Although the U.S. Army has yet to publicly address a number of concerns about their newly adopted M17 and M18 modular pistol platforms, a military variant of the Sig Sauer P320, it would seem the Department of Defense is satisfied enough with the platform to start moving toward adopting the pistols force wide.
“All services have been involved in MHS since its inception … and they have all committed to ordering guns,” Tom Taylor, Sig Sauer’s Executive Vice President for Sales and Chief Marketing Officer said. “The U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Coast Guard all have orders that will be fielded starting later this year and early next year.”
The P320 first drew headlines as it, along with entrants from a number of other prominent firearms manufacturers, were competing for the highly lucrative contract to become the U.S. Army’s pistol of choice, but the platform has hit the news repeatedly since then because of claimed safety and reliability issues.
First, reports of the P320 discharging rounds when dropped at a specific angle (so the pistol’s dovetail strikes the ground first) made their way onto the web. Many were critical of these complaints, as drop testing regulations don’t require test drops from that specific angle. Others, however, argued that debating regulation semantics when it comes to the safety of a pistol that is going to be carried in combat conditions is dismissive of what could be a legitimate threat to the safety of service personnel.
Concerns about the platform’s safety and reliability once again made waves in the media in January, when a Defense Department report outlining a series of issues soldiers experienced testing the P320 was released to the public. Among these issues were a high failure rate when cycling standard ball ammunition (the P320 apparently only performed within DoD reliability standards when loaded with the Army’s new XM1153 “special purpose” hollow point ammunition), ejecting live rounds along with spent shells, and in two instances, the trigger assemblies in the pistols simply disintegrated during firing.
It is possible that all of these issues have either been addressed, or deemed too minor to stifle the $580 million contract already awarded to Sig Sauer by the Army. Sig did publicly address concerns about the pistol’s drop testing failures, offering a free upgrade for civilian platforms that replaced the trigger mechanisms to prevent that particular malfunction. As for the pistol’s inability to reliably fire the Defense Department’s standard forms of ammunition – some questions still remain.
It is possible the the DoD will shift toward the general issue and use of the hollow point XM1153 ammunition, but that decision could actually leave the United States open to allegations of committing war crimes in many of the nation’s American forces are currently operating in.
Although not banned by the Geneva convention as some have mistakenly claimed, the Hague Convention of 1899 bars the use of rounds that expand in use – such as hollow points – and although the United States never formally ratified the portion of the agreement that places this restriction on military ammunition, the nation has, for the most part, honored it nonetheless. Moving toward the general use of hollow points, though already adopted by most law enforcement within the United States, opens the nation up to criticisms about combat tactics – aside from the increased cost associated with the specialized ammunition.
Concerns about PR, of course, come second to operational capabilities, and it does seem as though the P320 performs admirably provided its fed the right ammo and doesn’t fall out of the hands of the operator. Enough so, in fact, that the Marine Corps requested funds to purchase 35,000 of the pistols in their fiscal year 2019 budget proposal.
There are, of course, some serious benefits to adopting one platform force wide. Individual costs per pistol drop dramatically with larger bulk orders, and costs associated with the development of training programs, maintaining the weapons and repairing them would all drop as well.
At this point, most branches actually maintain a stable of pistol platforms available to their units for specialized purposes. The Marine Corps, for instance, employs the standard Beretta M9s, along with updated M1911s and Glock 19s. According to current projections, the M17 and M18 platforms would enter into Marine Corps service and overlap the service lives of some of these other platforms, meaning that even if the Sig is adopted force wide, it will still be many years to come before it’s the only pistol in the hands of America forces in combat.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Army via Sig Sauer