Army Chief Wants to Sidestep MHS Pistol Program

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Tactical range training with the M-9 Berretta mhs

The Army’s search for a new sidearm has supporters and critics on all sides. (Photo: Army/Staff Sgt. Chrissy Best)

The U.S. Army’s chief of staff Gen. Mark Milley recently gave a talk at the 2016 Future of War Conference slamming the slow, inefficient process of the Modular Handgun System, or MHS project. If Milley had his way he’d just go out and buy a bunch of guns off the shelf.

Currently, the search for a new military sidearm is expected to take up to two years and cost $17 million. The MHS project is an ongoing effort to replace the aging pistols currently in service as they reach their end-of-life. The bulk of the military carries Beretta M9-pattern pistols that have seen years of use and abuse.

Milley doesn’t think it’s necessary to hold multi-year pistol trials. He believes that today’s small arms have been proven effective by civilian users across the country and by other militaries around the world.

“We are not exactly redesigning how to go to the moon, right?” Milley said, reports the Military Times. “This is a pistol…and arguably, it is the least lethal and important weapon system in the Department of Defense inventory.”

“The testing–I got a briefing the other day–the testing for this pistol is two years,” Milley said. “Two years to test technology that we know exists. You give me $17 million on the credit card, I’ll call Cabelas tonight, and I’ll outfit every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine with a pistol and I’ll get a discount on it for bulk buys.”

See Also: The Cost of Bureaucracy: The Army’s Expensive MHS Program

The program calls for 280,000 to 550,000 handguns chambered for a to-be-determined cartridge. While the military isn’t opposed to 9mm NATO, they will be testing other commercial cartridges to see if they outperform 9mm in any significant ways.

The MHS program is also looking to test newer ammunition types. For decades the military has mostly adopted international ammunition conventions, but the MHS might change that. The program will also examine the possibility of switching over to modern expanding handgun ammunition.

The “Modular” component of the MHS is the request for a standard pistol that is also compatible with a compact pistol for officers and concealability for covert users. Depending on the level of parts compatibility needed between the models, handguns that share commonality between service pistols and compacts and subcompacts have not only been around for years, they’ve been established for years.

Other requirements include a frame with a Picatinny rail for accessories like lights and pointers, extended magazine options and extended, threaded barrel options for use with suppressors. Additionally, the MHS requires a modular grip system that can be tailored to fit the majority of soldier hand sizes.

mark alexander milley

Gen. Mark A. Milley, Chief of Staff of the Army. (Photo: Army/Monica King)

The issue at hand, Milley points out, is that many, if not the majority of current-generation service pistols in production today meet these standards without needing any tests to prove them. Milley’s talk highlighted the extensive, potentially unnecessary volume of tests the military has required with the MHS program.

“I’m saying let me [select the sidearms] and then hold me accountable,” said Milley. “Let me figure out what type of pistol we need and let me go buy it without having to go through…years of incredibly scrutiny.”

He criticized the complexity of the MHS program. The requirement is 367 pages long. “A lawyer says this and a lawyer says that and you have to go through this process and that process and you have to have oversight from this that and the other.”

The MHS program, even in its early stages, has already stirred up a lot of long-standing debates, from handgun construction to cartridge selection. It’s clear that whatever next steps the military takes in selecting sidearms, there will support and criticism alike from all sides.

{ 35 comments… add one }
  • Bill April 14, 2017, 9:20 am

    I don’t know if I’d call Cabelas, but he has a point. There must be someone in uniform that can make that decision without all of the bureaucracy.

  • angel September 30, 2016, 8:02 am

    Why not wait until the FBI decides what they want , and go with that…saves 17 million, and everyone is happy. It must be nice spending that kind of money……POLITICS

  • SKTrynoskySr May 13, 2016, 8:53 am

    I got a chuckle out of this. Leaving the US Army in 1969, I went out and bought my own Colt AR-15. Got two extra mags and 100 Rounds of free ammo. Paid $ 210.00 (still have the receipt). At the same time, Uncle was paying Colt Industries about $ 475.00 per copy. Does not seem making the selector switch go to AUTO should cost an additional $ 265.00.

  • John Hoglin April 10, 2016, 5:08 am

    How did he get promoted with that much common sense? Surprised he has survived the purges of Obama administration.

  • jimonthebeach April 9, 2016, 1:27 am

    The general is absolutely right. The weapons selection process is designed to accomplish one thing: Pacifying those members of Congress whose constituents and contributors who build the guns. If the Defense Department was serious about finding the best pistol for the troops, they would ask the people who are going to carry them. Having carried a pistol most of my adult life as a career in the military and then a subsequent career in law enforcement, I’d choose a .45 caliber pistol built on a polymer frame. It may be true that 9mm bullets are much improved and my be equal in lethality to a .45, but the law of land warfare demands bullets carried by military combatants have a full metal jacket. Expanding bullets, such as the hollow points normally carried by law enforcement officers, are expressly forbidden. That means a .45 caliber bullet is far more likely to incapacitate an enemy soldier than a 9mm. That ends the debate for me unless the Defense Department can come up with a more lethal 9mm bullet than what the troops are now carrying.

    • John Hoglin April 10, 2016, 5:24 am

      The ball ammo the military uses is little different than that used in WW1, the great changes in ammo have been in expanding HP bullets used by police and civilians. They are not used by the military, so whatever they decide IF they stick with ball ammo will be less than lethal than same gun loaded with expanding bullets. The General is correct in that the Pistol is the least important weapon the military uses. We already have tons of gear designed to carry the Berreta and 1911s. It is not just the change in firearms all the gear associated with the new gun has to paid for too. The Germans during WW1 did come up with a more effective 9mm it had a truncated cone shape, they stopped using when it was rumored that soldiers caught with it would be shot.

    • Greyghost11 May 13, 2016, 8:50 am

      The US Army is carrying hollow points and had authorised the use of them. So the number is the logical choice still. Even the Russians have gone to a9 as their primary side arm. Jmo

  • LC April 8, 2016, 9:06 pm

    Somebody will ALWAYS be unhappy…some hate polymer guns…some hate 9mm (although FBI just went BACK to it,,,from 10mm)…some want external safeties…some do not…some want more rounds…some want ONLY .45 (even though it does NOT have any more “stopping power” than a proper 9mm)…ask the experts about it…all baloney
    no gun is perfect…if there was one, then all others would be obsolete…has not happened yet…sorry 1911 fanboys/girls…same for Glock…and Sig…and H&K…still improvements to be made,,,same with ammo…no perfect round…
    that’s why there are so many calibers and firearms…
    How about the FN 5-7? Great penetration…easy to handle…LOTS of rounds.Should be cheaper in bulk.

  • P M April 8, 2016, 4:28 pm

    I guess my thought are that if Gen Milley thinks that this process is a waste of money that I would have to agree. I served under him at the 10th MTN DV and is one of the VERY FEW commanding officers I would stand behind. His thinking is what allot of military leaders loose when they move up the chain. It is called common sense and respect for the soldier. It’s that simple.

  • Jay April 8, 2016, 12:29 pm

    Another vote to consider the FNX Tactical, however IF you are dealing with a contract that size, have them make a version of that pistol but in 10mm. Slightly better capacity than the FNX-45 (which I have owned) and FAR more effective as a pistol round. Our troops deserve the best, and an FNX-10 Tactical would meet that goal.

  • LAH053 April 8, 2016, 12:25 pm

    Well all of you off the shelf people I sure hope that you don’t suffer a malfunction during your defensive situation. That is the primary reason that these test are so important. What is 17 Million compared the the lives it might cost if you don’t go though a rigorous testing period. Maybe you’ll volunteer to tell that soldiers Mom of how important 17 Million was to save instead assuring her son’s life in combat. I’ve seen some of the “off the shelf” modern and goo quality firearms JAM when they get just a little dirty. Imagine what a desert could do for your “off the shelf” gun. Get over it 17 million is nothing compared to the lives it might cost and the fact we’re talking about a 2 BILLION contract.

    • William Curtin April 8, 2016, 1:57 pm

      Please….Don’t be ridiculous with the defense of a $17M 2 year study. The environment, the Force-on-Force encounters, the handling of a sidearm between the military forces and those of law enforcement are basically 99.999% the same. Don’t argue that extreme climates have to be considered…We have Alaska State Troopers exposed to minus 20 degrees…..We have Texas Rangers and Border Patrol in 115 degrees and blowing dust storms…We have Harbor Patrol and Marine Units constantly in salt water and humid environments. Don’t argue that extended engagements have to be considered when we have destruction test conducted privately by individuals on Youtube and competitive shooters cycling 1000s of rounds and posting their results as well. Research what has already been done in the past 20 years…Just collect it….and save your $17M……make a simple selection based from a 2 page 40 question survey from a staff of 100 NCOs that have extensive combat experience from the Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force SOF Teams. This could be accomplished with a staff of 3 Service indivduals that are already on the US Payrolls for about $250,000/ All that $17M does is pay for a group of writers and lawyers and keep their staffs on payroll for 2 years.
      The contract itself will guard against failure. If the selected Pistol fails in the 1st year, the contractor replaces the entire contract under an insurance rider listing the US Gov’t as Loss Payee/Added Insured.

    • USA All the Way April 8, 2016, 5:02 pm

      There are multitudes of off-the-shelf handguns that have already proven themselves in the hands of law enforcement and Limited-Class competitions, and they have performed better than the M9 ever has. Just because a pistol acquisition is off the shelf doesn’t mean that the chosen product will be inferior to something designed from the ground up.

  • Gunny April 8, 2016, 11:13 am

    Not many times have I found myself in agreement with a General! Sometimes common sense is really the way to go. The technology is proven and the product is there. Give us taxpayers a break and be sensible.

  • Gary Weeks April 8, 2016, 10:39 am

    You think this process is a skew wait until you see the process they have for selecting the new toilets in the barracks, try the uniform review boards now there’s a review process and it cost more in the end than selecting the handguns. They have to spend our money so lets make it the most expensive and drawn out process possible and in the end put our solders, sailors and airmen at risk. WHY I ask? Shouldn’t our protectors have the best equipment and resources possible? Why saddle them with inferior products and weapons. How many can remember the last time they gave our military the cheapest, none tested weapons system under combat conditions? I sure can….and we lost not just the battles but many fine young lives because of ?????

  • flintman50 April 8, 2016, 10:23 am

    Issue ’em all Coonan’s with Nuge’s .357 loads…..one shot one kill – then move on….

    • LC April 8, 2016, 9:10 pm

      That can apply with virtually any gun and caliber…have to teach gun handling …trigger control…shot placement and follow up shots…
      one shot to a vital organ and it’s all over
      most military can’t shoot pistols for crap…go look at pictures of their ranges and targets…MANY wild shots…
      and from what I have heard, they don’t get a lot of practice after boot camp…

  • Tripwire April 8, 2016, 9:59 am

    BUY AMERICAN! And yes most everything is made in America these days, I have Glocks, Sigs, CZ’s 1911’s, XD’s, The XD or the S&W’s would work fine, If it’s not made here in the US then it should not be sold to our military period. I agree with the General, remember these same “Testers” screwed up the M-16 and got a lot of people killed. I carried a 1911 in the Marines for my entire enlistment. In the military it looks in the news reports that every person is issued a handgun, it that really necessary? I ask because I don’t know since this war in the middle east is vastly different from anything I know about.

  • missourinative April 8, 2016, 9:29 am

    This is a lot of bureaucratic bullmanure that everything in government seems to require anymore. It gives the politicians committees for them to brag about during elections, and hign paying jobs for cronies that wouldn’t know where the bullets come out on a handgun without extensive training.

  • Rick April 8, 2016, 8:01 am

    1. There goes his future with the military.
    2. HE SHOULD RUN FOR PRESIDENT.

  • Magic Rooster April 8, 2016, 7:15 am

    Where do I start? The entire process is so fouled up, no reasonable outcome can be expected.
    There is a need for “commonality” as far as ammunition is concerned.
    There was a reason the 1911 was the choice for so many years, SIMPLICITY! I’m not a 1911 aficionado, but they are simple.
    An armorer should be able to fix broken guns with a minimum of tools, or take several broken guns and cobble together one that works.
    I have a 1938 Luger, a very nice gun that shoots great when it is clean. If you don’t keep it clean, it jams.
    My Sig 226 still shoots fine even when it is filthy. Glocks, etc. will do the same.
    Simple and rugged with common ammunition. But the Government will never accept such a “bare bones”mandate.

  • James Lockhart April 8, 2016, 6:44 am

    The guy may be on to something. It looks like the 1911 model fits most of the specs and $17M saved would buy more than a few of them.

    • LAH053 April 8, 2016, 12:30 pm

      Yeah if it’s a Colt (all American & a quality weapon). Everyone fails to remember Glock is Austrian SIG SAUER is German and Smith & Wesson is Clintons favorite son

  • Rev. Charles Deaton April 8, 2016, 6:22 am

    I was taking my CCW class being taught by two Army personnel, We went to the armory where they had an outside range . I watched them take two Beretta M9’S out of the box both were new. Fresh ammo and we began to qualify. In rapid fire both
    .Beretta M9’S jammed on the second shot. Shoot it nice and slow and the gun worked fine but in a quick fire shooting both jammed on the second shot. According to the trainers this as normal for all the Beretta M9’S . They would of been better off shooting a 22 caliber 8 shot revolver. And this pistol is what we send our troops out with ?? Just goes to show you that the gun the military sends our troops out with is the lowest bid from what ever company. My S&W .40 shot flawlessly with out a single jam and holds 14 + 1 bullets.

  • Aaron G April 7, 2016, 10:41 pm

    I would be curious to see how often a sidearm would come into play when you have a rifle at your disposal. I do think it would behoove the government to opt for a purely American made firearm rather than sending our money overseas needlessly.

  • Robert Smith April 7, 2016, 5:35 pm

    “This is a pistol…and arguably, it is the least lethal and important weapon system in the Department of Defense inventory.” Yes, well said General. How about an even cheaper alternative – just keep the M9 and not buy anything. Yeah, it\’s chunky and heavy by today\’s standards but still good enough for those rare occasions where a pistol is actually employed in combat.

  • jamed limper April 2, 2016, 12:05 pm

    make sure it when the new ammo has been approved it comes with the warning thaf if u are allergic to pork fat be careful when handling the ammo as it uses lard for bullet lube

  • Eric April 1, 2016, 3:33 pm

    General Milley, have a look at what federal civilian law enforcement has done in this area. The FBI tests weapons and ammunition quite regularly and compiles data about such tests for publication. The DHS has an office as part of ICE that sets standards for all of DHS for weapons and ammunition. No need in having the DOD reinvent the wheel when they can utilize readily available information compiled by trusted sources. Then call Bud’s Gun Shop, they will do you a better deal than Cabela’s!

    • LC April 8, 2016, 9:18 pm

      And the FBI just went back to 9mm…from 10mm…because it had as good or better ballistics than 10mm AND .45…easier to control first AND follow-up shots…better shot placement…better shot grouping…higher round count in most guns…guns could be modified for virtually ALL users (male/female…large/small)
      DHS…at least CBP…is using S&W 40…in H&Ks BTW…before that it was a Glock(9mm)…before that it was Customs with SW6946(9mm) and INS with Beretta 92s(40s)

  • SuperG April 1, 2016, 3:23 pm

    He should have waited until Donald took office to make this comment, as then he’d probably be promoted. With the current regime, he’ll probably be made to retire.

    • Blasted Cap April 8, 2016, 7:22 am

      He’s the Army Chief of Staff, the highest ranking officer in the Army. His only possible promotion would be to Chairman of the Joint Chief’s.

  • Sean Baxter April 1, 2016, 10:04 am

    The General is correct I did the testing back in the late 1988 thru 1990. In Leo we use to use a 357 mag six shot, now we have the 9mm or 40 cal with the platforms that not only hold 16 rounds but this is simple the top 4 SW Berretta Glock Sig are what the need to pick from personally I like the Glock and the Sig I particular the Sig full duty and the Compact P-320 with night sights or the Glock with night sights but in 40 Cal for target acquisition and range and knock down power Sig can not even make enough of them since the just hit the market the are double action at about 5.7 lb trigger pull my Sig P 320 hold 14 in the mag and one in the gun so 15 rounds of 40 cal knock down power for the enemy and they have a screw in option for the suppressor / silencer for special operations the most knock down is the 45 but it does not carry enough rounds. Although the Glock double stacks the mag and I have to look I think it’s 12 round double the old 1911 held almost. I qualify with the 45 cal so I can carry anything the law says what ever the high caliber you qualify with is what you can carry on a daily basis. But I would give that new Sig P 320 a look and it will shoot high capacity mags from the full duty length this is important in case you run out in a battle and a fellow officer soldier can toss you one mag it will fire in all configurations as long as it’s the correct caliber they also have different sized lowers for hand size. The general is correct let him pick the pistol it would save money the Glock also has interchangeable mags as long as the cal is the same.

    • Luap April 8, 2016, 5:49 am

      Check out the FNH FNX 45 Tactical… Holds 15+1 with many options standard for accessories like: equal fire controls for left or right hand users, pistol grip back straps, night sights, ability to mount red dot flush to slide, 1913 picatinny rail for light or laser & threaded barrel for the use of a suppressor.

      • Yellowdog11 April 8, 2016, 10:02 am

        I own a FNX 45 and I would agree that this firearm should ay least be included in any test or evaluation.

        • Steven Shannon April 11, 2016, 10:00 am

          Yes, FN developed this pistol for the US Military. Hammer fired and has the same controls as the M9. You could issue them tomorrow and soldiers would not know the difference and have a modern 45 cal. sidearm.

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