There was a nine figure contract on the line to place a new modular pistol in the hands of one of the most powerful military forces on the globe. There were big brands contending with loud fans watching.
The recent U.S. military contract to replace the M9 has caused quite a stir.
This may lead to some new and veteran gun owners asking a simple question: How is a replacement standard issue sidearm chosen? Well, carefully. Operation and cost factors both play a critical role.
Here’s a brief summary of how the U.S. Armed Forces chose the Sig Sauer P320, and the Beretta M9 back in the day.
Why the U.S. army recently chose the Sig Sauer P320
An explanation of how the U.S. Army chose their new sidearm is succinctly explained in a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in response to Glock’s protest to the chosen sidearm, but first a bit of background may be necessary for some.
On August 28, 2015 the U.S. Army announced it would seek bids to replace the Beretta M9, which was adopted in 1985 to replace the Colt M1911 .45. The period of performance on the M9-replacement would be 10 years, whereas newly chosen ammunition would be for five.
After 17 months the contract was announced on January 19, 2017, with reports stating the initial XM17 competition was introduced back in 2011. The 9mm Sig Sauer P320 was chosen as the XM17 Modular Handgun System (MHS) to replace the full size M9 (supposedly under the moniker M17) and compact M11 (with the compact M18).
In a $580 million contract, the Army would purchase approximately 280,000 models, according to estimates from Program Executive Office Soldier officials. About 7,000 sub-compact versions would replace the M11, while other military bodies would purchase an additional 212,000 systems.
There were key criteria the handgun needed to satisfy.
“The MHS will replace the existing family of handguns in Army inventory, leverage commercial technology to mitigate gaps and shortcomings in presently fielded weapons, and counter current and emerging threats. The MHS is planned as a competitive acquisition seeking a commercial/Non-Developmental Item solution to provide Warfighters with a best-value system that features increased lethality, increased accuracy, improved ergonomics, and a higher degree of reliability/durability over legacy handgun systems,” according to released statements.
According the U.S. GAO report, initial solicitations would be evaluated by nine factors numbered in descending level of importance:
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Factor 1: Bid Sample Test
Technical, with four subfactors: initial reliability, system accuracy isolated – no shooter in the loop, characteristics of the projectile and joint warfighter ergonomics
Factor 2: Bid Sample Test
Other, with two subfactors: early warfighter acceptance, initial reliability (compact handgun)
License Rights Ammunition
Factor 5: License Rights Handgun & Accessories, Two Subfactors
Handgun and accessories
Factor 6: Production/Manufacturing, Four Subfactors
Ammunition production/manufacturing plan, handgun production/manufacturing plan, program management plan and quality plan
Small Business Participation
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Following the selection of a submission based on those factors, it would be subjected to another six evaluation factors:
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Factor 1: System Accuracy
Shooter in the loop (designed to approximate the handgun’s field performance, a standing tester would “'[e]ngage [the] target with 2 rounds to the chest and 1 round to the head from the standing position. Move behind barricade and conduct a rapid reload. Engage the target with 2 rounds to the chest and 1 to the head[,]’ at a distance of 15 meters from the target.”
Factor 2: Reliability and Service Life
With both being individually tested subfactors, reliability being tested on 35,000 rounds cycled through the handgun
Factor 3: License Rights
Factor 4: License Rights
Handgun & Accessories, each being a subfactor
Factor 5: Other Characteristics, Six Subfactors:
Physical dimensions (full size and compact), material reliability in extreme conditions, magazine characteristics, maintainability – field level maintenance, ammunition characteristics and joint concept of operations
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Only one award was chosen by the Source Selection Authority, which was allowed even though up to three awards could be distributed, on the following grounds:
Based upon the technical evaluation and my comparative analysis of the proposals, the Sig Sauer proposal has a slight technical advantage over the Glock proposal given that their proposal was rated higher in Factor 1, Bid Sample Test – Technical which is the most important factor. The advantage of the Sig Sauer proposal is increased when the license rights and production manufacturing factors are brought into consideration. [. . .] The price analysis shows that the Sig Sauer total evaluated price is $102,705,394 less than the Glock total evaluated price, making the Sig Sauer proposal overall the Best Value to the Government.
Sig Sauer’s proposal was slightly superior technically and clearly superior in factors 4 and 5. Since there were so few other discriminators between the two proposals in most aspects, the least important factor, price, became a significant discriminator. Simply put, when taking the price premium into account, there is no correlating superior performance factor for Glock, as compared to Sig Sauer, to support paying that premium. Consequently, I cannot justify paying a price premium of over 37% for the Glock submission, even as a second award. One (1) award to Sig Sauer on Solicitation Number W15QKN-15-R-0002 represents the overall best value to the Government.
The chosen ammunition may be 9mm Winchester jacketed hollow points, according to Military.com. Previously, there was concern over whether or not this would violate the Hague Convention of 1899, which prohibited bullets that would easily expand or flatten in the body, according to a report from the Washington Post.
A similar report to the recent GAO denial was conducted in June 1986 about allegations against the Army’s selection of the Beretta M9 as the standard sidearm.
How the Beretta M9 was chosen as the standard sidearm in 1980s
The Beretta M9 contract in April of 1985 followed a 7-year process and three iterations of testing, according to the 1986 U.S. GAO report.
In 1978, the House Committee on Appropriations recommended standardizing a sidearm choice and in 1980 the Department of Defense (DOD) decided the National Atlantic Treaty Organization’s standard 9mm could replace the existing .45 and .38-caliber handguns.
There were allegations (dispelled in the report) that there was a secret agreement between the U.S. and Italy when choosing the Beretta 92. Beretta had also lowered its pistol price by 18 percent to $178.50 per unit, which raised more allegations that there was a price leak from the competing bidder (again, dispelled).
There would be a two-step process: a technical proposal by June 1984 and a cost proposal by September 1984.
There were eight companies, two of which from the U.S. (Colt and S&W), that submitted weapons. Four were technically unacceptable, two withdrew and the remaining two were found technically acceptable — SACO and Beretta.
There was a 1978 Air Force test and two Army tests, one of which was unexpectedly canceled in 1982 and the second taking place in 1984. The Air Force test, which was considered biased by some due to failures in the Beretta model that went unreported, lacked credibility because there wasn’t a written standardization of operational requirements for the 9mm handgun.
Those requirements were established in June 1981 — 85 distinct criteria, 72 mandatory and 13 desirable. They were partially rewritten in 1982.
The operational deficiencies of the .38 caliber revolvers were reported to be poor maintainability and life expectancy in combat conditions, low-lethality, poor reliability, lack of rapid reloading capability and small ammunition capability.
The standard issue .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol had only one deficiency listed in the report: safety due to accidental discharge when uncocking the weapon or when it was dropped. Albeit, there wasn’t historical data to support that claim and the only database on the matter was assembled by 8 years of liaison visits to troops with no records of unintentional discharge from the visits, according to the GAO report.
The were six mandatory physical requirements of the new sidearm:
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The ability to fire standard NATO 9mm. cartridges
A maximum fully loaded weight
A minimum barrel length
A minimum magazine capacity of 10 rounds
A trigger size which permits firing with gloves
A loop in the butt of the gun compatible with published military specifications for braided rope lines used to secure the gun to an individual’s belt.
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There were also mandatory operational requirements, including reliability factors under adverse conditions, in different climate conditions and over the service life of the pistol — all of which needed to be comparable or superior to the .45.
There were other operational requirements like corrosion resistance and comparability to the .45 round under complete salt water immersion.
- An expected service life of 5,000 rounds
- Capability to withstand consistent use in the field with maintenance limited to the user
- Compliance with military health, safety and human engineering standards
There were three particular factors that went unchanged:
There were stipulated desirable characteristics, three of which were a removable front sight, a 15 round magazine capacity and an expected service life of at least 10,000 rounds.
There were four manufacturers (Beretta, H&K, SACO and Smith & Wesson) that entered both the 1981 and 1984 competitions, five of the most controversial out of 70 tests can be seen in the scanned document.
On a point-based system, there were service life tests, reliability tests, mud tests, salt water corrosion tests, firing pin energy tests and dozens of other tests.
Ultimately, the results yielded just shy of 316,000 semi-automatic 9mm pistols from Beretta U.S.A. that reached an estimated $75 million in valuation.
There’s more in the 1986 report detailing the testing procedures for the M9, as well as in the recent 2017 report regarding the Sig Sauer decision.
Both reports, as it turns out, stemmed from a protest by the direct competitor who lost out on the contract, which would make sense.
Looking for more information on the military and their sidearms? Bigfoot’s got you covered!
About The Author
Jake Smith (@notjakesmith) is a copywriter and photographer based in the pacific northwest. He graduated from the University of Idaho with degrees in public relations and apparel.