November 23, 2015
Heckler & Koch was ‘tacti-cool’ before the word existed, and the company's gotten even cooler with the HK USP 9 Tactical.
The company's mainstay submachine gun, the Maschinenpistole 5, was seen in the hands of every counter-terrorist organization on the planet well before the rise of the M4.
Looking to capture the same success in the law enforcement sidearm market, H&K began work on the Universal Self-loading Pistol in 1989.
Not long thereafter, HK entered prototypes of its USP sidearm into the US military’s Offensive Handgun Weapon System development program, where it encountered a gauntlet of demanding tests. These trials provided invaluable input that H&K used to refine the design, and in January of 1993, the USP 40 hit US markets chambered in .40 S&W. The design was modified further and, after a few years, released in both 9mm and .45 ACP as well.
As the polymer-framed pistol market evolved, so too did HK’s lineup. Consequently, its P30 series of handguns saw more attention than the USP, receiving multiple upgrades, while the USP’s design stayed unchanged. Interestingly enough, the USP maintained a cult following of civilian, military and law enforcement users who swore by it.
Finally, in 2015, the HK USP 9 received all the upgrades its younger siblings enjoy. Enhancements like raised, adjustable iron sights designed for use with sound suppressors and other refinements. But, before continuing, it’s important to understand what an HK USP 9 is and what it does.
The HK USP 9 is a semi-automatic, short recoil-operated locked-breech pistol chambered in 9mm Parabellum. It feeds from a detachable staggered-column, box-type polymer magazine that holds either 10 or 15 rounds. It’s a double, single-action hammer-fired polymer-framed pistol with a few design quirks that separates it from competitors.
For example, unlike most modern sidearms that use either the contemporary push-button magazine release on the grip or a heel release under it, the HK USP 9 uses an ambidextrous paddle release inline with the trigger guard. The idea behind this is that operators can maintain their firing grip while changing magazine, and can easily do so with gloves on, the latter reason also being the impetus behind the oversized trigger guard.
But the largest driving factor behind the HK USP 9 Tactical design is sound suppressor use. If the raised iron sights weren’t a dead giveaway, a shooter need only lock open the action. Doing so reveals an oddity along the HK USP’s otherwise seamless barrel: a small circular cut capturing a rubber O-ring.
This ring assists in sealing internal gases attempting to seep out the slide. By containing more gas inside the frame, the HK USP 9 is noticeably quieter than popular Austrian or Swiss designs when suppressed. Interestingly enough, though, the gas ring wasn’t designed for this.
Rather, that O-ring is meant to better center the barrel in the slide during operation, resulting in better accuracy. The great news is that it works equally well in both roles, though with accuracy, it has some additional help from the pistol’s excellent ergonomics.
In particular, the HK USP 9’s match-grade single-action trigger is reminiscent of a solid 1911s. Further M1911 influences include the frame-mounted thumb safety and grip angle. The former is a welcomed addition to the world of polymer-framed handguns that, for 1911-lovers like myself, disappointingly lacked the ability to be carried in Condition One (cocked and locked). Though much like the O-ring on the barrel, the frame safety also pulls double-duty. It doesn’t just prevent the hammer’s movement when engaged. If depressed further, it acts as a decocker, safely lowering the hammer.
Other user-friendly features include the aggressively stippled side panels of the grip and the geometrically checkered molded polymer front and back straps. Also, the HK USP 9 Tactical includes a lengthy slide release that even small-handed shooters can actuate without shifting their firing grip.
How is the resulting accuracy? In a word: better. Better than me, and likely better than you. What do I mean? The HK USP 9 Tactical is unreasonably accurate for a pistol. The only limiting factor in its ability to reach out and touch distant targets is a combination of ballistics and human error. While combat range accuracy is superb, less practical and more demonstrative examples, like consistently hitting 18 inch targets at 100 yards unsupported, show just how capable the HK USP 9 truly is.
Reliability was no different. Despite feeding it various ammunition choices of questionable quality from nearly a dozen manufacturers, the HK USP 9 never so much as hiccuped. Even when the handgun was run without lubricant and even in the heavy rains that plagued the South East over the past few weeks, the HK USP kept chugging along, with or without a suppressor.
That said, there are a few shortcomings to be aware of before buying one. The dust cover, for example, uses a proprietary rail system incompatible with most lights or lasers. Thankfully, several manufacturers make adapters for shooters already invested in more standard mounting solutions.
Additionally, shooters more accustomed to running pistols with a button mag release need training to overcome those muscle memories, but after a few dozen reloads, it becomes second nature. The only other downside is the cost of new magazines, but this too can be alleviated by hunting down used examples from LE trade-in websites and wholesalers.
Overall, the HK USP 9 Tactical shows that HK won’t abandon popular products in favor or new ones and is fully capable of taking a great design and making it better. It may have a few unorthodox features, but its reputation for reliability, incredible accuracy and flawless reliability make an excellent choice for a wide swath of shooters.
So, if you're looking for a competition pistol, home defense handgun or the perfect host for a sound suppressor, the HK USP 9 Tactical might be for you.