the Five-seveN pistol, Beretta opted to enter the APX, and CZ submitted an MHS model of their P-09 handgun.
The military selected three weapons systems in August 2016 to compete in the final stages of testing. They chose among several capable juggernauts of the gun industry. Names like GLOCK, Smith & Wesson, and of course, Beretta. GLOCK unsurprisingly entered a G17, a weapon already carried by so many police and military, it’s almost synonymous with duty guns. Smith & Wesson sent the Army a slightly beefed up M&P. Beretta entered its fancy new APX. Other brands in the early stages of testing included STI, KRISS, FN Herstal and CZ.
After years of testing, delays and typical government red tape, the Army finally gave the Sig Sauer P320 the crown. So now, we’re forced to ask, why this gun? The bore axis looks atrocious. Doesn’t the GLOCK 17 already have years of proven reliability? Doesn’t the M&P harness the latest in manufacturing technology? Doesn’t the APX take care of most of the requirements the military proposed? The answer lies in a somewhat muddy cross section of price, features, modularity and performance. One day, the military may release their precise rationale, but here’s what we know so far:
The M9 has few modern accouterments, so the military wanted to take advantage of handgun technologies that civilians spent the last two decades enjoying on even the most basic weapons. They wanted MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rails for attaching gizmos, threaded barrels for suppressors, ambidextrous controls and loaded chamber indicators. The P320 hit all these checkboxes with ease. However, the modularity of the Sig is where it really shines. The serialized portion of the handgun, the part that’s legally a gun, is made of solid steel and lives inside the grip assembly and external frame. Therefore, if you ruin all the parts on your sidearm by running it over with a Humvee, you can swap out almost all the components without having to transfer a brand new “gun” to your unit.
Not a fan of the 9mm caliber and want something hotter, larger, or both? No problem, the P320 can easily shift between .40 S&W and .357 SIG with a simple parts swap—no tools needed. Sporting freakishly tiny or huge hands? Interchangeable grips come standard. All personnel will have a comfortable sidearm that actually fits their hands at the ready. Left-handed? Sig added ambidextrous thumb safeties and slide releases. Don’t like reloading as often? Extended magazines are also part of the deal. Like handgun optics? The pistol also boasts a removable panel on the top of the slide to accommodate them.
Realistically, training thousands of troops who in many cases have never held a real gun in his or her life before their military career is a challenge. Now, attempt to train those troops to safely carry, operate, and maintain an old single action/double handgun like the M9 in a war zone; it is exceedingly difficult. The P320 simplifies training in its striker-fire design. No external hammers. No muss. No fuss.
The bottom line is the military had a very tall order. The Army’s Final Solicitation document, which contained details and terms of the military’s requirements, was a staggering 351 pages long. They asked for a weapons system that anyone of virtually any size can use, be repaired on the fly, upgraded, downgraded, modified or tweaked to each warfighter’s needs. It needed to be simple to operate, even simpler to repair, and most importantly, deliver rounds downrange accurately and reliably. Our military personnel deserve the absolute best equipment available, and it looks like the P320 just might deliver.
Do you think this was a smart move? Would the military be better off with an FN, GLOCK, or M&P? Should the military have simply replaced the M9 with more M9s? What about bringing the 1911 out of retirement and going back to the .45 ACP? Let us know in the comments below.