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Replacing the Beretta M9: Is it Truly Necessary? U.S. Army photo

Replacing the Beretta M9: Is it Truly Necessary?

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With the war in Afghanistan “winding down,” the U.S. military is assessing its current stock of equipment and weaponry to determine its needs for the future.

Over more than a decade of war, there is little doubt that America’s military equipment has been used and abused. Some of that equipment, like the HMMWV (Humvee), proved inadequate to the tasks at hand. The wars of the 21st century, as with any war, have subsequently seen a variety of military innovations to address the shortcomings of tactics and weapons. These innovations have largely been the result of facing new battlefield threats, like improvised explosive devices (IED).

But what hasn’t seen much innovation is the technology around pistols. Despite this, the Army and Air Force, have marked their standard issue side-arm, the Beretta M9, for replacement.

As the defense budget shrinks, the Army especially needs to think clearly about what its requirements are for a future warfighting scenario. This means considering both the lifespan, utility, and expected usage of any new weapons. Replacing an entire weapons system when it may not be absolutely necessary is something that could be delayed for a period of budgetary increases when the Army can afford to do so.

The cost of replacing the Army’s 230,000+ M9 pistols will inevitably cost hundreds of millions of dollars in a time of shrinking budgets. Disregarding the costs for the pistol itself, there could be additional costs in ammunition, training, holsters, and other support for the system. Additionally, cost overruns that are typical of military contracts must also be factored into the total tab.

Furthermore, pistols are simply not a war winning weapon. They are backup weapons. While our troops should have the best, most reliable equipment possible, in a world of finite resources, the Army would be better off investing in the tools of warfare most likely to have an impact in protecting the lives of our soldiers and allowing them to accomplish their missions. A new standard-issue pistol system will not change the way America fights its wars, tactically or strategically.

In the world of small arms technology, there is nothing so revolutionary as to justify the expense of replacing the current arsenal without data to support it.

Over the past century, there have been no advances in pistol weaponry as significant as the revolution seen in rifles. Moving from a bolt action, to a semi-automatic, to the intermediate cartridge assault rifle patterns of the Kalashnikov and M-16/M-4, pistols simply have not experienced the same types of improvements. The ammunition has remained much the same, and the patterns of the weapons have remained much the same. The materials may have changed, but the basic function of the weapons has not.

So why then is the Army so intent on replacing the M9?

Let’s look at two of the major complaints:

  1. 9mm isn’t powerful enough. There is no objective data to support this claim. By their nature, pistol rounds do not carry the same kinetic energy as a rifle round. When it comes to the lethality of pistol ammunition, the most important factor is shot placement. This boils down to proper marksmanship training. The only major lethality-increasing change to military pistol-caliber ammunition is the use of the hollow point rounds, which is explicitly banned in warfare by the Hague Convention of 1899. 9mm is also one of the most commonly used military rounds used worldwide.
  2. Reliability. Objective data is required to verify this. The M9 has far exceeded its testing requirements. If there are issues with field reliability, this needs to be objectively tested. Maintenance records must also be kept in order to track down issues. How much are they used? Which parts have been replaced? Where did those parts come from? If the Army needs to solve reliability issues, these issues will persist with a new weapon if the army is unwilling to track the data on the system. Are non-OEM parts are being used, such as magazines or springs, and what role do they play in reliability? How does the reliability in challenging environmental conditions hold up to other weaponry in the arsenal? Could better maintenance training improve reliability?

Giving the Army the benefit of the doubt, let’s assume the M9s are actually worn out. Does this mean the entire inventory? Does this mean a selection of pistols? Does this mean that specific components are worn out? If it is just specific components, then the Army should replace those components. If it is individual pistols, the Army should replace those individual pistols.

The Army also recently issued a contract for 100,000 new M9 pistols in 2012, replacing a significant portion of the current stock. If half the inventory is being replaced already, why does the army then need to re-replace those brand new pistols?

At this time, there are simply too many unanswered questions surrounding a potential M9 replacement to endorse a competition for a new pistol. If the Army deems it is necessary to replace, it should first demonstrate with data that the current system is a liability to our soldiers, and that proper comprehensive training cannot correct the claimed deficiencies.

8 Comments

  1. From my most recent experiences what is necessary is more emphasis on small arms marksmanship, more range time and more range practice matched with increased qualification and tactical live fire exercises. In almost all cases(outside of SF and Infantry units that are given the required time and training) the weapon is not the deficiency it is operator related. With good training and proper maintenance the Beretta is fine – preference aside. It is the Army – not choose your own adventure and equipment. Standards for small arms marksmanship are not high enough and prep to meet those standards(especially in support units) is not nearly what it should be and is not a great service to servicemen and women who should be proficient and well versed in the weapons systems design to allow them to do their job in combat.

  2. I have to agree that there’s no “urgent need” for a new military handgun . The move to the M9 was expensive and not without it’s own detractors. Many folks wanted to keep the old 1911’s in stock “just in case”. If we were to replace the handgun it would make more sense to adopt a short carbine with a folding stock in 5.56/223 that accepts the same magazine as the M16 rifle. Interchangability is a mission useful quality.

  3. As a former Weapons Tester and Inspector for Beretta USA, I can personally attest to the M9’s quality and accuracy. Having shot several types of pistols, the M9 out shines them all. I have been through the rigorous testing that is required for M9 and believe me when I say that nothing is left to chance. Beretta USA takes extraordinary measures to ensure their weapons perform to the highest standard in the field. Their quality assurance is second to none.

  4. As an M9 owner, I can certainly attest to the quality of the Beretta M9. It is a very accurate shooting pistol, and it never, ever malfunctions. I fire this weapon on a weekly basis at the range and it is an absolute joy. All companies should put this kind of effort into the quality of their pistols. With all the complaints that I see on the internet now of people saying the 1911 should have never been retired, I can only imagine when the M9 is replaced, how many people will miss this gun. I know I will.

  5. As a vietnam vet,11bravo, I still have my .45 army issued-never could hit anything with it-did not have to, the m-16 worked ok-I have the Betetta 92fs (civilian version of the m-9) Excellant,dependable & accurate The powers that be should keep what they have

  6. I think Beretta is a fine arms designer/maker, no doubt about it. Instead of asking the army if they can make some modifications they really should just make those modifications. I’ve held the 92f,(not fired) & its a brick for my small hands. I wont even consider it for purchase. In order to ensure a shooters proficiency for such a large number of people, adjustable grip sizes is essential! One army reason is the average soldier shot tighter groups with other pistols in one informal test. The M9 is a great gun, but its just too big. The other issues like slide safety, open slide are easily “fixed” just add a modular grip component to the design. And one very important move, test it, then market it to the commercial market, then wait for the beuracracy to fail any competition. They will come running!

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