U.S. Army Spc. Mazzarell, Alfa Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, shoots an M9 weapon, during a live fire range, on Camp Blessing, Afghanistan, July 27, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Evan D. Marcy/Released)
No military has ever fielded a weapon that hasn't seen its share of detractors, and the Beretta M9, which was adopted as the official pistol of the U.S. Military in 1985, is no different. There have been some complaints about the pistol's caliber, size, durability, and reliability. Reliability problems were in large part due to sub-standard magazines found in abundance during the high-cap mag ban, but the cracking of the M9's skeletonized slide was a real issue. If you've never heard the phrase, "You're not a SEAL until you've eaten Italian steel,"…well, you have now, and I didn't come up with it, I heard it from a SEAL.
The market is awash in quality handguns right now, so if you were going to replace the M9, what would you replace it with? Lets take a look at several handguns on the market right now, including a few that are even in use with our troops, and discuss why they would--or wouldn't--make a good replacement for the M9.
Yes, you read that right. Why not just go back to the 1911A1 in .45 ACP? Modern CADCAM 1911s have great sights, are much more reliable than the GI models of your grandfather's army, and the single action trigger (pull weight and quality) is the standard against which all other trigger pulls are judged. Some high-speed military units still use the 1911. I love the 1911, and own….four (I had to think there for a second). That said, I don't think the 1911 is a good choice for a military pistol. Yes, I just wrote that. Calm down, and let me explain.
A military sidearm should be carried in a holster which secures it but which will allow the user to remove it with the firing hand as part of the drawstroke. Likewise a service sidearm should have the ability to be drawn and fired with only one hand--this means the 1911 should be carried cocked and locked, not with the hammer down. Personally, I think that cocked and locked is the only way to carry a 1911, and if you don't trust yourself to carry your 1911 this way the problem is you, not the pistol. That said, military pistols are exposed to all sorts of abuse and crazy environmental conditions, and that cocked hammer reveals a large opening leading right into the guts of the pistol that can easily fill up with dirt, mud, etc. I think the 1911 in Condition One is the ultimate carry gun for law enforcement or civilians, but just not the military, not any more.
2. SIG P226
The M9 just barely beat out the SIG P226 during the trials after which it was adopted. The SIG P226 is currently in use by a number of our troops, and has been in use by U.S. Navy SEAL teams since the 1980s. It's finally been given an official designation, the Mk 25. Many people don't like the Beretta, and won't like the SIG as well, because it's chambered in 9mm instead of .45. Our troops are burdened with FMJ pistol ammo, and jacketed round nose ammo just doesn't provide the same kind of punch as hollowpoints.
I like the 226, and own two. It's reliable and accurate, and has the same magazine capacity as the M9. I don't think the SIG is ideal, however--factory trigger pulls are far too heavy, and the reach to the trigger for the DA first shot is every bit as far as on the Beretta M9--in other words, too long for a number of users.
3. GLOCK 21
If we can't go back to the 1911, how about we go back to a real man's caliber, the .45 ACP, only in a modern package? The Glock 21 is a great gun, and holds 13+1 rounds of the caliber against whom all others are compared when it comes to man-stopping power. The first Glock I ever owned was a Glock 21, and carried it on duty. I think the G21 will have a longer service life than an M9, but it has many of the same problems, and some of its own. First, it's big. Not only are its exterior dimensions big (the slide is every bit as wide as the Beretta), the grip feels like someone took a 2x4 and slightly rounded the edges. The G21 is also afflicted with the traditional, spongy Glock trigger. The military would also have to order them with night sights just so they wouldn't be stuck with the factory plastic sights.
4. GLOCK 9/40
One of the most successful handgun designs ever, there are so many Glock models that it's hard to keep them straight. In this country, the two most popular calibers are 9mm and .40 S&W. You'll most often see them in full size guns (Glock 17 and 22 respectively) or compact models (19 and 23). Glocks have seen widespread use with our military with various units, regular and elite, even though they haven't been officially adopted. The über-elite Delta Force operators reportedly carry Glock 22s in .40 S&W.
First, the caliber question--while I have no doubt the .40 S&W will perform better against enemy combatants than the 9mm, especially in FMJ form, until that caliber is adopted by other NATO countries you will not see it as the caliber of our official military pistol.
If I was writing this a few years ago I would have no qualms recommending the Glock 19 as the replacement for the M9. It's markedly smaller than the Beretta while having the same capacity, has a shorter trigger reach, and is disgustingly reliable. Again, the trigger is a little heavy and mushy, and metal night sights would be a necessary upgrade, but overall it would be a great idea….if it wasn't for the Gen4 Glocks.
Everything that was wrong with the Gen3 Glocks (trigger pull, plastic sights) went unchanged in the Gen4s, and they 'fixed' a number of things that were working just fine (recoil system, magazine release). The recoil spring of a Gen3 G17 is 17 pounds, which is almost too heavy to begin with. The Gen4s put the double recoil spring system of the .40 S&W system in all their 9mms…and now is selling retrofit kits so that the guns will run. The adjustable backstraps on the Gen4s make so little difference (4mms in length between the smallest and largest) it makes you wonder why they did it….actually, the reason they did it, was the last pistol I'm going to take into consideration…
5. S&W M&P 9
Every complaint I have with the Glock platform has been addressed with the S&W M&P. It has metal sights, and a trigger pull that, while not lighter than the Glock, is a bit crisper. There is also more of a difference between the smallest and largest grip inserts than you'll see on the Glock. The M&P is also made in the USA. The M&P has been adopted by a number of law enforcement agencies in this country, and is as easy and soft to shoot as any other pistol you're likely to find. The grip is small enough for users of all sizes to reach the trigger, and it holds more rounds of 9mm than the Beretta. What's not to like?