Earlier this week we told you about the U.S. Army’s official search for a new standard-issue handgun to replace the Beretta M9, in service since 1985. Now, the Army has announced the competition for a new sidearm has been expanded to include new, “special-purpose” ammunition to feed them, according to this story on upi.com. That most likely mean’s hollow-point or some other type of expanding or fragmenting bullets.
The change to the handgun project, officially called the XM17 Modular Handgun System, was announced on Wednesday at the fourth industry day for interested parties at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey.
“Expanding the XM17 Modular Handgun competition to include special-purpose ammunition will provide the warfighter with a more accurate and lethal handgun,” said Richard Jackson, special assistant to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General for Law of War, in a release. “Other types of ammunition allow the (XM17) to be optimized by vendors, providing a more capable system to warfighers across the spectrum of shooter experience and skill level.”
The announcement comes after a recent legal review with the Pentagon, resulting in the Army being allowed to consider adopting “special purpose ammunition,” according to Jackson. This marks the Army’s first departure from full metal jacket or ball ammo in more than a century. The competition has already been opened to weapons of different calibers, including .40- and .45-caliber handguns, though there’s no guarantee the Army will abandon the 9mm.
Jackson told the Army Times that, while this isn’t the first approved use of hollow-point bullets in the military, the new stance represents “a significant re-interpretation of the legal standard” for ammo. He also said that a lot has changed regarding warfare since the initial movements against these types of bullets that came before WWI, and that many law enforcement agencies and police departments in America use them today.
“There’s a myth that (expanding/fragmenting bullets) are prohibited in international armed conflict, but that doesn’t make any sense now,” Jackson said.
The Army’s hope is that the change will address modern complaints about the 9mm M9 pistol, which include lack of stopping power.
The U.S. has generally observed the 1899 Hague Convention rules barring expanding and fragmenting rounds, despite the fact that it never has been signatory to that particular agreement, said Lt. Col. Terry Russell, a program manager for individual weapons at Program Executive Office Soldier. The U.S. has reserved the right to use different ammo where it saw a need, e.g. Criminal Investigations Command and military police use hollow points. Special Forces operators also use expanding/fragmenting rounds in counter-terrorism missions.
The current FMJ or ball ammo used by the Army in both handguns and rifles are designed to remain as one solid projectile, increasing penetration, but narrowing the tunnel of damage inflicted on the target.
Expanding and fragmenting bullets are designed to flatten or break apart, making them more likely to remain in the body and transfer its energy entirely to the target.
“The use of this ammunition supports the international law principle of preventing excessive collateral effects and safeguarding civilian lives,” according to an Army statement.
More than 20 manufacturers are competing to make the XM17. Whoever wins will be contracted to produce more than 280,000 handguns for the Army with initial deliveries scheduled for 2018.
According to the story, the Pentagon may have legally justified broader use of hollow-points or expanding bullets that could include rifle rounds, though Russell also called the standard issue 5.56 Enhances Performance Round (M855A), though some would disagree.