The Army will start the New Year by ending the winding, opaque search for the XM17 Modular Handgun System, a late Christmas present to replace its worn out Beretta M9 standard pistol.
All of the dozen or so companies that submitted proposals to replace the Beretta M9 sidearm were notified on Sept. 16 whether their design remained in the running after the Army established a competitive performance range.
Even this late in the game, the companies that submitted handguns to the competition are not talking about whether they have been eliminated.
The Army has not officially specified which firearm manufacturers submitted bids and would not clarify which passed muster in the latest downselect. The original plan was to whittle the field to three pistols and then choose a winner after two years of testing.
Under new acquisition authorities granted in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark Milley shortened the timeline considerably. A contract now will be awarded by the end of January, Army Spokesman Col. Jesse Stalder told Defense Daily.
“”The XM17 Modular Handgun System (MHS) program is currently in source selection. … After conducting bid sample testing and completing a thorough evaluation of the written proposals and the bid sample test results against the stated criteria in the RFP (request for proposals), the Government established a competitive range consisting of the highest-rated proposals,” Stalder said in an email.
“On Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, the Government notified all vendors who submitted hardware and proposals for the source selection whether their submissions remained as part of the competitive range. The Government plans to make award no later than January 2017, and proceed into the Production Verification Phase.”
Industry sources indicated more than a dozen bidders for the contract: Beretta’s new APX, the CZ P-09, FN Herstal’s Five-Seven Mk 2, General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems and Smith & Wesson’s M&P polymer handgun; the Glock 17 and 22; and Sig Sauer’s P320. KRISS USA, Springfield Armory and STI-Detonics Defense also may have pitched handguns.
“At this time, the Government will not disclose names of those vendors who participated in the competition because of the ongoing source selection… prohibits their disclosure.”
Army sources told Defense Daily that Glock and Sig Sauer were leading the pack. Handguns by both companies already are in use by government agents and Special Operations units. The Army Seventh Special Forces Group issues the Glock 19 to its soldiers.
The Sig P320 is a truly modular handgun that can be reconfigured with different barrel lengths and other features whereas the Glock only has changeable grips for different sized hands. But, when the FBI last year sought a new pistol, it wrote a solicitation that obviously favored the Sig Sauer. After putting both weapons through a series of trials, the Glock won out.
The only certainty is that Smith & Wesson and its partner, General Dynamics [GD], is out of the running. Unlike the other companies vying for the XM17 contract, Smith is a publicly traded company that must report its financials. A filing with the Security and Exchange Commission from September states that the Army passed on its proposal.
“We and our partner in the pursuit of the U.S. Army’s Modular Handgun System, or MHS, solicitation to replace the M9 standard Army sidearm have been notified by the Department of the Army that our proposal was not selected to advance to the next phase of the competition,” the filing said. “The MHS program has never been included in our financial guidance. We are assessing our options in response to the notification and remain focused on achieving our long-term strategy of organically and inorganically expanding our product offerings in the consumer market for shooting, hunting, and rugged outdoor enthusiasts.”
That leaves two probable choices and a handful of longshots, taking into account the preference of SOCOM, law enforcement and allied militaries.
Most of the proposed pistols address the Army’s main concerns with the M9. None have an open slide design, have light polymer frames, ambidextrous safety switches and accessory mounting rails. A version of the M9 updated with some of those features called the M9A3 was rejected outright by the Army before testing began.
Choosing something as rudimentary as a pistol has been a long, complex process for the Army that has perplexed the firearm industry and military leadership. The initial request for proposals was issued in August 2015 and outlined a procurement schedule that would last at least three years before a winner was chosen from the field.
The deal is potentially huge for the single manufacturer that will produce perhaps 500,000 pistols over 10 years under a contract worth up to $580 million. The Army did not specify a caliber in the initial solicitation, suggesting it could go with a more potent round than the 9 mm. It is understood that the new pistol will be chambered in the NATO-standard 9×19 that the Beretta currently fires. Vendors had until late January 2016 to submit bids.
In March, Milley trotted out the program as an example of inefficiency and waste inherent in the Army’s procurement process. Testing alone was expected to cost $17 million, which Milley said should be put to buying pistols from commercial firearms manufacturers in bulk.
“Let me figure out what type pistol we need and let me go buy it without having to go through nine years of incredible scrutiny and testing,” Milley said during a public forum in Washington, D.C. in March. “I took a brief the other day. The testing for this pistol is two years. Two years to test technology that we know exists. … You put $17 million on the credit card, I’ll call Cabela’s tonight, and outfit every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine with a pistol for $17 million and I’ll get a discount on it for a bulk buy,” he said, referring to a popular sporting goods catalog. “There is a certain degree of common sense to this stuff.”
That amount probably would not cover the bill, as the Army alone plans to purchase around 280,000 full-size handguns and 7,000 compact versions. Orders for another 212,000 pistols are expected from other services.