Last week, I was waxing poetic about the upcoming Modular Handgun System trials, and I’d put together my list of logical entrants. In that piece, I went on record in defense of Beretta. It’s no secret that I respect the M9 platform, but that wasn’t the reason I included them in the list. Beretta has 30 years of experience with the M9. They know the proverbial ropes. This history isn’t a guarantee that they’ll be awarded the new contract (just ask Colt–they’ll tell you). Still, don’t count Beretta out. They can play this game. Take this week’s announcement of the M9A3.
A break down of the M9A3.
The M9A3 is still a 9mm. That part isn’t easily changed for a contract that had, as one of its core stipulations, use of the 9mm round. The operating system hasn’t changed. It is still a short recoil, semiautomic, double/single action. The tilting locking block, though, is a 3rd generation of the design, and increases service life.
The M9A3 offers an increase in magazine capacity from 15 to 17 rounds. For continuity purposes, 15 round mags are available, as are 20 round and 30 round magazines. Magazines will be built with a sand-resistant PVD coating, and will have channels inside that move sand away from the walls of the magazine and the rounds inside, which will prevent binding.
The front sight blade will be dovetailed, and have a tritium dot. This will allow for adjustments, or use of suppressor height sights. The rear sight will be a dovetailed notched bar, tritium 2-dot.
The safeties will still be comprised of a decocking/safety lever, automatic firing pin block, loaded chamber indicator, external hammer, half-cock notch, double action first trigger pull.
Beretta has also moved the safety/decocker up on the slide, out of line with center, and given it a slightly different angle. This prevents the accidental engagement during slide manipulation. Beretta’s new “Universal” slide design allow armorers to convert the “F” style pistols to “G” configurations. This makes the safety/ decocker a decocker only.
As with the M9, the “external hammer provides the energy to the firing pin, virtually eliminating the possibility of misfires due to light primer strikes, even in adverse conditions. As with the other M9 variants, this hammer provides an immediate visual and tactile indicator as to the cocked/uncocked status of the pistol.”
The new M9A3 will be finished in Flat Dark Earth. The whole gun will have a mix of Cerakote, anodizing, Bruniton, black oxide, and PVD finishes and coatings. These “advanced coatings provide high lubricity, corrosion resistance and excellent wear resistance. Reduced visual and IR signature.”
The barrel will be chrome lined, and threaded to 1/2″ x28 on an extension. It will also come with a thread protector. This will allow for suppressors for the lucky few. Like the M9A1, the A3 has a 3 slot MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rail.
Shooters with larger hands will have a choice of a wrap around backstrap grip, while shooters with smaller hands can use a “Vertec” grip with a straight backstrap and thinner grip panels. Beneath the grip, the mag well has a more pronounced bevel to allow for faster, easier magazine changes.
- OVERALL HEIGHT 5.4″
- OVERALL WIDTH 1.5″ (1.3″ at grips)
- OVERALL LENGTH 8.7″
- BARREL LENGTH 5.1″
- SIGHT RADIUS 6.3″
- WEIGHT UNLOADED 33.3 oz
My conversation with Gabriele de Plano
I recently spoke with Gabriele de Plano, Vice President of Military Marketing & Sales at Beretta, about the M9A3. He was more than generous with his answers to all of my persistent questions. Beretta has released a lot of the details about the gun, but there’s more to the story than what’s currently making the rounds on the net.
To begin with, the M9A3 is being offered by Beretta as an Engineering Change Proposal (ECP). Beretta’s still working toward the fulfillment of an existing M9 contract extension, and the M9A3 will, if the ECP is accepted, be the pistol they deliver for the remainder of the contract. This is not, de Plano explains, an attempt to derail the upcoming MHS trials, as some (myself included) have speculated.
The M9A3 as an improved version of the M9. The M9A1, currently in use by the Marines, made some improvements (like the addition of the rail on the frame). The M9A3 addresses almost all of what de Plano calls “the real or perceived” concerns that vocal critics have made of the M9. From the size of grips to the threaded barrel, some changes are overt. Yet there are more subtle changes, like the positioning of the safety/decocker and the sand channeling capabilities of the magazine that will be just as significant, if not as easy to see.
De Plano notes that the Army has not requested that these changes be made. Beretta has made improvements on their own initiative in an attempt to make the guns better. These changes will make the gun more adaptable to mission specifics, more adaptable to the end user’s needs, more reliable, and more effective, and the end units will come in below the current unit cost of the M9.
Which criticisms remain on the table?
The most persistent, and ludicrous, is that the M9 isn’t the 1911. The M9A3 isn’t a 1911 either, so haters (as they say in the parlance of our times) gonna hate. It is also still a 9mm. I’ve long thought that the M9’s detractors were mostly rallying against 115 grain 9mm ball ammo, but that’s what the contract calls for–so there’s no way around it. And Beretta still hasn’t enclosed the slide.
This last point is worth exploring more. Beretta has been hearing this criticism for almost a century. And some of their pistols, like the PX4, do have enclosed slides. Yet de Plano says experiments with an enclosed slide on the M9 made the gun less reliable. The enclosure added weight (close to 20%) to the slide, too. And, as de Plano and others point out, the open slide allows debris, sand, and brass out.
As for the Modular Handgun Trials?
Beretta isn’t ready to comment. The M9A3 isn’t a likely entrant in the trials, as the emphasis will be on modularity and could include alternative calibers (or at that’s the speculative talk around the water cooler). De Plano has a pragmatic view of the whole situation. “Legacy weapon systems need improvements,” he said “The M9 can be improved.” That’s the role of the M9A3, and the ECP. “And the M9 won’t be around forever,” de Plano commented. “The 1911 wasn’t around forever, either. Even if a new gun comes along, we will still need to improve existing inventory at the lowest cost possible.”
True enough. We’re 30 years in and still on the M9. Think of other platforms like the M16/M16A2, etc. and you’ll see the potential.
And what about the M9A2?
If the Marines are fielding the M9A1, and the ECP is for the M9A3, where is the M9A2? Turns out this is part of the ECP as well. While Beretta would like to deliver the M9A3 for new contract fulfillment, they can also offer upgrades to the M9s currently in service. Those upgraded M9s could be given the designation M9A2.
In the end…
The M9 won’t last forever. The Modular Handgun System trials may very well dethrone the M9, as the M9 dethroned the 1911. But if this ECP is accepted, and the M9A3 lives up to the hype, then it will be much harder to justify the expense of replacing it. A new gun will need all new training materials. Armorers will have to be trained. Soldiers will have to be trained. New blue guns. New holsters. New parts suppliers. The list of ancilary expenses gets really long. And these extras add up.
That’s what too many arm-chair experts like myself often forget. The MHS trials aren’t looking for the best gun. Far from it. They are looking for a good-enough gun at a reasonable price. And right now, the M9 (the current M9) has set the bar high. The M9A3 will raise the bar a lot higher. Even if it isn’t entered into the trials, it will be looming there in the background as the one to beat.