Weapons: Why Is It So Hard To Get A Decent Pistol


March 12, 2013: For the last seven years the U.S. Army has been trying to replace its standard 9mm pistol (the M9). This is all the result of numerous and continuous complaints from troops, who have found that combat in Iraq and Afghanistan provide a lot of situations where the pistol is a crucial weapon. The current American Army pistol has been found wanting. The list of complaints is long. A big one is the dust and sand so common in Iraq and Afghanistan, which leads to magazine jams. That was partially fixed with a new magazine but there were a lot of other problems that required a new pistol. The dust and sand tended to get into the loading mechanism because of the open-slide design. Other complaints included the lack of a rail on top for accessories, or threads so that a silencer can be screwed in. Then there is the poor placement of the safety switch, inability to adjust the hand grip to fit many different hand sizes, and the difficulty users have in quickly replacing components in the field. The army is holding a competition for a new pistol, a process that is supposed to be completed in two years. Meanwhile, the army is ordering new M9s to replace those bought in the 1980s that are dying of old age and a lot of combat. Army leadership has long resisted calls for a new pistol and ignored the different combat situations in Iraq and Afghanistan that were behind these pleas. There was just this mindset that pistols were not that important.

Britain had a similar problem and recently adopted the Glock 17. This weapon is typical of the more modern designs the troops want. The Glock has long been a very popular pistol with police and military users and one of many new models that have the new features the troops want.

The Glock 17 was designed by Gaston Glock 30 years ago and initially became enormously popular with policemen. Some armed forces use it, like Austria and Norway. There are over twenty variants, usually having to do with caliber. The American FBI, for instance, uses the 10.2mm (.40 caliber). The Glock has a plastic (polymer) frame and can be safely carried in the holster, loaded, and ready to fire. All one has to do is aim and pull the trigger. The Glock magazine carries 17 rounds compared to 15 in the M9. All these characteristics have proved enormously popular with police, who are often called on to use their pistol with no warning. In Iraq and Afghanistan troops often find themselves operating like SWAT teams and that made other pistols like the Glock appear superior to the M9. Many troops would buy another pistol with their own money, a trend which has embarrassed the army leadership.

The Glock is a simple pistol and very reliable. The manufacturer has subjected the pistols to very extreme environmental tests and tweaked the pistol design to ensure that a Glock would always fire. Over 2.5 million Glocks have been manufactured in the last three decades, meaning that spare parts and servicing are easy to find.

There is also demand for a larger caliber round. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has ordered several larger caliber pistols for their troops over the last decade. Last year the U.S. Marine Corps ordered 12,000 .45 (11.4mm) caliber pistols (at $1,900 each) for its SOCOM and recon troops. Many troops want the old M1911 .45 caliber ACP pistol back. The M1911 was replaced by the M9 in the 1980s. The M1911 is a 1.2 kg (2.45 pound), 210mm (8.25 inch) long weapon, with a 127mm (5 inch) barrel, and a 7 round magazine. Compared to the M9 9mm pistol the .45s have more hitting power, while the M9 is a bit more accurate at up to about 50 meters.

The new marine .45s are not the old M1911A1 model but the more modern Colt CQBP (Close Quarter Battle Pistol), which uses the same ammo as the M1911A1 but has a number of improvements that make the weapon more reliable, flexible, and accurate. The CQBP holds eight rounds, is built to resist salt water corrosion, accepts rail mounted accessories, and so on.

There are several improved .45s available because of demand from police departments and government agencies (like the FBI). In the 1990s SOCOM adopted the Heckler and Koch Mk 23 SOCOM model. This is a 1.47 kg (3.2 pound) .45 pistol with a 12-round magazine and the ability to carry a silencer. It is expensive, at $2,400 each. Loaded with a silencer and laser aiming device the Mk23 weighs 2.29 kg (5 pounds). The Mk23 is a precision weapon, capable of accurate fire at 50 meters (51mm/two inch shot groups). The Mk 23 is for offensive operations, while the lighter and cheaper USP Tactical model was later introduced for personal protection and other duties not requiring the heavier Mk 23.

Over the last decade American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan discovered, through combat experience, what types of weapons worked best at close range to take down the enemy. It was the same with SWAT teams and commandos all over the world. When conducting a raid and finding yourself up close and personal with someone trying to kill you, there is a need for a heavy caliber pistol or a shotgun (firing 00 shot or slugs). The premier pistol for ensuring you take down someone is still the .45 caliber (11.4mm) or .40 caliber (10mm, but only with a heavy bullet) pistols. These weapons are light and handy, compared to assault rifles or shotguns, and have a long history of quickly taking down an armed and determined foe.

As the U.S. Army Special Forces discovered, if you are well trained and know what you are doing, you should carry a pistol, in addition to your rifle. But not the official issue (since 1985) M9 but something with a bit more stopping power. The Special Forces prefer new model .45 caliber pistols, although 10mm weapons are also popular. The reason for this is that you are most likely to be using the pistol indoors, where your target is going to be really close. You want to knock him down quickly, before he can get at you with a knife or even his hands. Many troops are getting their own pistols and most commanders have been lenient on this issue. The same applies to shotguns. Although the army and marines have bought a lot of them (the Benelli M4 Combat Shotgun is a particular favorite), there never seem to be enough of them for some units (that spend a lot of time raiding buildings in hostile neighborhoods).

The U.S. military adopted the 9mm pistol in 1985, largely to standardize ammunition. All other NATO states used 9mm for pistols. The U.S. also noted that most 9mm pistols were carried by officers and support personnel, who rarely used them in combat. SOCOM came into being a few years later and immediately began planning to bring back .45 pistols. Actually, many Special Forces and SEAL operators never gave up using the .45, as it was the ideal pistol for many commando operations.




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