Competition for New Army Handgun Underway

A 101st Airborne Division soldier fires a Sig Sauer pistol during weapons training May 29, 2015. photo from military.com.

The competition is officially underway to see which firearms manufacturer will be providing the U.S. Army with a new standard-issue sidearm, and the ammunition to go with it.

The XM17 Modular Handgun System request for proposals went out on August 28, asking gun makers to submit packages that include full-size and compact versions of their handgun and hundreds of thousands of rounds for testing, according to military.com.

The more than 20 companies competing with each other over the massive contract have a deadline of January 28, 2016 to submit their packages. In typical military-ese, this is what the Army will be looking for:

"The acquisition strategy is to conduct a full and open competition that will utilize the trade-off method to evaluate and select the best value systems submitted that meets the MHS requirements. The Government will down-select to the contractor whose proposals represent the best value to the Government…giving the appropriate consideration to the six evaluation factors: system accuracy Shooter-in -The Loop, Reliability and Service Life, License Rights ammunition, License Rights Handgun and Accessories, other characteristics, and price."

The Army plans to award up to three contracts at the end of the initial evaluation. Of those three, one will be selected for a 10-year contract for the new handguns, accessories and spare parts and a five-year contract for the ammunition, which will ultimately result in more than 280,000 full-size pistols and 7,000 compacts. Other military services participating in the MHS program may order an additional 212,000 guns in addition to the Army's pistols for a total of about 500,000 pistols.

The competition will include a user evaluation, with each MHS candidate using the Modular Handgun Joint Pistol Qualification Course (JPQC).

"Each warfighter in this test will fire each candidate weapon system," the request states. "The JPQC includes target engagements spanning 1 meter to 35 meters, from various firing positions, with target exposure times of three to eight seconds."

The competing firearms will also be judged based on how close they come to meeting the objective requirements for reliability, which is 2,500 mean rounds between stoppages and 10,000 mean rounds between failures.

Efforts to replace the Beretta M9 pistols, which has been in service since 1985, have been in the works for about five years.

The Army is also looking for a "special-purpose" round for the new pistol, which is intended to result in a more powerful handgun round than the 9mm. A recent legal review with the Pentagon resulted in the Army being able to consider this type of ammunition, which likely be a hollow-point or some other type of expanding or fragmenting bullet. The competition is open to different calibers, but there is no guarantee the Army will abandon the 9mm.

The winner will have to be able to deliver 6,300 full-size pistols per month within a year and 3,000 compact pistols per month within three years. Before the M9, the .45 caliber Colt 1911A1 had been in service for 74 years.