My Thoughts on the Army’s New MHS Competition

    Released to much excitement, the US Army’s new Modular Handgun system is, in my opinion, a train-wreck going full-bore in a screwup of massive proportions.

    Upon my read of the RFP, it showcases Big Army’s failure to do a thorough and comprehensive review of their handgun and is an attempt to get everything done all at once at huge expense to an industry that will produce an OK solution, but will fail to produce the best solution; which is exactly what my brothers and sisters-in-arms deserve.

    Author’s note: I have years of experience in defense sales, both foreign and domestic. This RFP is highly unusual in its structure and approach to procuring a small-arm. If I was working for any of the bidders (I am not, nor does the company I work for have any dogs in the fight) I would be screaming bloody murder at the structure of this competition. Its so bad that Ruger, for its size, refuses to participate when it has compelling offerings that meet requirements. 

    My beefs with the procurement:

    • The Army is attempting to solicit the handgun and ammunition at the same time, with little guidance to industry on what satisfies performance and no requirement on caliber. 

    First, if the Army was going to truly move to hollow-points (“special purpose rounds” (SPR) as called out in the RFP), it would have been much better served to do independent testing on which bullet, caliber, and loading is “best” for the Army. This should have been done on accuracy, ballistics testing, reliability, cost, etc.

    Instead, the Army is leaving it to the manufacturer to choose the (SPR) and its only requirement is 14 inches through ballistics gelatin with no requirements on over-penetration, etc. While this may yield a reliable system (as handgun and ammo will be tuned to one another), it does not guarantee that the round will be the best performing in terms of lethality, which is the sole purpose of military small arms.

    While the solicitation is set up to encourage the ammunition provider to provide Government Purpose Rights immediately, it is not required (nor do I know a company or partnership that would allow it immediately), thus forcing the Army to choose between the handgun and ammunition.

    • Its set up to favor large companies, not the best technologies

    Similar to the argument above that the Army should have run the selection for ammunition first, the Army should also run the selection for the handgun second and pick the design that works, get Government Purpose Rights to the design, and then send it out to industry for quotation.

    Instead, the Army has put together massive requirements for eligible submissions and requirements for production.This sets the bar so high that only large companies can bid on the contract (or that small companies have to find a large and willing partner). From there, each company has to find an ammunition partner, test their submission for 150 days, make any changes, and submit the final design. Adding insult to injury (and driving home the first gripe), the final submission even has to be submitted with over 100,000 rounds of ammunition for the Army testing. This is a huge expense.

    Author’s note: I estimate that each bidder will spend over $5 million on their MHS submission including parts, ammunition, testing, the bid package, etc. The largest driver is the massive paperwork and contractual requirements that will eat up man-hours to get a package complete. 

    Even Smith & Wesson had to partner with General Dynamics to assist with the paperwork and requirements that come with the contract. Ruger is not bidding, and multiple companies with innovative designs are not even touching the procurement.

    At least the Army is requiring Government Purpose Rights on the design, but it is up to the bidder on the cost and timeline to release them. At least this will avoid a long-term M4-style debacle for the Army.

    • Dumb things are required in the first submission, driving up costs and eliminating small companies. 

    Can someone explain to me why the heck the Army is asking for cutaways of the handgun and ammunition in the RFP? This makes zero sense to anyone with contracting experience as these items are typically only required once the award has been granted and then the contractor should provide them.

    Further, the contractor has to provide completely detailed technical data package (drawings, studies, etc) on the product at submission. This is an incredible amount of work that should only be required once a bidder is selected and then is submitted within a set period after award.

    • While it does not spec ammunition caliber, it does spec 9mm training round compatibility

    While I could wax on the huge dichotomy this presents, it does make it extremely difficult to offer a caliber in anything other than 9mm, .357 Sig, or .40 (which are easily compatible with 9mm). Seems that .45 is out.

    • The RFP specs the bidder submits accessories as well such as holsters, pouches, etc. 

    The bidder chooses the accessories. This can result in sub-par items chosen in the name of cost reduction. The Army should have chosen the handgun first and then moved on choosing the best holster.

    I suspect that within 5 years of award, the Army will be going back to tender on all accessories, pouches, holsters, etc.

    So what do they get right?


    I could continue to poke holes in this RFP, but at least the Army does get something right.  Price is (finally) the lowest importance factor in the evaluation of the RFP and the ability of the shooter to be accurate is the most important factor.

    This creates a “best value” contract which gives the Army significant leeway in selecting a handgun (on the flip side, also opens it up to shenanigans at the contracting office).

    Nathan S

    One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

    The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.