Multiple sources reported this week that the Department of Defense will soon chose three finalists in what has become a controversial and excruciatingly slow process to select the next official handgun for issue to the U.S. Army and Air Force.
Popular Mechanics reported May 31 that one of the three finalists could go on to outfit all of the services—with total sales of 500,000 handguns—while noting that the Pentagon bureaucracy is making the process “as long and complicated as possible.”
The testing and selection process cost is estimated at $17 million, according to reports. The contract is valued at $580 million.
The Army has been moving toward replacing the M9 Beretta handgun, the branch’s official sidearm since 1985, for more than three years. It announced the Modular Handgun System (MHS) competition with a Request for Information from industry in January 2013. A draft solicitation was issued in September, 2014. In January 2015 the Army announced it was delaying the release of a much-anticipated request for proposals (RfP) for the replacement sidearm.
The MHS program is now expected to choose three semifinalists in August, with a nine-month evaluation process to follow. A winner will then be chosen and subsequently go into “low rate production,” according to this week’s report. That means it will be at least another 13 months before any pistols are delivered to the military.
Requested specification for the MHS competition include a handgun with a polymer frame, Picatinny rail, and ambidextrous controls. Those guns currently under bidding consideration are understood to include the Beretta APX, CZ-USA P-09, FN America Five-Seven, Smith & Wesson M&P, Glock 17 and 22, and SIG Sauer P320.
Among other issues, the pistol’s caliber has not even been determined, according to sources. Apparently, 9 mm and .40 S&W are favorites, while .45 ACP appears to have been discounted because of recoil, weight and other issues.
The program has not been without its critics.
In a report issued Oct. 29, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the process a “costly misfire” and “byzantine,” while maintaining the Army has taken “10 years and wasted potentially tens of millions of dollars in order to purchase simple handguns.”
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, has been even more direct in his criticism of the process.
“We’re not figuring out the next lunar landing. This is a pistol. Two years to test? At $17 million?” Milley said to a Washington, D.C., think tank March 10 and reported in Army Times. “You give me $17 million on a credit card, and I’ll call Cabela’s tonight, and I’ll outfit every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine with a pistol for $17 million. And I’ll get a discount on a bulk buy.”