Magazine article National Defense

Efforts Continue to Replace Awry, Air Force Small Arms

Magazine article National Defense

Efforts Continue to Replace Awry, Air Force Small Arms

Article excerpt

Fresh off a failed attempt to find a new primary service rifle, the Army is set to help the Air Force replace the sidearm the U.S. military has used for three decades.

The Air Force will spearhead an effort to find a suitable replacement for the Beretta M9 pistol, introduced in 1985. The Army, which is a mutual partner in the endeavor, scrapped in 2013 a five-year effort to replace the M4 carbine.

Whereas the M4 rifle is generally well regarded by troops in the field, surveys conducted by the military have shown a consistent lack of confidence in the M9 9 mm handgun.

There is no formal requirement for what is called the "modular handgun" yet, but a request for proposals is expected in January, according to Air Force officials. A three-year analysis of commercially available handguns will follow to find the best replacement for the M9 and the more concealable M11, a 9 mm Sig Sauer.

"The M9 is a good gun," an Army Special Forces captain told National Defense. But "many of their core components have a tendency to break, especially on the older models."

Major issues with the M9's durability are the barrels, frames and locking blocks, he said. Nearly every structural element of the weapon has a tendency to break, especially guns that have been in continual use since the weapon's introduction 30 years ago, he said.

The lifecycle of an M9 is about 17,000 rounds, though the Army only requires that they last through 5,000 firings. The new pistol is expected to have a 25,000 round service life. Special Forces troops reach those thresholds fairly quickly, but even conventional troops are finding fault with weapons that are decades old.

"While a conventional force may only shoot 200 rounds a year, [Special Forces] especially can do 2,500 or more. It's kind of unreasonable to expect them to last decades when you're replacing everything every two years or so," he said.

The Army currently has 238,000 M9 pistols. It plans to buy 265,000 replacements.

Special Forces have begun to migrate away from the M9 and have carried the P226, a .40-caliber handgun built by Sig Sauer that is more concealable than the M9. Some have begun to carry the Glock 19, a 9 mm pistol with a polymer frame that cuts down weight and size. Glodc is overwhelmingly the sidearm of choice for U.S. law enforcement and is standard issue for many foreign militaries.

"I have seen a lot of Glock 19s floating around the military recently," the Special Forces captain said. "Of course, Special Forces uses them, but I have seen both Air Force and Navy personnel with them."

In outfitting the Afghan National Army, the U.S. military conspicuously opted for the Smith & Wesson 9 mm Sigma pistol, another popular handgun for law enforcement officers. The Pentagon bought more than 20,000 Sigmas for the ANA and Afghan National Police Force, according to reports.

Those and other commercially available handguns have simply outgrown the M9, technologically. Beretta has developed newer firearms that meet many of the Army's needs, as has Sig Sauer, Browning and Colt, to name only a few.

Unlike almost all new tactical sidearms, the M9 lacks an integrated Picatinny rail for attaching tactical lights and lasers. A long, thick handle makes it unsuitable for a wide range of users. It also features a relatively heavy trigger pull, according to information from the Army.

The safety selector is located at the rear end of the slide among grooves meant to improve grip when cocking the pistol. Troops have a tendency to accidentally activate the safety while cocking or reloading the weapon, a definite drawback in close-quarters combat.

The M9's open-slide design has become largely outdated among tactical pistols. The large opening in the top of the gun from which the spent shells are ejected leaves the mechanism inside vulnerable to obstruction. Its barrel also cannot accept a suppressor, which the Army and Air Force would prefer in a new sidearm. …

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