Army Chief Milley Criticizes MHS Red Tape, Wants Power to Select New Pistol

    The Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley spoke yesterday at the Future of War Conference, and criticized the Modular Handgun System program for the degree of bureaucracy and red tape it takes for the Pentagon to select a new pistol for the Army. Milley rightly pointed out that not only are handguns hardly the forefront weapons of modern battle, but that they are a very mature technology, so selecting a new one should be very straightforward and inexpensive. From

    “We are not exactly redesigning how to go to the moon, right?” Milley said. “This is a pistol. … And arguably, it is the least lethal and important weapon system in the Department of Defense inventory.”

    The Army launched its long-awaited XM17 MHS competition in late August to replace its Cold War era M9 9mm pistol. One of the major goals of the MHS effort is to adopt a pistol chambered for a more potent round than the current 9mm. The U.S. military replaced the .45 caliber 1911 pistol with the M9 in 1985 and began using the 9mm NATO round at that time.

    Gunmakers had until Feb. 12 to submit proposals to the Army.

    Milley used the program as an example of the bureaucratic acquisition system that often makes it overly complicated to field equipment to soldiers in a timely manner.

    “We are trying to figure out a way to speed up the acquisition system,” Milley said. “Some of these systems take multiple years, some of them decades to develop.”

    As the service chief, Milley said he should be able to say “here is your purpose; here is the end-state I want to achieve … if you succeed, you are promoted and I give you a medal. If you fail, you are fired. You hold people accountable.

    “I’m saying let me and then hold me accountable,” he added. “Let me figure out what type of pistol we need and let me go buy it without having to go through nine years of incredibly scrutiny.”

    The program has a “367-page requirement document. Why?” Milley asked. “Well, a lawyer says this and a lawyer says that and you have to go through this process and that process and you have to have oversight from this that and the other.”

    Milley also criticized the lengthy testing process for MHS that’s slated to cost $17 million.

    “The testing — I got a briefing the other day — the testing for this pistol is two years,” Milley said. “Two years to test technology that we know exists. You give me $17 million on the credit card, I’ll call Cabelas tonight, and I’ll outfit every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine with a pistol and I’ll get a discount on it for bulk buys.”

    General Milley’s sentiments are very understandable. The Modular Handgun System program not only has a scheduled program lifespan before selection of 6 years (from 2013-2018), but it is also the successor to two previous handgun selection programs, the Joint Combat Pistol and Future Handgun System, dating all the way back to 2004. That means, if a handgun is selected on time in 2018, that the DoD will have spent 14 years selecting a new “off-the-shelf” handgun for the services to replace the more or less adequate Beretta M9.

    Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also voiced his criticism of the MHS program, asking in his recent testimony on Capitol Hill:

    [W]hy is it taking you guys 10 years? It’s a handgun for God’s sake.

    Pretty hard to argue with that. It’s not at all unfair to hold MHS up as the poster child of military bureaucracy, indecision, and slowness. This isn’t to say that military procurement should be anything but thorough, but the modern fighting handgun is such a well-characterized tool that one could be more than forgiven for saying “just get on with it, already!”

    Nathaniel F

    Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. He can be reached via email at [email protected]