101st Airborne Will Be First to Get Army's New Handgun

The M17, a variant of the Sig Sauer P320 currently sold to civilians, has some features particular to military use.
The M17, a variant of the Sig Sauer P320 currently sold to civilians, has some features particular to military use.mfg photo

We've been reporting on the U.S. Army's search for a new general issue sidearm to replace the aging Beretta M9 since the summer of 2015.

In January of this year, the Army announced that, after a lengthly trial pitting some of the world's top handgun manufacturers top tier offerings against one another, it had selected the Sig P320 as its new sidearm and awarded SIG Sauer a contract worth up to $580 million for guns, accessories, and ammunition to be delivered over a period of 10 years.

Now, it has finally been announced that the soldiers of the legendary 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, will be the first to receive the handgun.

According to this story from armytimes.com, Lt. Col. Steven Power, product manager of Soldier Weapons for Program Executive Office Soldier, told attendees at the National Defense Industrial Association's armament symposium Wednesday morning that the recently approved congressional budget gave the Army a better idea on scheduling fielding of the handgun.

"The latest budget was our first real knowledge of procurement dollars, which will adjust fielding schedules," Power said in the story. "However, we will definitely field Fort Campbell this year."

The story says other units at the base will also receive the new handgun, but Power did not give any further details. Pending the available funding, every soldier will eventually see the new pistol, dubbed the M17.

In this story from military.com, Power said of the P320 vs. the M9, "It has increased lethality, faster target acquisition, better reliability."

The story says the M17 will be a variant of the striker-fired P320 currently sold to civilians, but with some specs particular to military use.

The modularity of the pistol, a high priority for the trials, is what many believe led to its selection. The only serialized component is a module that includes the action and the trigger group. The grip, frame, and slide can all be swapped out to adjust for size and caliber.

The story says the M17 will be configured to accept suppressors and will be chambered in 9mm, even though the pistol can be adapted to fire .357 SIG and .40 S&W. The Army has opted for the full-size configuration and the compact version, which will be called the M18 and will be able to accept standard and extended magazines.

The military.com story says the base configuration of the M17 will come with Tritium sights and three magazines: one standard 17-round magazine and two extended 21-round magazines. The story says the Army is also developing a holster for the new handgun.

As we've reported Glock Inc., one of the other competitors in the trial, filed a protest of the selection of the P320 in February. It was thought this would put the issuing of the M17 on hold, but the Army has been cleared to continue with the rollout while the Government Accountability Office makes a decision on Glock's filing.

As we’ve reported, new ammunition was also a component of the trial.

The military.com story says that a new Defense Department policy allowed the Army to expand its arsenal to "special-purpose" ammunition. It has chosen to pair the M17 with "Winchester jacketed hollow point" ammo, Power said.

But before it can be issued, the Pentagon must complete a "law of war determination," which is scheduled to be complete in the next two months, the story says.

"Before we can field it, we have to have a law of war determination on the specific ammunition that was submitted with the handgun before we actually continue to field it to the soldier," said Col. Brian Stehle, head of Project Manager Soldier Weapons, in the story.

The reverberations of the P320’s selection have been felt throughout the industry, as the relatively new pistol hit gun shops and started flying out of display cases—and the models that didn’t make the cut are slowing hitting the civilian market, like the Beretta APX and the FN 509.

The 9mm Beretta M9 has been in service in every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces for 30 years, but began showing its age and limitations in recent years, and was hampered by the fact that an entirely different handgun was needed for duties requiring a compact pistol.