If the Army chooses a pistol to replace the Beretta M9 chambered in a round other than the 9mm currently in service, then introduction and fielding of the handgun and its ammunition could take much longer than the two-year acquisition timeline, according to officials in charge of the service’s ammo supply.
The Army is running an open-caliber competition to find a Modular Handgun System (MHS) to replace the M9. That could, but does not necessarily mean, that the service could go with a pistol chambered in another round, leaving it with millions of rounds of ammunition on hand.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has publicly mocked the plan to test pistols for two years before replacing the M9 with a handgun that is available immediately to civilians consumers. Reports indicate Milley has inquired about hitching the Big Army to a plan by Army Special Operations Command to buy the 9mm Glock 19 pistol. In that case, the Army could field a brand new pistol that is compatible with existing ammunition-manufacturing industrial-base logistics and ammunition stocks.
But soldiers have complained that 9mm pistol ammunition is insufficiently powerful to stop an enemy at close range. For the same reason, some Marine Corps units have returned to the hefty .45 caliber Springfield 1911 that was both services standard sidearm in both world wars.
The transition from the 1911 to the Beretta – and from .45 cal. to 9mm — took several years when the M9 was adopted in the 1980s, according to Audra Calloway, a spokesperson for Picatinny Arsenal, in New Jersey.
“If a caliber of ammunition other than 9mm, or a 9mm round different from what is currently in use, is chosen for use in the winning Modular Handgun System, the transition to the new system would be expected to take several years, as weapons and ammunition are procured and fielded,” she told Defense Daily.
Existing stocks of 9mm ammunition would be used by soldiers armed with the current M9 handgun while follow-on procurements would build the inventory required to support the MHS fielding, he said.
“This is not unlike what was required in the mid-late 1980’s when the Army transitioned its pistols from .45 caliber to 9mm,” she said. “The Army doesn’t anticipate a major change in maintenance and logistics requirements for the MHS compared to the current 9mm handgun. However, every Army acquisition requires development of a sustainment plan and life cycle cost determination.”
Fulfilling the Army’s order is a huge undertaking, considering the service ultimately plans to purchase 280,000 full-size handguns and 7,000 compact versions. The manufacturer also will likely be tasked with building 212,000 pistols for other services.
The Army plans to award up to three indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (ID/IQ) contracts this year to three of a pool of half a dozen or so contenders in what it calls the XM-17 MHS program. After a series of validation and limited user tests, the Army plans to award a single 10-year contract worth up to $580 million.
MHS is also the first firearms procurement program in which the Army is asking competitors to supply ammunition for testing and to demonstrate the ability to produce thousands of rounds of ammunition by prescribed deadlines following a contract award.
The Army buys all of its 9mm ammo – and the 5.56mm rifle rounds used in the M4 carbine – from industry. The largest single source of small caliber rifle ammunition is Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, which is owned by the government, and operated under contract by Orbital ATK [OA].
The Winchester Division of Olin Corporation [OLN] also produces significant quantities of rifle and pistol ammunition at its privately owned production plants. The Army’s ammunition appetite is astoundingly huge, though the budget to feed the service’s small arms is relatively small.
In fiscal 2015, the Army spent $35 million on 103 million 5.56mm rifle rounds. It spent another $8.5 million on 40.6 million 9mm rounds. Annual consumption is sourced from existing stock and production. The Army in fiscal 2015 fired 303 million rounds of 5.56mm ammo and 32.4 million rounds of 9mm.
In the current fiscal year, the totals are $43.5 million for 135 million 5.56 rounds and $6.8 million for 34 million rounds of 9mm.
“As you can see, the budgets do change each year as the Army adjusts its budget requests to the Congress to account for inventory levels, past training and combat consumption and projected future needs,” Calloway said. “Ammunition is budgeted for and bought each year.”
The Army is required to maintain an inventory of all ammunition within the distribution system in the United States and overseas at all times. The inventory management tools are maintained by the Defense Department to maintain a holistic picture of the military’s entire ammunition stocks. Access to that information is controlled for operational security purposes.
The Army’s ammunition inventory is purchased and maintained separately from the other services. Common items – such as small caliber ammunition – are funded and inventoried separately by each service.