After more than three years of complaints from troops in Afghanistan, the British government has agreed to replace the elderly Browning L9A7 9mm pistol with the Glock 17. The army has placed an order for 25,000 Glock 17s, at a cost of $538 each. The procurement process took two years.
The Glock 17 was designed by Gaston Glock 30 years ago and has become 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 13 in the Browning (which was a big jump over six rounds revolvers held). These characteristics have proved enormously popular with police, who are often called on to use their pistol with no warning. Troops in Afghanistan have encountered similar situations. For British troops another advantage is weight. A loaded Glock weighs 860 gr (1.88 pounds), which is 20 percent less than the Browning.
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.
The Glock 17 is replacing the 9mm Browning Hi-Power automatic, whose British military designation is the L9A1 and has been the standard issue sidearm since 1954. Back then it replaced the .38 caliber (9.1mm) Enfield revolver. Even this elderly pistol can still be found in service, as a personal (not army issue) weapon. However, British World War II commandos pioneered the use of the 9mm Hi-Power and that played a major role in that weapon replacing the Enfield revolver throughout the army. The Hi-Power was designed by John Browning, who also created the M1911 .45 caliber pistol. The two pistols share many design features and characteristics.
For several decades the Hi-Power continued to perform well for both commandos and the rest of the army. But by the 1980s the Hi-Power was a dated design, something that was made very clear with the appearance of the Glock. The Hi-Power is still produced, by Browning in the U.S. and Fabrique Nationale in Europe. Despite being over 70 years old it is not considered obsolete, just not as evolved as weapons like the Glock. Then, neither is the century old American 1911A1 .45 caliber pistol. The problem for the British Army was that most of the Hi-Powers in service were older than the men using them. These pistols are often 20 or 30 years old and the army leadership never gave much through to updating them or bringing in a more modern design. This led to many combat officers buying a pistol (often a Glock) with their own money.
British commandos took matters into their own hands and adopted the 964 gr (2.13 pounds) Sig-Sauer P226 9mm as their standard pistol, as well as a smaller pistol for undercover operations. The U.S. Navy SEALs also chose this pistol, as did many other special operations forces. While the Glock is a favorite for regular army troops, the P226 is a bit more compatible with commando type operations.