Smith & Wesson Gets a Partner for Army Pistol Competition

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Over the summer the U.S. Army announced they’re looking to replace the Beretta M9, which has been the standard issue service weapon for soldiers since 1985. Yes, it’s been 30 years, but before the M9, there was a bigger, badder gun. In 1911, our Armed Forces started using the .45 ACP M1911 after the adrenaline-fueled charges of the Moro Warriors against the U.S. Cavalry proved more powerful than the .38 Long Colt M1892 revolvers the men were issued. The famous Thompson-LaGarde Tests played a large role in the choice to go with .45 ACP; although ammunition has improved since 1904, the .45 ACP has always been a one-shot stopper. So why did the army switch to the M9?

m9army

Well, even though most branches of the military used the M1911, the Air Force didn’t, and in the 1970s the DoD decided everyone should carry the same pistol. The reality was the DoD wanted a common NATO pistol round to make things easier if war broke out with the Soviet Union. So in 1979 they formed the Joint Service Small Arms Program, and, long story short, the 9x19mm was chosen as the best match for the NATO STANAG. The usual competition began between manufacturers, and Beretta ended up winning the contract, beating out H and K, Colt, and Smith and Wesson, among others. (It wasn’t that simple. There were disagreements, so multiple trials took place; in the end, Beretta came out on top.)

Since it would take awhile to get detailed, let’s keep this short and sweet (If you all want the in-depth version, let me know in the comments or via email and I’ll see what I can do). The M9 was adopted in 1985 by USAF and was seeing regular use by 1990, but not everyone was happy. USSOCOM was formed in 1987, and before long they decided they didn’t like SOF going into combat with a 9mm. Things move slowly in the military, so it wasn’t until 2005 the Joint Combat Pistol program was formed as the result of a series of events it would take awhile to explain (Again, want the long version? Tell me.). JCP ended up without an actual result when various branches started dropping out, so USSOCOM decided their men should return to the .45 ACP and the army opted to stick with the M9, and they have – until now.

Last summer the army announced – again – they intend to replace the M9. And, as I said, the military moves slowly, so the army is starting the competition now, before their current contract with Beretta runs out (it’s scheduled to end in 2017). They’re calling it the Modular Handgun Systems (MHS) and the point is not only to replace the M9 but to look at a larger caliber. For years the army has claimed the infantry needs those 9mm pistols due in large part to their greater mag capacity, and there are soldiers who say they’d rather have more rounds than bigger ones. Of course, thanks to the Hague Convention our military has to use FMJ rounds in combat (yes, there are rare exceptions such as for Tier One SMUs – again, long explanation), so consider that before saying the M9 is sufficient.

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Smith & Wesson is throwing their hat (gun?) in the ring again for the MHS, but this time they aren’t going it alone. They’ve joined forces with General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, a company that manufactures all sorts of munitions, weapons, armament systems, and shaped charge and penetrator warheads – just to name a few. General Dynamics is a leader in their field, and we all know Smith & Wesson’s 160-plus year history. Also, General Dynamics has extensive experience with military contracts; by combining powers the two mammoth companies could make quite a mark on the MHS.

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Their plan? Create a handgun for the army based on the M&P, of course. The M&P is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary; it’s already used by law enforcement agencies both here in the States and all around the world and there’s its not-inconsiderable popularity with civilians. Smith & Wesson notes the M&P platform already meets many of the MHS requirements including those for safety, performance, and durability. The belief is the pistol could handle the substantial abuse it would be put through as a service weapon, and maybe it can. We’re about to find out.

mp45acp

With these two teaming up you have to wonder if other manufacturers will take their lead and go looking for partners. Pooling knowledge is a good idea, there’s no arguing that. Here’s what I’m wondering: will their offering be any different than the current M&P, or will it be the same pistol with a new name? The M&P is certainly a nice pistol platform – if you’ve fired one you can see why so many shooters like them – but is it what the army needs? Is it what the infantry wants? There are more than a few combat-seasoned Grunts out there using the M&P as their personal carry weapon stateside, so maybe it’s a natural move – maybe it’s brilliant.

What do you think, is an army version of the M&P going to be the next M9? (Don’t forget to start arguing over caliber while you’re at it.) The MHS competition is set to begin in January 2015; personally, I’m looking forward to seeing what new handguns hit the civilian market as the various manufacturers vie for the contract.

Update: TFB writer Nathan S, who previously worked in the defense industry, writes …

My surprise does not mean that its not a smart decision. Major military contracts require established contracting history (often as a significant component in the weighted decision). Smith & Wesson, while very well established in the civilian sector, does not have long history with the military, hence GD’s involvement.

Further, acceptance of large contracts often requires companies to open their books to the Government, something companies do not take likely. Putting my business hat on, GD will act as the prime contractor with Smith & Wesson as the supplier, simultaneously shielding them from major contracting requirements and giving the group established history for the bid.

All in all, I see this as a good move for S&W.



katie.ainsworth

Katie is an avid shooter, hunter, military journalist, and Southern girl. Firearms are her passion whether at the range or on a spot-and-stalk after a big buck. She’s a staff writer at The Firearm Blog and writes about guns, hunting, and the military for various publications both online and in print such as Outdoor Life, Handguns, and Shooting Illustrated. Shoot her a message at ainsworth.kat@usa.com


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  • echelon

    “…although ammunition has improved since 1904, the .45 ACP has always been a one-shot stopper.”

    Ummm. No. Just no.

    • Zebra Dun

      Shots no matter what caliber to the CNS areas of the human body will deliver a one shot stop 95% of the time.

      • echelon

        True as that may be her statement does not make that qualification and leads us to believe that the .45ACP will not only kill the body but the soul…in one shot…even to the pinky toe…

        🙂

        • LCON

          Well .45Acp is a Kryptite Jacketed Solid Neutronium Cored round forged with the sweat Chuck Norris in the darkest hottest core of a blackhole

          • echelon

            Ohhhhh….that 45ACP…my bad! Carry on then! 😉

      • Kaleiokalani J. Barela

        True, but consider every shootout you’ve read about and how often people
        are actually able to put a couple of rounds in the CNS. Usually you
        get a perp shot several times and still fighting back. On the other
        hand you get the occasional cop with a horse one-shotting the bad guy
        too.

    • Nicks87

      That’s where I stopped reading.

      • Zebra Dun

        A mind is like a parachute, it only works when it’s open.
        A .45 ACP effectiveness is documented as is the ability of the 9 mm to let you down.
        Me? I say give me a .357 magnum and I’ll sleep soundly.

        • Grindstone50k

          The inverse is true as well.

        • billyoblivion

          Pfff. If I want to sleep soundly I wash down 5mg of melatonin & 800mg of ibuprofen with 1.5oz of Jim Bean.

          If I’m worried about something I get a real gun out–the AK or the Sig 556 (the PTR doesn’t come out when I’m worried, it comes out when I’m no longer *worrying* because there’s no more time for that).

      • TreizFaction

        I didn’t even get that far, I made it to here “Over the summer the U.S. Army announced they’re looking to replace the Beretta M9…”
        lol

        I love my M&Ps but I’ll believe this when I see it.

    • Tom Currie

      Compared to any (every!) other FMJ pistol round – Absolutely!

      • echelon

        Rigggggggggght…just hit ’em in the earlobe…it’ll drop ’em.

        No such thing as a magic bullet.

    • Giolli Joker

      Just add “believed to be” after “been” and the sentence won’t bother you. 😉

      • echelon

        No. The fact that it’s published in print in this article as a forgone fact is troubling, no matter how you want to slice it, unfortunately.

        It actually insults my intelligence. It’s written as if – duh – everyone should know of the 45ACP one shot lethality!

  • Zebra Dun

    It looks good, I have not handled, shot or stripped one down for cleaning though.
    I’d say if it works without a jam in a gazillion rounds fired it should do well.
    Caliber?
    Hell, talk about a discussion!
    I’d say in my novice position the caliber will either be, 9 x 19 mm parabellum/Lugar or FN 5.7 x 28 mm.
    Between those two I’d go for the 9 mm BUT I bet the caliber chosen will be the 5.7 x 28 mm just because it’s new, will defeat armor vests and has a large carry and magazine capability.
    No, I don’t for a minute believe it will be a .45 acp though .45 GAP might be my personal choice.

    • Blake

      5.7×28 is a good PDW caliber. However it remains to be seen if the 5.7 pistol will pass all the endurance tests, & there ain’t much else chambered in it.

      The Russians have proven over & over again that hot 9mm +P (& +P+) non-JHP gets the job done too.

      Personally I think that the caliber chosen should be the one with which the “average GI” can score the most critical hits with his/her sidearm.

    • Grindstone50k

      My wife bought an M&P9 for herself. It’s ok, but I think the trigger needs a lot of work. Very gritty and rough, long pull.

  • Matt L.

    Thanks for the informative overview, although I’m not sure the evidence supports the idea of the .45ACP as a consistent one-shot stopper.

    I’m pretty sure I speak for a lot of the readership when I say that we’d be interested in hearing the full story about things, especially regarding the JCP and the exception to the FMJ-only rule for the Tier One guys.

    Also, as the owner of an M&P for a little more than two years– I think S&W may just have a chance in this competition. The pistol is accurate, ergonomic, and super reliable. My only gripe is the hinged trigger… it just seems flimsy. A chunkier Glock-type trigger, as found in some of the parts kits Apex offers, would be a major improvement.

    Considering the military’s requirements, I’d imagine S&W will need to come up with a SIG 320-like system for swapping around calibers and sizes. Maybe they’d base it on their M&P45 frame? Maybe even lengthen it to potentially accommodate 5.7×28? Who knows? I’m excited to see what they come up with, though.

    • JumpIf NotZero

      Did I miss a sarcasm tag when you wrote 5.7×28!?

      Because if I didnt…. That’s seriously more ridiculous than writing 45acp is a one shot stopper.

      • Matt L.

        I’m not noting my own preference for calibers, just what the military might go for.

        Sorry if I wasn’t clear, but I was saying that if S&W goes the modular route, perhaps the pistol frame they use will be more versatile than the current M&P setup, since the current two frame designs use either 9mm/.40 or .45ACP. And (again) considering the modularity aspect, it wouldn’t surprise me too much if S&W made this theoretical multi-caliber frame a little longer as well. Then, if the .mil guys do eventually go with a longer, small-caliber round like the 5.7×28, Smith’s entry will be able to accommodate it.

        • JumpIf NotZero

          I had no problem with your comment a modular frame inside the m&P is cool, I’d buy the first one.

          But 5.7 is a joke, worse than 9mm in this application, dead, wouldn’t ever be even slightly sort of even kinda remotely considered for a large scale army handgun. So you get a lot that sounds great, but ended with some really poor reasoning.

          • Matt L.

            Dude, sounds like you’ve got your Hanes in a half-hitch. Might wanna address that.

          • JumpIf NotZero

            Nope, just commenting that by mentioning 5.7mm you’re simultanously invalidating other comments.

            You’re free to do as you please 🙂

    • I just put a full trigger kit and internals from APEX in my M&P Pro. I used the new flat trigger this time. An amazing setup!

      • Matt L.

        Glad to hear you like it, and thanks for letting me know!

        Another thing to add to the shopping list, I guess…

        • They wanted to make the trigger like a 1911 and they did a darn good job. The internals with the flat trigger included will run right at $170 from Brownells. It’s worth every bit of what they charge. 3.8 pounds short takeup and reset. You just won’t believe how good it is compared to the replacement curved trigger APEX makes.

          • Matt L.

            I’d totally spring for one if I didn’t need to get an M&P9c first… my full-size M&P is just a pain in the butt to carry all day, even with the excellent Vanguard 2 holster (which, by the way, you NEED to try if you haven’t already).

  • john huscio

    My guess is sig wins this….. or hk/fn come out of left field with something…..

    • Raven

      SIG “won” the original trials in the ’80s, but the Beretta was cheaper.

    • JumpIf NotZero

      The SIG actually makes sense. The fire control if proved to be effective could remain while frames, accessories, sight options, and methods evolved.

      It’s the only competitor that actually embodies the Modular Handgun System name. So of course it can not win (although it would be what I would pick)

  • KestrelBike

    They also already made a frame safety for the M&P .45.

  • Blake

    I’m guessing 50BMG might be an exception…

    • Grindstone50k

      50BMG is for wusses. 20×138mmB is where it’s at.

      • billyoblivion

        The problem with the 20×138 is that there’s not enough DNA left to identify the target.

  • Grindstone50k

    Considering how much business FN does with the DOD in small arms, I wouldn’t be too surprised if FN gets picked.

  • Grindstone50k

    USSOCOM tends to use whatever they want. Last news I heard was Delta was switching to Glock 22.

    • Special Forces uses Glocks and have for a few years now. Delta pretty much uses what they want but Glock is the official pistol I believe.

      • Grindstone50k

        Yeah, “last I heard” was like 5 years ago. I stopped paying attention shortly after.

  • JumpIf NotZero

    A key component of the testing is that they are looking for a gun to fit small hands. So I think you are very much already in the wrong direction thinking FN in 45.

  • gunsandrockets

    And I seriously question the credibility of any document which would claim a Japanese 8mm Nambu is much more effective than the .45 ACP!

  • gunsandrockets

    I winced when I read the “one shot stop” part of the article, and knew Katie would catch a lot of grief over it.

    I would certainly prefer .45 to 9mm if limited to ball ammo. And I would prefer a CZ-82 in 9mm Makarov to a P-35 in 9mm Luger if limited to ball ammo as well.

  • LCON

    120mm… If he gets up after that HE deserves to win… and have his own comic book

  • Joshua

    I will call this now, S&W has this in the bag. They got disqualified unfairly in the 80’s and having General Dynamics on their side this time will more than likely net them a win……but I have also been known to enjoy the taste of crow.

  • Franciscomv

    It’s always interesting when the US military chooses new equipment because it influences the choices of several other countries. Some of my country’s security forces adopted the Beretta 92 right after the US did.

    I’ve taken part in enough autopsies to be very sceptical about claims that any handgun round can deliver consistent one shot stops. I’m still curious about what the army will choose if they decide to replace 9mm.

    Is there any study available to civilians about US military use of handguns in combat? I don’t have a very clear notion of how often soldiers actually fight with their pistols and how those engagements develop.

  • LCON

    Even if the Army keeps the 9x19mm NATO it’s beyond time to either give the M9 Technical data Package a rewrite, or toss for a more modern design. it was written back in the 1980’s based on a modification form a then existing design. it lacks a lot of features now considered the norm on any off the shelf service sidearm class handgun.

  • Dracon1201

    9×21 reg or +P

    Just sayin’.

  • If you did ask those in the special operations community they’ll tell you they want a 45acp rather than a 9mm. I have asked several—-

  • Dan Atwater

    That’s not true at all. Some equipment sucks, some equipment is top of the line, most equipment is simply decent enough.

  • Grindstone50k

    FNH holds the new M4 contract with the Army.
    And what’s so crappy about the SCAR? SOCOM still uses the Mk17 as a DMR last I saw. Also the Mk16 is not dropped from the DOD wholesale. It’s still used in quite a few units.
    And I didn’t have any wishful thinking whatsoever about any of the competitors, which all failed the ICC.
    I’m no fan of FN, but to hate on them for the sake of them being popular is just hipsterism.

    • Seburo

      Lance is just a butthurt AR-15 fanboy troll who hates just about every other gun. So he hates on plastic guns and pretends to be a mall ninja with his AR.

  • Dave

    >So we could have been issuing hollow points to troops deployed to the Middle East all along.

    And that would have done what, exactly?

    Some Army studies showed that the majority of kills in combat come from gunners operating machine guns, grenade/rocket launchers, and airstrikes. If soldiers are taught to suppress an enemy until lethal force can be brought to bear on them from another angle, why bother issuing expensive hollow points when cheaper regular ammo is around?

    • billyoblivion

      If you’re looking at it from the perspective of a General doing logistics and cost accounting in D.C. you’re right on.

      If you’re the poor f*king seal getting blown off the side of the mountain and you’re down to your Beretta and your last couple mags and you want as long a line to St. Peter as you can create, **NOW** what’s your choice?

      • Phil Hsueh

        Seals and their cousins the sea lion only use their teeth, SEALs, on the other hand, are another matter entirely.

  • Dave The Great

    Any Army pistol must be equally useable by 105-pound females and 300-pound males, because that’s who our soldiers are.

    I love my .45 1911, but I have some small Asian friends who can barely wrap their hands around it. Rounds like the 10mm are absolutely out of the question, as are a lot of double-stack magazines in any caliber. Heck, my Glock 22 is not quite ideal for some.

    And the mid-size pistols that fit the smaller folk have trigger guards that are impossible to cram those monstrous linebacker fingers in. There really isn’t a win-win concept when it comes to providing a pistol to a multi-million-person genetically diverse and gender-inclusive military.

    PDWs are the answer. Clerks and cooks and generals can carry them and they fit pretty much everyone’s hands. Thigh holsters can keep truck drivers’ hands free, and as everyone else here has mentioned, on the remote chance anyone has to use the damn things, PDWs that have high velocity, low-diameter rounds will go through body armor or car doors or chest pouches full of magazines and radio batteries and all the other crap the bad guys strap to themselves these days.

    The only servicemembers who truly need pistols are MPs, and that’s entirely because of their police duties rather than their soldering. Improved tactics and holsters may even make that argument moot.

    Besides, if the military ditches pistols all together, we may be able to get some great deals on all those surplus M9s that will hit the market…

  • The Real Teal’c

    YAWNNNN! JSOC pistol me crazy!

  • Anonymoose

    Wonder how this will compare to the P320, FNX (or FNS-45 maybe?), and the inevitable VP45. They’ll probably stick with the same 10-round mags.

  • wetcorps

    This. After all, some soldiers still believe 5.56 was designed to wound or will tumble its way to the heart if you shoot someone in the foot…

    • Squirreltakular

      Smh.

      I was talking ballistics with someone the other day and a higher-ranking guy interjected. He told me that if you were shot in the gut with a 5.56, and it was a through-and-through, the velocity and the air pressure inside your body cavity would cause your guts to explode out the exit wound.

  • USMC03Vet

    With proliferation of body armor the real big question is whether they’ll stick with traditional calibers which cannot defeat even the most basic or get with reality and choose a non traditional caliber which can defeat it.

    If I were in the military today I’d want something that can defeat body armor and penetrate even for a side arm.

  • Seburo

    If it needs armorer service after 12 reloads. It’s not a very good gun. If HK were smart they would build make an MP7A3 or make a PDW that can handle the high pressure of their own bullet.

    I read somewhere that SLAP was highly inaccurate. Unless they fixed this?
    However the head and groin are very small targets to hit with a pistol if their already at assault rifle range. At best your going to do suppressing fire. Which is the worst thing to do with a pistol.

    5.56 MK262 LSAT could theoretically make a good PDW round. Then the contractor could rub it in Magpul’s face. The Army should have looked into the PDR when they had the chance. In fact there were many American PDW attempts that they glossed over.

  • JD

    The Army does not need a new toy. The M9 is fine.

  • aweds1

    Given the fruitless search for a replacement for the M16/M4 family when one of the primary criteria was whether the new weapon would yield substantially improved results over the current one, seeking a replacement for the Beretta in an era of stagnant or declining budgets seems silly. The state of firearms technology today means the differences between a Sig, a Beretta, a M&P, a Glock, a XD, a FN, etc. are marginal at best.

  • Seburo

    If you can’t fix clean the gas piston without tools totally not worth it. Sounds like a real pain in the ass if you can’t flied strip it to get the gunk out. No wonder FN has beat HK in the PDW arena.

    Using pistols in place of a PDW or Assault Rifle is asking to get shot. They have better range and accuracy over a pistol. Type IIIA protects aganst both 9mm and .45 hallow points, while up against Type III your just shooting randomly. Your better off with something with rifle level range and lethality at that point.

    That link only has information on .50 cal SLAP and even then it’s only good in the M2. As it’s not authorized for use in the M107.
    No information on the 7.62×51 version. Which would help determine if it was good as a smaller 5.56 level caliber.

  • SM

    Yay… More taxpayer dollars down the drain.

  • LCON

    I thinks that’s considered a Shotgun for home defence.

  • Seburo

    Since Colt is about to go under. Marine Socom made a really bad choice. Even if their bought it’ll take sometime to get the machinery moved and started back up.

  • Fruitbat44

    Katie A – Maybe if when you used the phrase “one shot stopper” you had preceded it with the words “has the reputation as a . . .” Just an idea.
    Actually didn’t the US Military toy with the idea of adopting a 9mmP sidearm back in the fifties? And it wasn’t this which lead to the Colt Commander?
    However from the depths of my armchair, I think that the US should, for general duty use, adopt the P08 Luger. In .45ACP of course. This should be with service specific finishes, MARPAT for the USMC, ACU for the Army, Air Force Blue for the Air Force and Navy Blue for, well you get the idea. With one star officers and above getting issued with chrome, bronze, silver, gold or platinum plated versions, depending on their number of stars.
    This would perfectly fulfil the military role of a pistol in being something that looks cool on your hip.
    Special Forces, Close Protection Specialists, MPs and anyone else who might actually use a pistol should adopt the one which best suits there needs and their people feel the most comfortable carrying.
    Other than that use a rifle!
    In 30.06 of course . . .
    I will now subsided back into my armchair.

  • LCON

    Given there current finances, leasing may be there only option.

  • LCON

    mostly a issue of numbers, costs and the fact that the Russians first time around went with a pistol that would have been a great seller in the 1980’s. but by today’s standards was a anachronism

  • Seburo

    How is it not a fad round when nobody but SMU’s use it? I’ll be less skeptical if it’s officially adopted in full by a major military.

    However unlike the MP7. Those guns last longer then 500 rounds before it needs to be cleaned. Most FN guns run pretty well when their dirty. 416/417 should be the same. M14 has more problems such as weight, expense and time to upgrade them to DMR’s.

    How accurate would you say the SLAP .50 is? I don’t have the budget for the .50 cal rifle I want yet so I can’t test it.

    So a caseless or cased polymer MK318 would be a better round for a theoretical “LSAT PDW”. Which isn’t surprising because the MK318 is more recent.

  • aweds1

    SIG used to be German centric. US market guns now come out of Exeter, NH. Regardless of product, brand names mean nothing when it comes to where something is made. Global product chains destroyed that concept a long time ago. Is a Beretta made in Maryland or Tennessee an “Italian” gun or an “American” one? What about a Winchester made in Japan?

  • Andrew Duffey

    Yes, yes. Lets ignore the rest of the article and focus on her .45 comment. No the .45 isn’t the end all, be all pistol caliber. But if I had to choose between a .45 FMJ and a 9mm FMJ standard velocity, I would choose the .45.

  • gunsandrockets

    Not so easily found. Your link started at page 90. Pardon me for not reading 50 pages to get to the page you quoted from.

    But oh what a page. It’s even more jaw dropping than just the part you quoted.

    Considering modern experience, the larger context seems pretty fantastic since it criticizes .45 hardball as having inadequate penetration of the human body! Here is the fuller quote, including some parts you left out.

    ———————————————————————

    From an analysis of these facts and the requirements for penetration of skin and bone, it can be readily appreciated that the .45 caliber bullet is of little value as a wound-producing agent except in the softer tissues and at near ranges. The bullet often fails either to penetrate or to fracture bone and practically never shatters bone in the manner common to the rifle bullet or fragment. The Japanese and German sidearms with muzzle velocities of approximately 1,100 f.p.s. were much more effective as antipersonnel weapons than the .45 caliber weapon. While the same bullet with its characteristics was used in the submachinegun, multiple hits probably compensated for the weaknesses, so apparent in single shots.

  • Seburo

    .50 cals are more useful then 300 Mall Ninja. You can’t get an enemy behind a wall with 7mm bullets.

    SMU’s and Socom still makes 300 mall ninja a fad round. So kids with too much much money on their hands can play operator.

    300 Mall Ninja has inferior energy and range. At 100 yards it drops at about 4
    inches. And at 200, it drops whopping 14 – 16 inches! While shooting at cinder
    blocks it doesn’t perform as well as the 7.62X39 from the old AK.