The Pistol: Vital in a Soldier's Armory for Close Combat

The Pistol: Vital in a Soldier’s Armory for Close Combat


ABOVE: To be a good shooter–the Mantra is “train–train–train!” Soldiers from tactical transport troop, on a shooting range outside Mazar E Sharif in Afghanistan where they train on live firing with 9mm Glock 17 pistol. Torbjørn Kjosvold/Norwegian Armed Forces

On January 19, 2017, it was announced that the SIG P320 version of the MX17 was chosen as the United States Military Modular Handgun System’s new generation pistol for the US Army.
In May 2017 the other services of the United States Armed Forces followed suit and will acquire the M17/18: Air Force 130,000; Navy 61,000 [M18 only]; and Marine Corps 35,000.

This article mainly describes the importance of sidearms, the “Global” Glock 17 pistol and the new M17/M18.

An Intense Fight Against Afghan Insurgents February 5, 2010

At 2 p.m. local time, a Norwegian force, a diverse group of less than 20 men consisting of a so-called MOT layer (Military Observation Team) which was reinforced by several other specialists, was attacked. The attackers, a numerically superior group of insurgents, opened fire on the Norwegians with both small arms and RPGs. The rebels behind the attack knew that the soldiers were on their way into the river valley in Ghowrmach district. There is no doubt that they were prepared for the Norwegians coming, but whether it was because they had seen them drive into the valley or whether they had been informed in advance is difficult to know for sure. It had been a long time since the Norwegians had experienced such a strong opposition. This was a powerful ambush.

The Norwegians quickly asked for medical evacuation assistance from the camp in Maymaneh and air support. A Forward Air Controller was with the Norwegian group. His responsibility was calling for close air support. It did not work this time. Twice there were fighter aircraft over the area, but it was found not advisable to use the aircraft in the valley for close support. The attackers were too close to the soldiers, and the enemy could therefore not be bombed. The soldiers were forced to retire while they returned fire. It was close combat, too close with fierce fighting, so the soldiers had to use their sidearm, the Glock 17 pistol.

A so-called “task unit,” consisting of 50-100 Norwegian soldiers with the heaviest equipment, was sent out to ensure that forces who were under fire could withdraw. Norwegian Armed Forces

Generally, pistols are most effective at a range of between 10 and 25 meters. The Glock 17 has an incapacitation effect, which is vital to stop an attacker. The soldiers were able to secure the area and respond to the fire until they got reinforcements. A so-called “task unit,” consisting of 50-100 Norwegian soldiers with the heaviest equipment, was sent out to ensure those under fire had a safe withdrawal. When the reinforcements reached the area at 8 PM, the attacked group had already managed to repel the insurgents, and the fighting had ended. A total of eight Norwegians were injured in the ambush. Several were hit by shots from the enemies’ assault rifles. The two most seriously injured Norwegians both had serious gunshot wounds. It was stated that there was a need for a rapid evacuation. When the helicopter landed, there were still firefights going on. The perilous landing and evacuation probably saved the lives of two badly wounded Norwegian soldiers. The personnel in the Norwegian ambulance helicopter and the medical expertise of the camp Maymaneh (within the “golden hour”) probably saved the lives of the soldiers who had very critical injuries. The most critically wounded soldier was later operated on again at the German military hospital in Mazar-e Sharif, and the condition was then described as stable. Had he not been treated so quickly by Medcoy in Maymaneh, it would have gone wrong. The other soldier, seriously injured, was stable after surgery.

The Attackers

The attackers may have been a criminal gang. The Norwegian military leadership at the HQ was not certain about the attackers’ identities and chose therefore to mention the enemy collectively as rebels. There were several criminals in the area who smuggled drugs from Afghanistan and took weapons back. The criminal gangs were also troublesome requiring a “tax” from residents.

The Norwegian Bell 412 helicopter armed with two M134 Miniguns. The perilous landing and evacuation probably saved the lives of two badly wounded Norwegian soldiers. Torbjørn Kjosvold, Norwegian Armed Forces

Tougher Conditions

The situation was becoming more and more challenging. The Norwegians have had several more skirmishes in Afghanistan after that attack than earlier due to changed tactics and the fact that the Norwegians actively searched out areas along with the Afghan Army where they previously had no control. With insider attacks in Afghanistan still a threat to western forces, personal protection remains essential.

US Army XM17 Modular Handgun System (MHS)

The US Army first announced the competition for the XM17 MHS program back in 2011, but there were multiple delays [XM = Experimental Model]. In January 2013 the US Army issued a Request for Information for a new suitable service pistol. Among other demands, it should have higher reliability (2,000 rounds without interruption, 10,000 rounds without breakdown), accuracy (10cm at 50m with 90-percent hit probability), effective fire, modularity as well as possibility to adjust the handgrip to fit different shooter’s hand sizes. The lifespan should last up to 35,000 rounds. One of the major goals of the effort was to adopt a pistol chambered for a more potent round than the current 9mm. The US military replaced the .45 caliber 1911 pistol with the M9 Beretta, first issued in 1986, and began using the 9mm NATO round. Beretta has fought hard to remain the Army’s pistol maker. In December 2014, Beretta USA submitted its modernized M9A3 as a possible alternative to the Army’s MHS program. The M9A3 featured new sights, a rail for mounting lights and accessories, better ergonomics and improved reliability. But the Army rejected the improved M9A3. The company, however, developed a new striker-fired pistol, the APX, and entered it into the competition. In August 29, 2015, a more concrete Request for Proposal began. Among the competitors were Beretta (APX), CZ (CZ P-09 MHS), FN Herstal (FN509), Glock (19MHS and 23MHS), Kriss USA (Sphinx SDP), SIG SAUER (P320MHS), Smith & Wesson with General Dynamics (S&W M&P9) as well as STI and Detonics Systems (STX).

Here at MEDCOY the Norwegian soldiers are treated for their wounds they got in the fighting. The Norwegian Armed Forces

The most recent solicitation deadline was set at February 2016. The down select in August 2016 only comprised two offers within the competitive range: namely Glock 19 MHS and the SIG P320. All other candidates did not meet all thresholds and could not therefore be selected for PVT testing as “non-awardable” offerors. January 19, 2017, it was announced that the SIG SAUER P320 had won the United States Military XM17 HMS competition. A specialized P320 will be the new M17 pistol, and SIG SAUER was awarded an IDIQ contract with a maximum worth of $580 million (the total evaluated price of SIG’s offer was $170 Million thus far from the stipulated $580 Million). The decision formally ended Beretta’s 30-year hold on the Army’s sidearm market. Finally, the Army decided to down select to a single awardee without executing the important Product Verification Testing (PVT) that would have included amongst others: Endurance testing of 35,000 rds.; environmental testing; shooting by users in the loop, and so on. A bid protest filed by Glock, challenging the US Army’s new sidearm contract with SIG SAUER, was been denied by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), June 6, 2017.

The protest did not result in any change to the decision. It was decided that the contracting authorities have huge discretion in technical evaluation, which goes so far that it was decided not to rate the test results for the compact pistol reliability function after doing the actual testing. Ultimately, price, only the seventh most important criteria according to the RFP, was the decisive factor. Here, SIG SAUER apparently had the much better offer.

The IVECO Light Multirole Vehicle (front) after the attack. The small arms projectiles have not penetrated the ballistic glass. Lars Kroken, PRT/International Security Assistance Force


One aspect of the MHS that Army officials have been reluctant to talk about is the type of ammunition the service’s new sidearm will use, but the contract allows the government to buy SIG SAUER’s proposed XM1152 Full Metal Jacket and XM1153 Special Purpose ammunition and training rounds. Members of the 101st Airborne are scheduled to receive about 2,000 pistols in November 2017. The current plan is for the Army to buy 195,000 MHS pistols. Eventually, the Army will distribute the weapons to all units over a 10-year period. From November 2017 until September 2018, the new handguns will be fielded at a different post each month, except for March and April of 2018, according to the current plan. The 10-year agreement calls for SIG SAUER to supply the Army with full-size and compact versions of the gun. The firearms will be manufactured at the company’s facilities in New Hampshire. According to Army officials, the MHS quantities that the other US services intend to buy are: Air Force 130,000; Navy 61,000 (M18 only); and Marine Corps 35,000. The M17 (full-size) and M18 (compact) have different ammunition requirements than the commercial P320 pistol.

The P320 was released for commercial use three years ago. The specific performance improvements from MHS over the M9 are in the area of accuracy, dispersion and ergonomics. Testing of the MHS, Spring 2017 by Soldiers at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, resulted in overwhelmingly positive feedback: “The XM17 felt like an upgrade over the M9 with improved durability and adjustability, along with interchangeable grips that fit comfortably, instead of just making a one size fits all.” A handgrip that fits the shooter’s hand properly does a lot to improve accuracy, not only on the first shot but also on subsequent shots. The new handguns also have an external safety and self-illuminating sights for low-light conditions and can accept various attachments such as lights and optics. The M17 can be outfitted with suppressors and accommodate standard and extended-capacity magazines. The base configuration of the full-size M17 pistol will come with Tritium sights and three magazines, one standard 17-round magazine and two extended 21-round magazines. Army equipment officials are developing a holster for the MHS as well.

The vehicle is hit by heavy firing and RPG. The blast went through the equipment stowage room but not through the armor on the crew’s armored cell. Lars Kroken, PRT/International Security Assistance Force

M17 and M18 Modular Handgun System

The striker fired pistol M17/M18 has glass-reinforced, Polymer-grip-modules with high ergonomics and modularity. That’s thanks to the stainless-steel frame and fire control unit with ambidextrous slide and magazine release. It has a robust safety system. The M17 and M18 pistols are equipped with lightweight triggers and sears, as well as the standard striker safety that prevents the striker from moving forward unless the trigger is pulled. The M17 and M18 also incorporate the standard P320 internal disconnect safety that prevents the pistol from firing when out of battery. Additionally, an ambidextrous manual safety is included on all M17s/M18s. When moved upwards to the safe position, the trigger bar is mechanically blocked to prevent any rearward movement. To release it, the shooter pushes the lever towards the grip—this principle is well known from the “MHS- grandfather,” the Colt M1911A1. The extractor pin has a tamper-resistant design to prevent unauthorized modification. It can only be removed and replaced with special tools.

The pistol can be field stripped without tools and without need to pull the trigger to disassemble. The modular design of the grip modules—sizes medium and large—adapt the pistol to the individual user. Other calibers than the 9x19mm can be converted by the user or by gunsmith (with a caliber exchange kit). Thus, the pistol can be adapted to the purpose and fit for the user. Both versions can be operated by right- or left-handed shooters. The full-sized and the compact variant of the MHS-used test pistols had the designation “XM17” for Experimental Model. The serial, full-sized version will get the designation M17 and the compact will get M18. Both pistols come in caliber 9×19mm Parabellum and in color Flat Dark Earth. This earth color surface improves the camouflage and is suitable for most climate-regions. The M17 and M18 have a Picatinny-rail (MIL-STD 1913) at the lower forward edge of the module for mounting, for example a Laser-Light-Module.

The firing range A2 in Porsanger gave good conditions for arctic testing. Protection glasses and bullet-proof vests were used for extra protection if something unexpected should happen. Journalist Torbjørn Løvland, Forsvarets forum

Serial deliveries M17 and M18 will come with two different-sized grip modules and one standard magazine for 17 rounds and two reserve magazines with 21-rounds capacity. The serial versions M17 and M18 will have as standard Tritium-sights. A suitable holster for the pistols is under development.

The Best Handgun

But which one is the best handgun? That’s not simple to answer, but the one you have available at hand when it matters, is the best you can have. However, all technology will be useless if you avoid training before you come to action. Every experienced shooter knows this elementary idea: Training and drills are the key to being fast in a tense situation. The training of individual movements makes you fast and consistent, and the drills will get your body to store procedural memory about the weapon’s operation. Only through intensive training one can develop firepower and hit precisely when it counts. There is a lot written about how to practice drills with handguns—without training, knowledge is useless.

The soldiers from Royal Marines fired 14,000 rounds in the field, using 5 different pistols. The five pistols used, from the front, were the Smith & Wesson M&P, then Glock 17 Gen 4, Beretta Px4 Storm, Heckler & Koch P30 and SIG SAUER P226. All five candidates use standard 9mm ammunition, but the pistols’ weight ranges from ~600 grams (Glock) to ~950 grams (SIG). This testing can measure the safety, reliability and accuracy of the pistols in use while being fired by the warfighters. There had been one and another click during the test. Journalist Torbjørn Løvland, Forsvarets forum
Beretta M9A3 featured new sights, a rail for mounting lights and accessories, better ergonomics and improved reliability. Aud Håland
Beretta striker-fired pistol, the APX. Aud Håland
Glock’s version for the Army’s Modular Handgun System contract, Glock 19 HMS (pictured) and Glock 23 HMS, has a number of differences from their standard offerings. The MHS’s finish is Flat Dark Earth. It has a manual thumb safety. The grip has lack of finger grooves. At the bottom back end of the grip is a lanyard ring. It comes with extended magazines. GLOCK Inc.
Glock’s version for the Army’s Modular Handgun System contract, Glock 19 HMS and Glock 23 HMS (pictured), has a number of differences from their standard offerings. The MHS’s finish is Flat Dark Earth. It has a manual thumb safety. The grip has lack of finger grooves. At the bottom back end of the grip is a lanyard ring. It comes with extended magazines. GLOCK Inc.
The upgraded Glock P80 has the rail to mount on accessories like Tactical Laser Sight/Flashlight. Christian Nørstebø, Forsvarets forum
Glock 17 Gen 4 Cal. 9x19mm (Glock 19 Gen 5 at left). The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has chosen the Glock as their new service handgun. The $85 million contract for a new duty pistol. Industry sources indicate that the contract will deliver the Glock 17 and 19 specifically modified for the FBI (G-17M and G-19M). Aud Håland