In my days in the Navy, the issue handgun was a M1911, .45 ACP. You could hear it rattling as it came out of the holster but it went bang every time you squeezed the trigger. In fact, virtually all branches issued M1911 to individuals that had a requirement for a sidearm. In 1990 the DoD made a decision to replace the venerable M1911 with the Beretta 92F, a 9 x 19 semiautomatic pistol, with a magazine capacity of 15 rounds.
The catalyst for the move was the need to bring the U.S. in compliance with the N.A.T.O. standards, which today stand at 9mm, 5.56mm, 7.62mm. Standardization simplifies logistics and supply as well as maintenance.
In 2005, the U.S. Air Force issued a requirement for a Modular Handgun System (MHS). The USAF’s objective is to open the door to a sidearm with increased capabilities over the M9. The Air Force’s requirements document received the approval of the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS). Six years have passed since the MHS requirement and the M9 is still alive and well – or so I thought!
It now appears that the U.S. Army has reworked the original MHS document adding language that would include support for fire control devices, pistol grips, magazine options. Nothing that appears to be earth shattering and the existing M9A1 already meets that criteria. However, where the USAF’s MHS was caliber neutral, the Army seems to be interested in a caliber that would provide a larger permanent wound channel. The Army also wants the weapon to provide a good fit for a variety of hand sizes.
According to Col. Doug Tamilio, PM, Soldier weapons, the Army’s version of the MHS requirements document should be out sometime in 2011. Does this signal a move back to a modernized M1911 .45ACP or perhaps something chambered in a .40 S&W? It’s hard to say.
My thoughts on this issue may anger some, but what it should signal is a move back to the pistol range so that soldiers can receive adequate combat pistol training. A pistol is a last resort weapon and the key to success is not caliber but technique and shot placement. Most pistol calibers will not defeat body armor. The 9 x 19 mm comes as close to defeating body armor as anything else without adding another caliber to the fray.