Somebody had to write the worst article on the M17 Modular Handgun System program. And this guy did it, at Strategy Page. He knew just enough not to sign it, whoever he was, so he may not be a complete dullard. But almost every fact that’s in the story is wrong, demonstrably wrong, I-was-too-lazy-to-Google wrong, I-was-too-dumb-to-ask-anybody wrong.
We used to say in the Army “as wrong as two boys kissin’,” or maybe a slightly stronger version of that, but we can’t say that any more. But that’s how wrong this article is.
Let’s hit some of the high points:
First, the title: “The Low Bidder And The M9 Tragedy.” Er, what tragedy?
The U.S. Department of Defense has finally, after a ten year search, decided on a new standard pistol, to replace the much hated Beretta M9.
“Much hated”? Meh. Lots of guys prefer another pistol. We could always work with the M9. A pistol is too inconsequential to waste hatred on, and any professional just takes the pistol he is issued and works with it. That’s how the game is played, by the people for whom “game” is only a metaphor, not something executed on a colorful board, with cardboard counters and a polyhedral die.
The new pistol is a variant of the SIG Sauer P320, which lost out to the Baretta in 1985 because the Baretta 9mm was a little cheaper.
One brief declarative sentence, multiple factual errors:
- It is a P320, not a “variant” except in that it has the safety and anti-tampering options SIG has offered to “fleet buyers” all along.
- The P320 did not lose out to anything in 1985 as it was decades from being designed. Indeed, its forerunner the
P230P250 (which has little in common with the P226) was decades from being designed, and the 230250 was on the market for a long time before the 320 design began.
- Beretta is not spelled Baretta. They’ve been spelling it with that first “e” since fourteen-hundred-and-something. Repeating the misspelling doesn’t make it correct. (But wait, he’ll misspell it twice more, but misspell it differently, down the page).
- The trials in which SIG and Beretta were both judged as suitable took place in 1984. And yes, the Beretta was less expensive. (Significantly, not “a little.” Especially when you’re buying hundreds of thousands of the things). Beretta won a previous trial outright (JSSAP), but SIG did not participate. Cost is a real-world part of every weapons buy, whether it’s a billion-dollar ship or a buck-fifty bayonet sheath.
- Some units had been using Berettas earlier than official adoption, and that may have given Beretta an edge, back then.
- The pistol that SIG entered was a P226. This is exactly like a P320, except that its frame is made of different material and designed differently, it was designed from the bones out for modularity, it has a completely different trigger system and controls and manual of arms that the 226, and has exactly zero parts that interchange with its SIG stablemate.
- For the innumerate, study this arithmetic: 226 ≠ 320. There will be a test.
We note that most of the errors this guy made seem to come from the Wikipedia page on the M9, which is almost as messed up as the Strategy Page article… but not as messed up, because copying guy didn’t understand what he was copying. One of Strategy Page’s 400-lb aspie wargamers?
Whew, that was the first sentence. Hey, are you guys ready to move on and try another? Because this whole fisking is around 4,400 words (Holy Wall O Text Batman!), we’ll continue it after the jump.
The M9 replaced the M1911 11.4mm (.45 caliber) pistol.
OK, so he’s probably a foreign fat aspie. Come on, even the French who invented the jeezly metric system understand what a .45 is. That is, if they know anything at all about firearms. (The Norwegians called their .45, the Model 1914, “11.43 mm”). Still, his basic facts are correct here: the M9 did replace the M1911A1 (we’ll spot him the A1, he’s probably from the Tee Ball Generation where no one teaches attention to detail any more), and the 1911A1 was indeed .45 caliber. OK, let’s tee up another sentence, and someone bring us our driver:
The M9 replacement entered service in 2014 and is a 833 g (29 ounce) weapon that is 203mm (8 inches) long and has a 17 round magazine.
“The M9 replacement” is a curious way to refer to what he apparently means is the P320. And actually, “entered service”? In US service, it hasn’t, yet. (Although it’s getting close). Remember, it took five years after Beretta won almost 40 years ago, for all the protests to shake out and Beretta to win again.
Experienced military and civilian pistol users agree that the P320 was the best choice.
“Experienced military and civilian pistol users” = who? Any pistol selection is going to be controversial among “experienced military and civilian pistol users,” because everyone has his favorites, but as we’ve mentioned, the guys will just take what they’re handed and do what needs to be done.
However, the P320 is so new it’s not really anyone’s favorite yet. And the military selection process has been so opaque even pistoleros generally confident about the military’s decision making can’t endorse it full-throatedly. The author’s claim of consensus is entirely imaginary.
It’s going to take a very long time to get through this article, isn’t it?
This decision comes after the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force joined forces in 2014 to speed up the seeminly unending selection process.
Um, yes and no. The Army was the proponent for this, but all the services had an interest.
Another development that speeded things up was the fact the SOCOM (Special Operations Command) had already adopted a number of other pistols to replace the M9.
Actually, the special operations guys were buying their own stuff with MFP-11 money, and what they did or didn’t do made little impact on the overall M17 program, except in the requirements definition phase, where the pistol was specified as having a striker-fired system. A striker-fired system is, of course, characteristic of the Glock 19 pistols used by many special operations forces. (Others still use the M9; NSW uses the SIG).
It’s interesting that the author of this mess does not mention the Glock at all, nor does he “get” SOF’s evolution on caliber over the last 30-40 years at all right, but we’ll get to that.
For example in 2011 the U.S. Navy SEALS adopted the Sig Sauer P226 9mm pistol as their Mk25 standard sidearm. This pistol was actually the same Sig Sauer P226 the SEALS have been using since the 1980s, but with a better accessory rail, a few other minor changes, and a new name.
That’s technically correct, but it’s “Wikipedia correct” — it misses what’s actually important. The SEALs had problems with high-round-count Beretta 92 pistols (pre-M9s). These problems were not trivial — in two cases, slides broke at the locking cuts and the aft portion of the slide struck the operator, fortunately below eye level. These catastrophic failures, which were ultimately tracked to a heat-treating error, caused the SEALs to lose confidence in the M9, and select the 226, which (and this is important) had also passed the M9 tests. Only the Beretta and the SIG entrants passed. Ergo, the services were free to buy the 226 if they could justify the extra money. SOF elements just had to use their own money, not dollars Big Green / Blue / Haze Gray had appropriated for general purpose guns. They have this money for buying SOF stuff, but of course pistols are only one budget item, and they have to be prioritized.
The Sig Sauer P320 is an updated version of the P226.
As mentioned above, this profoundly wrong statement could only be written by someone who has not had eyes and hands on these pistols. Saying the P320 is an updated P226 is like saying the Colt Cal. .45 M1911 was an updated version of the Colt Cal. .45 M1873, and is massively disrespectful to the designers, engineers and testers who labored for years to produce, first, the DA/SA
P230 P250, and then, the entirely new P320.
It also misses one of the key features of the P320 (and the unmentioned interim
230 250), its modularity. Yet modularity was sought by the initial RFP, and was even in the name of the, also unmentioned in the article, Modular Handgun Program.
He also misses — we ought to copy “he also misses” so we can paste it as we slog through this article — that somebody else adopted the SIG. That would be the Coast Guard, who use the compact P229R version with the Double Action Kellerman (DAK) trigger mechanism. Hey, they count; they probably point more pistols at more people on an average day than all the other services put together, given their law enforcement and smuggler-interdiction missions.
This is ironic because back in the early 1980s the Berretta and Sig Sauer pistols had both scored about the same on the American evaluation tests and the Berretta won mainly on the basis of price.
Here he spells Beretta wrong twice again, but differently from the first time. His description of the results of the 1984 trials is close. On a pass/fail basis, both pistols passed, and the other entrants failed. (He also doesn’t mention who these were. Smith, FN with the Fast Action and HK from memory, with Colt and Star only playing in the 1990 iteration of the tests, and we’re probably missing a couple. The Steyr GB was in there somewhere, even).
The P320 is cheaper P226 but the contract to replace as many as 500,000 army M9s is worth over half a billion dollars.
For the forty-eleventh time, 320 ≠ 226. Also, we’re not talking just the Army’s pistols, but everybody’s.
The current selection of the P320 was criticized mainly because it took the Department of Defense (mainly the army) a decade to select what their own evaluation team approved of back in the early 1980s and that SOCOM user experience confirmed before the 1980s were over.
Was criticized by whom? I think that we’ve established that this writer does not have sufficient expertise for his own criticism to be taken seriously, so we’re not going to let him get away with the passive voice here.
But for the forty-leventh-plus-one time, the P320 is not what “their own evaluation team approved of back in the early 1980s.”
SOCOM came into being a few years after the M9 was adopted and immediately began planning to bring back .45 caliber pistols for its commandos while also allowing the use of alternative 9mm pistols as needed.
This is wrong, wrong, wrong, on numerous levels. Very, very few units retained .45 caliber pistols after experimenting with the M9. The vast majority of SOCOM carried the issued pistol for the 1980s and 1990s. Units that retained the .45 included certain special mission units (SMUs) that had their own specialty armorers (gunsmiths, really), and certain Marine recon elements that had the service of Marine master armorers. At the time these SMUs made that .45 caliber decision, they had their own reporting chain to the National Command Authority. Only in time were they subordinated to the newly created Joint Special Operations Command. (All the command changes began with the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, and are beyond the scope of this article and the fisking thereof, but it seems as if the author of the piece doesn’t understand that any better than he does pistols, which is “hardly.”)
SOCOM always had the right to do that and the army and marines often pay close attention to, and adopt, new weapons and equipment SOCOM has selected and then used successfully in action.
Small stuff — Army and Marines are proper nouns, in English proper nouns are capitalized. Bigger stuff: there is a limited degree of cross-pollination between SOF and general purpose forces, largely created when personnel flow back and forth for career progression purposes (this personnel turbulence is inflicted primarily on officers). But the idea that the guys in the GPF are the little brothers hanging on everything SOF does is mistaken. Their stuff is driven by their very wide range of missions, too.
Thus the SOCOM decision to keep using the .45 and select a different 9mm pistol. Actually, many Special Forces and SEAL operators never gave up using the original army .45, as it was the ideal pistol for many commando operations.
There was no “SOCOM decision.” The very few pro-.45 decisions were undertaken on a lower level. The .45s that were retained at SMUs were not standard GI items but were significantly improved. Most of the SEALs and all the Special Forces (which represents specific Army units) kept using their issue 9mm pistols, the P226 and the M9 respectively.
The SEALs drove a joint SOF pistol program down the rabbit hole that produced the .45 ACP caliber HK Mk 23. In practice, nobody uses it, not even the SEALs; it’s too damn big. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” It was a gateway drug to more suppressor use, though, which SOF has used off and on over the years, and increasingly since the Mk23. He doesn’t mention the Mk23, so he’s probably already been burned at the stake by rampaging HK fanboys.
As the U.S. Army Special Forces discovered, if you are well trained and know what you are doing you should carry a pistol, in addition to your rifle. Not the official issue M9 pistol but something with a bit more stopping power.
[Blasphemous imprecation deleted]. Yes, SF does carry pistols, but we didn’t discover that. Lots of soldiers and units over lots of centuries have understood that the benefits of a secondary weapon often outweigh the demerits of same. (“Outweigh,” literally, because weight is the predominant problem with toting a back-up pistol. Everybody’s carrying too much these days, but it’s all stuff you need, so nobody has an answer. But it was interesting to learn from the books of Joseph Bilby that lots of Civil War volunteers started off carrying a pistol as well as a rifle, and by the summer of ’62 they’d mostly sold, traded or thrown the “excess weight” away).
“Stopping power…” Lord love a duck. Welcome to Stupid Net Debates of the dial-up BBS era. We’ll just disregard that, except to note that the only sure way to “stop” someone with any handgun caliber is a central nervous system hit, or (if you can live with delayed action) a major circulatory system hit. All stopping power is a function of bullet placement, full stop.
Rifle calibers can have stopping effects with less perfect bullet placement, thanks to their much higher energy transfer, but we’re not talking about rifles.
The Special Forces prefer new model 11.4mm (.45 caliber) pistols, although 10mm weapons are also popular.
No, we don’t “prefer new model 11.4mm,” and neither do American SOF in general. The Marine Raiders (née MARSOC) recently ditched their signature .45 for the bland but dependable Glock 19. While at least two SMUs regularly carry pistols in .40 S&W, we’re personally unaware of any carrying one in the 1970s Wunderpatrone, 10mm Auto. The M1911A1 .45 is a perfectly good weapon, but it’s over a century old. We’re not carrying the M1903A1, either.
It may be that the author is a European, and this explains his confusion about SF and SOF, and his preference for metric cartridge names. But a cartridge has a name irrespective of your personally preferred system of weights and measures. The name exists, in part, so that you can distinguish one thing from another, which is why to any — what was this clown’s term? — “experienced military and civilian pistol user” knows what you mean when you say 10mm, the 10mm Auto, or .40, the .40 S&W, even though these two different rounds fire dimensionally identical bullets from different-sized cartridge cases.
The reason for this is that you are most likely to be using the pistol indoors, where your target is going to be really close.
No idea where this comes from. But general purpose forces are quite likely to engage in military operations in urban terrain; targets can be plenty close outdoors, too; and pistol targets are generally close, or why aren’t you getting behind cover and bringing your rifle back into the fight? And close doesn’t matter to caliber selection. A hit that’s a “stopping” hit with a .45 is a stopping hit with a 9; a 9mm hit that doesn’t take your opponent out of the fight wouldn’t have done it with this guy’s imaginary “11.4 mm” either.
You want to knock the enemy down quickly, before he can get at you with a knife or even his hands.
True, but it has nothing to do with caliber. And, pistol or no (most infantrymen don’t carry pistols, except for crew-served weapons crews), the bad guy that takes on a trained infantryman with a knife or his bare hands is probably going to lose that fight. Mindset, remember?
Many troops are getting their own pistols and most commanders have been lenient on this issue.
The army and air force do not have the same needs as SOCOM and simply want a 9mm pistol with fewer flaws and more of the latest pistol tech than the existing M9.
Any pistol is going to have “flaws,” some of which are only going to be exposed by widespread service. We’re all holding our breath for what Big Green does when going to a striker-fired pistol produces, as it did for police, a higher rate of negligent discharges. (At least you don’t drill to pull the trigger for takedown on the M17).
The air force tried to replace the M9 in 2007 and was ordered by the Department of Defense to back off.
Oversimplification, but we’ll let it go.
The M9 is a 914 g (2.1 pound empty), 217mm (8.5 inch) long weapon that has a 125mm (4.9 inch) barrel and a magazine that holds 15 rounds. It replaced the World War I era M1911 .45 (11.4mm) caliber ACP. This is a 1.1 kg (2.44 pounds empty), 210mm (8.25 inch) long weapon with a 127mm (5 inch) barrel and a 7 round magazine.
Hey, he can copy specifications from Wikipedia. Give him a gold medal, this is the Special Olympics of gun writing.
Both pistols were only accurate at up to about 50 meters. The M1911 had more hitting power, while the M9 was a bit more accurate.
The Army uses “50 m” as the effective range of any pistol. In fact, with training, anyone can make 100 m hits on man-sized targets (like the standard E-type silhouette) with either pistol. Any modern pistol is more accurate than the soldier shooting it.
Loaded, each pistol weighs about 230 g (half a pound) more.
By 2014 the army and air force had a more compelling case for change. The army, in particular, found that many of its oldest M9s were, literally, breaking. Some components (especially the barrels, frames and locking blocks) tend to break on older, especially heavily used, weapons.
[Blasphemy again]. Actually, the M9 breakage parts are the slide, frame and locking block.
The early slide failure on pre-M9 Berettas could be uncontained; Beretta modified the pistol to contain the rear half of the slide as shown, before the M9 was type classified. A slide failure like the above can often be caught as a crack during careful technical inspection.
Operator maintenance is likely to overlook this incipient failure.
The original machined locking blocks were never a problem, but “improved” processes produced frangible parts; both the Army and Beretta redesigned them independently, as we’ve discussed here before, and seem to have solved the problem. Typical failure below.
The barrels? Never heard of one failing. A really old one wears out and its accuracy declines… it’s still better than the average GI who shoots it, even when it flunks technical inspection.
Since September 11, 2001 the army has used its M9s a lot. There are also a host of other problems, like the shape (too awkward for some users), trigger pull (too heavy) and lack of a Picatinny rail for easily mounting accessories. The safety switch is in an awkward position and troops in combat often accidentally put the safety on when cocking the pistol.
“Often”? This is a training problem caused by (1) some gimmicky training moves and (2) some commanders’ brain-dead insistence on carrying chamber-empty, usually out of a bed-wetting fear of NDs (which is also a training problem).
One thing that goes unmentioned in this dog’s breakfast of an article is that the political push for more women across the board has seriously shifted the demographics of the services, and thus the anthropometry of the 5th-to-95th-percentile soldier’s hand has changed.
That can be fatal (for the user) in combat. More modern designs (like SIG Sauer) have something more efficient (and less of a dirt catcher) than the open-slide and spent cartridge ejection system of the M9.
How one ejection port is more efficient than another is beyond our ken. But the open slide of the Beretta is quite a deliberate design feature, to allow sand, grit etc. to fall through without jamming the weapon. It is less popular than trying to seal the weapon.
Another sign of the times is that the M9 is not equipped to screw on a silencer, an accessory that is more commonly used these days.
Converting any pistol to use a suppressor is trivial. It gets complicated when you want a QD suppressor.
Indeed, most of the problems with the M9 result from the fact that it is a design that is over three decades old.
Great googly moogly, a factual statement! We didn’t think one would be forthcoming, but there it was. He ought to engrave it on a bronze plaque, and not risk trying again.
Pistol technology has improved a lot since the late 1970s and that can be seen in the pistols that are popular with police forces.
Hmm. First sentence — somewhat true. Most of the improvement’s been in ammo and on the manufacturing side, though; no modern pistol is much more deadly than its century-old equivalent, so all this pistol debate is really messing around on the margins.
Cops can often buy their own pistols and tend to get the most modern, but proven in action, models.
We’ll just let this sit here for you cops to comment on. The percentage of cops who are actually interested in their pistols is rather small, almost as small as the infinitesimal-but-consequential percentage of police work that involved shooting somebody.
Thus many troops in the combat zone leave the M9 they were issued back at the base and go into the field with a 9mm pistol they bought themselves.
Maybe in this writer’s imagination, but if he thinks this is happening in the United States Army or Marine Corps he’s severely mistaken. And we say this, having carried an (entirely verboten) back-up pistol in combat.
This is often a Glock 19, which is a police favorite and popular with troops in other countries.
The Glock 19s carried by United States special operations forces are not personal weapons but US government property carried o the books of the unit. Period, full stop.
Many armies do not replace pistols as frequently as police forces, or special operations troops. But in Afghanistan and Iraq regular combat troops used pistols a lot, and the M9 was showing its age.
They carried pistols a lot. These pistols saw more training use than they would have in garrison, given pre-mission training and (for some units) ranges at their base camps. But we’d bet that the Chicago PD shot more people with pistols last year than the US Army did.
As you can see, it’s not just the wear and tear, it’s also obsolescence in the face of advances in pistol design.
And again, we have a factual statement. That’s two. See, if you’re going to have to recapitalize worn-out equipment, whether you’re a widget manufacturer or an army, you can simply buy new, unworn copies of what you’ve been using, or take a look and see whether something better is available. Taking a look is what the MHS selection process did.
Meanwhile in 2012 the army had to order another 100,000 M9 9mm pistols, each costing $640. This was just to replace the M9s that were falling apart. The U.S. military (mostly the army) already has over 600,000 M9s and that purchase keeps the M9 in service at least until the end of the decade.
While a weapons design can last for a century or more (the M2HB is coming up on its 100th), you always have to budget for wear-out. Any service weapon has the disadvantage of being carried and used by people who don’t own it, but they’re generally well-maintained, at least in militaries which have a maintenance culture and (usually) a strong NCO corps.
We’ll just leave his closing paragraphs sit here, because they’re packed chock-full of fail, but we’ve gone on for over 2000 of our words about over 2000 of his words, so it’s time to wind it up. We’ve covered most of it already (there’s some new shotgun nonsense that we’re not going to bother with).
The U.S. military adopted the 9mm pistol in 1985 largely to standardize ammunition with NATO and to replace the M911 .45 caliber (11.4mm) pistol with something smaller and lighter. All other NATO states used 9mm for pistols. At the time it was noted that most 9mm pistols were carried by officers and support personnel, who rarely used them, in combat or otherwise. Many American combat veterans disagreed with the switch to a 9mm pistol but that advice was ignored, except in SOCOM.
But times have changed. Over the last decade American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan discovered, through combat experience, what types of weapons worked best at close range to take down the enemy. It was the same with SWAT teams and commandos all over the world. When conducting a raid and finding yourself up close and personal with someone trying to kill you, there is a need for a heavy caliber pistol or a shotgun (firing 00 shot or slugs). The premier pistol for ensuring you take down someone is still the .45 caliber (11.4mm) or .40 caliber (10mm, but only with a heavy bullet) pistols. There is also a .50 caliber (12.7mm) pistol, but only very large people can handle this one. The 11.4 and 10mm pistols are light and handy, compared to assault rifles or shotguns, and have a long history of quickly taking down an armed and determined foe.
The bottom line is this is someone ignorant of guns and the US military pontificating on guns and the US military.
As a source, Strategy Page is weird. Real people like Austin Bay write there, and other real people take it seriously. Sometimes it has insightful commentary on unusual developments in the world. But in our opinion, it never overcame its birth as a place for service-shy wargame nerds to sperg out among their own kind. Even assuming that this was written by one of those characters, this article is just embarrassingly, tragically (or maybe tragicomically), galactically bad. It is not only the worst article you are likely to read about the Modular Handgun System M17 selection process, but the worst article we’ve read about any firearms subject in the last couple years, and that’s really saying something. If you want to lose thirty IQ points, Read The Whole Thing™.
This post has been corrected. Due to authorial brainlock, we described the SIG-Sauer P250 in every instance as the P230. As the first commenter, Poobie, noted, we were wrong. However, unlike StrategyPage, we do correct our factual errors. (Good work readers, now go find us some more!)