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Combat pistols: seeking a man-stopper: experience in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years has reinforced the importance of compact weapons in operations in urban environments. The pistol is a defensive weapon for the overwhelming majority of military users such as staff officers, vehicle and aircraft crew members and others who cannot be encumbered with a rifle or carbine.


Combat soldiers such as machine gunners, military police officers and naval boarding parties are usually armed with pistols as a secondary weapon. Special operations forces are one of the few user groups to employ the pistol as both a defensive and an offensive weapon. Whether used in self-defence or offensively, the most important characteristic of the pistol as a close-quarter weapon is it kills or disables an opponent with a single round.

In May 2003, following the US-led invasion of Iraq, the US Army's Program Executive Office Soldier sent a team to visit units in country to investigate equipment performance. Concerning the Beretta M9 pistol the team reported: <<Soldiers expressed general dissatisfaction with the 9 mm pistol. First and foremost, they did not feel it possessed sufficient stopping powered>>.

The selection of the M9 in 1984 followed a US congressional directive to field one handgun for all services in the standard Nato 9 x 19 mm calibre. The M9 replaced the M1911A1 .45-calibre pistol that had been in US military service for more than 70 years. The decision to abandon the .45-calibre Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) cartridge with its combat-proven stopping power in favour of the lighter 9 mm cartridge launched a controversy that still continues. <<The United States was trying to move toward Nato joint operability and we were fighting the Cold War. Target effect wasn't a factor in that decision. Now it is>>, noted an army procurement official in a 2005 issue of the US Army's Infantry magazine. It was a sentiment echoed in an article in the Marine Corps Gazette the following year: <<Logistics, interoperability, and cost considerations were also factors in the decision to adopt the M9 in 1985. One key factor that was largely ignored, however, was the lack of stopping power inherent to the 9 mm cartridge.>>

The M9 is a slightly modified Italian Beretta Model 92F semi-automatic, double-action pistol that has an empty weight of 975 grams compared to 1.13 kg for the M1911A1. While the .45-calibre weapon had a magazine capacity of seven rounds the M9 has a five-round magazine. Customers around the globe have bought the Model 92. including France, which bought over 200,000 for use by military and paramilitary forces.

The US Department of Defense awarded Beretta a multi-year contract for over 500,000 weapons and the company continues to receive follow-on con tracts for replacement weapons. For example, the US Army awarded Beretta USA a $6.5 million contract in May 2005 to supply 18,744 M9 pistols, with an option for another 5190, to the US Air Force. The following July Beretta received a contract to supply up to 70,000 M9 pistols over a five-year period and the US Marine Corps announced its intention to buy 3480 M9A1 models. The M9A1 is fitted with the M9/M11 Pistol Rail System to allow a laser aiming module (Lam) or white light pointer to be attached.

Despite the Department of Defense's standardisation directive elements within the US, armed forces acquired other pistols to meet specific needs. In 1992 Sigarms, the US subsidiary of SIG of Switzerland, received a contract for the modified version of the SIG-Sauer P228 9 mm pistol, designated the M11, for issue to aircrew and military police units that required a more compact weapon than the M9. The P228 has an empty weight of 830 grams and a magazine capacity of 13 rounds.

Stopping Power Questioned

Many federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in the US faced with life threatening situations on a daily basis became dissatisfied with the lack of stopping power of the 9-mm handguns they had acquired in the 1970s and 1980s and replaced. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, for example, purchased .40-calibre, .45-calibre and 10-mm pistols. Other law enforcement agencies which retained 9-mm pistols began using silvertip and hollow-point cartridges. For the majority of military users there was no imperative in the 1980s and early 1990s to replace their recently acquired 9 mm weapons. Nevertheless, some combat units dissatisfied with the 9 mm round bought handguns that fire the .45 ACP cartridge. The US Marine Corps rebuilt a number of its old M1911A1 pistols to the Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) 0.45 ACP model standard. Modifications include fitting a precision barrel, precise trigger, rubber stocks, competition-grade ambidextrous safety, high-profile combat sights and stainless steel competition-grade magazines.


The US Special Operations Command (Ussocom) held a competition for the Offensive Handgun Weapon System and selected Germany's Heckler & Koch in 1991 to develop and produce the .45-calibre Mk 23 Mod 0. This is the only pistol in US service formally designated as an offensive weapon. The basis of the Mk 23 Mod 0 was H&K's Universal Self-loading Pistol (USP) that was developed for the military, police and civilian markets in 9 mm, .40 and .45 calibres. The German and Spanish armed forces use the 9 mm USE

Recent military customers include the Estonian Defence Forces, which began replacing its Soviet-era Makarov PM pistols with the USP in 2006 and the Irish Defence Forces which introduced the USP in 2007 to replace its 9-mm Browning Hi-Power pistols. With an empty weight of 887 grams the USP45 has a magazine capacity of ten or twelve rounds. The frame is grooved to accommodate H&K's Universal Tactical Light. The Mk 23 has an empty weight of 1.21 kg and is fed from a twelve-round magazine. It can be fitted with a flash and noise suppresser and a Lam. Ussocom has bought about 2000 pistols since 1996, which are primarily used by naval special warfare units. H&K also developed the USP45 Tactical, which combines the best features of the Mk 23 and the USP45 in a pistol that is cheaper than the Mk 23. An empty USP45 Tactical weighs 895 grams.


Ussocom received FY05 funding within the Foreign Comparative Testing programme to evaluate designs from Beretta, Glock, H&K, SIG and Steyr-Mannlicher for a new Close Quarter Battle Pistol to replace its, <<legacy SIG226 battle pistol used by Special Operations Forces for the past 15 years>>. Both the US Army and the US Marine Corps were developing plans to acquire new .45-calibre pistols to replace their 9 mm weapons. The army stipulated that its .45-calibre Future Handgun System should <<provide enhanced terminal effects, improved sights and an integrated mounting rail for attachment of enhanced targeting devices>>. The service then intended to begin fielding new weapons in late FY07.

In mid-2005 the US Department of Defense decided to merge the separate pistol requirements into the Joint Combat Pistol project under the management of Ussocom. The project would cover the purchase of 600,000 pistols with an external safety configuration and 45,000 with no external safety. To field these weapons over a ten-year period is was intended that the maximum monthly delivery rate would reach 5000 weapons. Companies interested in bidding for the contract were told they would have to provide 24 Engineering Test Units for evaluation--twelve in each configuration. The provisional specification stated that candidate weapons must be commercially available, non-developmental items capable of firing .45 ACP and .45 ACP + ammunition and achieving a mean radius of eight cm for a ten-shot group at 50 metres. The pistol must be capable of firing no fewer than 2000 mean rounds between stoppages, no fewer than 5000 mean rounds between failures and have a 20,000-round service life. Candidate designs must have a standard magazine with no fewer than eight rounds and a high-capacity magazine of between 10 and 15 rounds.

Several pistol manufacturers were already preparing weapons in anticipation of a requirement. In 2004 H&K completed prototypes of its HK45 and HK45C (Compact) .45 ACP pistols; the former is fed from a ten-round magazine and the later from an eight-round magazine. The weapons incorporate features of the USP series along with those suggested by former American special operations team members. Both pistols can be fitted with an extended threaded barrel to accommodate a suppressor. Two choices of backstrap are provided to fit the user's hand thus avoiding the common criticism of the M1911A1 pistol that it was difficult to use by shooters with small hands and the trigger guard is large enough to allow the user to wear gloves.


A Wild Card Appears

Recognising the appeal of the .45-calibre pistol on the US civilian, military and law enforcement markets Glock developed a family of pistols to fire its new .45-calibre Glock Automatic Pistol (Gap) cartridge. Glock has achieved considerable success in recent decades using lightweight polymer to produce pistols that are in service with military and police forces in more than 45 countries in various calibres, including 9 mm and .45 ACE Glock designed its new cartridge to have the same stopping power as the venerable .45 ACP cartridge but with less recoil. Glock claims that its new cartridge provides performance superior to that of the .45 ACP and its 1/8-inch (3.18 mm) shorter cartridge means that .45 Gap pistols require a smaller grip to accommodate magazines. The Glock 37.45 Gap pistol uses the same frame as the 9 mm Glock 17. It has an empty weight of 695 grams, about two-thirds that of the M1911A1, and has a standard magazine capacity of ten rounds. Glock unveiled the G38 (eight rounds) compact and G39 (six rounds) subcompact pistols early in 2005. Glock's gamble had an immediate impact on the US market; the Winchester Ammunition company now produces .45 Gap ammunition and Springfield Armory markets its own the XD .45 Gap pistol.

In September 2006 the US Special Operations Command notified industry that the Joint Combat Pistol project had been 'postponed indefinitely', although no explanation was given. Independently, the US Air Force was preparing its own acquisition of a pistol, preferably in .40 S&W or .45 ACP calibres, to replace its M9s. A market survey stated the new weapon, <<must be chambered for a round that provides an increased permanent wound channel diameter over the 9 x 19 mm Nato round and at least twelve inches penetration in human flesh when firing ball ammunition>>. Other specifications include a weapon in both standard and compact versions, ambidextrous handling, reduced weight compared to the M9 and different action configurations.


However, the $ 89.8 million requested by the air force was removed in the congressional 'mark up' of the 2007 War on Terror supplemental appropriations bill. Instead the lawmakers provided $five million for a study of joint pistol requirements, including those unique to any of the services. The funding would cover the acquisition of 50 pistols and ammunition for comparative testing alongside the M9. Although the budget process was not yet complete when Armada when to press it seemed unlikely the US Air Force would be allowed to launch its own handgun project with reference to the other services.


Nato, concerned that the 9 x 19 mm round lacked stopping power particularly against an opponent wearing combat body armour, issued a call in 1989 for a 'personal defence weapon' (PDW) in a new calibre to replace both 9-mm pistols and submachine guns beyond 2000. FN Herstal was the first manufacturer to develop a PDW cartridge and weapon--the 5.7 x 28 mm P90 unveiled in 1990. Recognising that few military customers would want to replace all of their 9 mm pistols with an expensive automatic weapon FN Herstal introduced the 5.7-mm Five-seveN pistol in 1995. The polymer-framed pistol weighs about 750 g with a loaded 20-round magazine. All Five-seveNs can mount a Lam or a tactical flashlight and an optional threaded barrel is available for mounting a suppresser. The pistol has been acquired by a number of police and special operations units, including France's Groupe de Securite et d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale.

In 1999 H&K introduced 4.6 x 30 mm MP7 PDW and followed it with a 4.6-mm pistol in 2003. Both weapons are entering German military service with the pistol given the designation P46. The P46 weighs 850 grams with a 20-round magazine and incorporates a Picatinny rail for a Lam or light and can be fitted with a suppresser. The total Bundeswehr requirement is expected to exceed 10,000 pistols. Sales of the MP7 are gaining momentum; the weapon has recently been fielded with the UK Ministry of Defence Police and on 31 May 2007 the Norwegian Ministry of Defence ordered 6500 MP7A1. More widespread use of the MP7 is certain to generate interest in the P46. Nato efforts to select either the 5.7- or 4.6-mm as an alliance standard cartridge became fouled in national industrial concerns and the compromise agreed is to let market forces decide.

9 mm Survives

Despite the US military determination to replace its 9 mm pistols and the appearance of PDW calibre pistols in Europe many military forces will retain their 9 mm pistols for decades to come. In September 2006 the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified the US Congress that the government of Iraq has requested a $ 500 million package of small arms and ammunition, which included 10,126 Glock 17 9-mm pistols and 2,126,250 rounds of 9-mm ammunition. More than 40,000 Glock pistols have been issued to the Iraqi police since 2004.


Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) completed development of its Barak double-action pistol in 2002 an offers the weapon in three calibres: 9 mm with a 16-round magazine, .40 S&W with a twelve round magazine and .45 ACP with a ten round magazine. The two smaller calibre weapons weigh 735 grams unloaded while the Barak .45-calibre weighs 765 grams. The Barak was originally developed to meet the needs of the Israel Defense Force but the IDF has yet to adopt the weapon as its standard pistol.

Not only are new 9 mm pistols appearing but also new manufacturers. Following a project sponsored by the government of the United Arab Emirates Caracal International was incorporated in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2006 as the UAE's first defence manufacturer. At Idex 2007 the company unveiled its Caracal F and C model 9 mm pistols. The Caracal F is available in four different calibres: 9 x 19 mm (with an 18-round magazine), 9 x 21 mm (16 rounds), .357 (16) and .40 (16). Extensive use is made of synthetic material to keep the weapon's weight to 750 grams. The compact Caracal C, which weighs 700 grams, is available in the same calibres but with reduced magazine capacity: 9 x 19 mm (15-round magazine), 9 x 21 mm (13), .357 (13) and .40 (13). Both models can be fitted with a shoulder stock and forward grip for more accurate shooting and an optical device bracket can be mounted to accommodate red dot sights. The company has received a Dhs18 million launch contract to supply 10,000 pistols to the United Arab Emirates armed forces.

Nevertheless, a US decision to replace its 9 mm weapons by a new generation of .45 calibre pistols will generate considerable interest among Nato allies and Foreign Military Sales customers in pistols that fire this 'man-stopper' cartridge.

US Dissatisfied with Current 9 mm

In the fiscal year 2007 (FY07) Global War on Terrorism supplemental budget, which the Bush Administration presented to Congress in February 2007, the US Air Force requested $70.7 million to purchase 100,600 pistols to replace its M9 9 mm pistol and a further $19.1 million to fund an initial ammunition buy of almost 50 million rounds for the new handguns. The service's FY08 budget request includes funding for 2869 new handguns in 2008 and 5014 the following year.
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Title Annotation:Warfighter: weapons
Author:Kemp, Ian
Publication:Armada International
Date:Oct 1, 2007
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