Looking back at the XM9 trials, the early 80’s slug-fest that crowned the Beretta M9 as the successor of the M1911A1, I was surprised to see so many guns I hardly know. Of the 8 entrants, only 4 remain relevant–and even that’s arguable.
- The Walther P88
- The Colt SSP
- The FNH BDA
- The Smith & Wesson 459M
- The Beretta 92
- The SIG SAUER P226
- The H&K P7M13
- The Steyr GB
But the companies are all still alive and kicking, mostly. It begs the question: Is that what the editor of GunsAmerica will be writing 30 years from now about the guns that are about to enter the new Modular Handgun System trial?
30 years from now, will someone else be chuckling at the losers?
There are three big questions that have yet to be answered.
The is a list of pre-defined criteria. For simplicity sake, these agencies want one gun. As these guns will have multiple uses and be carried openly and concealed, and by men and women, and by people with giant hands and tiny hands, and by people with serious skills and no skills… you see where I’m going. One gun to rule them all.
So modularity is key. One platform mean one curricula for armorers, and one curricula for soldiers. The new gun will have to have a new holster. It should have the ability to accept any number of rail-mounted accessories. It should also be suppressor ready (or easily made suppressor ready). There’s more, but let’s begin with this. Here are the looming unknowns:
- Caliber. The 9mm seems to be on the way out. I think this is a shame. It isn’t the 9mm’s fault that the Army uses ball ammo. Still, this isn’t the place for that debate. Modularity doesn’t imply multi-caliber, though that is a possibility. And each of the competing guns will have to meet or (preferably) exceed the performance of M882 115 grain 9mm ball fired from the M9–so we’re talking better 9mm, .40S&W, .357 SIG, and .45 ACP. Let the debates begin!
- Polymer. I could put together a much longer list of possible successors to the M9 if it didn’t have to be modular, and almost all of them would be polymer framed handguns. Will polymer pass the test? I don’t see why not. Will polymer overcome polymer prejudice? That I cannot answer.
- Safeties. Will the new handgun have to have an external safety? My bet is that it will. A lot of the guns in service now with special units (like the SIG P226, and some GLOCKs) don’t have external safeties. Yet this new gun will be on the hip of a lot of soldiers, many with little experience with a handgun. Will the Army trust its own soldiers?
So who are the likely entrants?
There will probably be some surprises, but I think the five companies listed below are sure to line up in the paddock at the beginning of the race.
SIG SAUER. If I were SIG, and I’m not, I’d put the P226 up against anything the competition might want to enter. If caliber becomes a defining issue, as it was in the XM9 trials, the P226 has options. As is, I bet SIG will be putting in a version of the 320. There’s one huge benefit the 320 has over much of the competition—true modularity. The same gun is available in numerous calibers and configurations, and the serialized internals can be swapped between them, meaning SIG could deliver a limited number of “firearms” and a lot of frames and barrels, which would allow for adaptive carry strategies. And soldiers and armorers would only have to learn one system.
Beretta. The M9 has gotten a raw deal. Much of the crap you hear said about the gun has more to do with the 115 grain 9mm ball ammo than the gun itself. Whatever. Haters gonna hate. It replaced the 1911. No gun could live up to that mythology. Sorry 1911 fans, but I’m here to report the truth, and it must be said that almost all of the entrants in the XM9 trials smoked the pants off of the 1911. The M9 has a long service record, so we have all seen the laundry list of documented problems (bad magazines from a derelict subcontractor, chief among them). But Beretta has a lot of experience work with Uncle Sam, and they’ve been retooling other designs that address some of the M9’s criticisms. I’d look to a revamped version of the Px4, or a surprise entry.
GLOCK. So many people out there want to see GLOCK compete. Pick a GLOCK. The differences are primarily barrel length and caliber. But GLOCK is dedicated to polymer frames, and they shy away from external safeties. Are these liabilities in the new trial? It remains to be seen. Would GLOCK put an external safety on if that was a deal breaker? I bet they would. Would they enter an aluminum alloy framed GLOCK with an external safety? I think that’s stretching credulity.
Smith & Wesson has been all over the news lately after announcing a partnership with General Dynamics. The M&P will be their entrant. And the M&P is a tough gun with a good track record. Like the other three in this list, the M&P would be easy enough to adapt to specific length and caliber requirements. And the partnership will answer a question I will ask in the conclusion. Smith was the first out of the gate announcing their intentions to compete. That alone has gotten the M&P a lot of extra attention. S&W also has firm American roots–don’t dismiss that in a time of renewed patriotism. Will the M&P’s reputation with law enforcement, and the partnership with GD be enough to tip the scales?
H&K. I could see the VP9 getting a lot of interest.—if there could be more modular versions in time for the trials. But H&K is a dark horse in this race. They’ve clearly got the talent to put together a new entrant, or modify one of their existing guns (like the USP). I’m not ruling them out.
FN America. I realize I said this was a top 5 list, but there are actually six. FN America could bring in their FNS line or their FNX line. Both are combat ready and capable of being adapted to whatever specifications the selection committee might concoct. They’re fine guns in their own right.
In the end, I think much of this list is based on some simple presumptions and the style of the day. Is single action out? Could someone turn this whole competition on its head by submitting a single action? Could it be that some of these incredible 1911s on the market would stand a fighting chance?
I doubt it. And here’s why. No one knows how many of these will be ordered. Initial estimates are for 400,000 guns, with another 200,000 to follow shortly after. That’s a lot of guns. Each of the companies above has the ability to produce in quantity, and partner with others to help. While much of the selection committee’s decision will be based on performance, the other two points on the triangle will be ability to produce and individual unit cost. Which of these companies can produce 400,000 guns, guns that are capable, and do so on a budget?
Who does that leave out?
I read a solid write-up yesterday on the Detonics MTX at Bearingarms.com. Bob’s spot on with his assessment of the MTX, but the price and production makes Detonics a long shot. And there are others who look likely but likely won’t compete. I’d be surprised to see a serious competitor from Walther. I’m still hoping Springfield Armory might enter the XD line. Who else? We all assume Colt is out of the running. I still think anyone who thinks about all of the considerations would eliminate all 1911s.
Whichever guns get entered will have to average 2,000 rounds between stoppages. The guns will have to run an average of 10,000 rounds before a true failure. And the guns will need a service life of 35,000 rounds. They will need to put 90% of rounds within a 4″ circle at 50 meters, which breaks down to about 7MOA. And they’ll need to be able to handle hot loads (at least 20% over SAAMI specs for their caliber).
Obviously, I’ve missed a likely contender or two. Who are they? Who can meet all of these demands, and do it for a unit cost that will come close to $500–or less?