Modular Handgun System
The Modular Handgun System (MHS) is a United States Army and United States Air Force competition for a new handgun. The Modular Handgun System is anticipated to be the next U.S. military standard side arm replacing the M9 pistol.
The main reason for the program is for the same reason that the M1911A1 was replaced by the M9 previously: the pistols were at the end of their service life and wearing out. All firearms have a finite life cycle. While parts such as the barrel, grips, springs, pins, and others can be replaced, the frame cannot. With use, the frame becomes unserviceable. The M9, in service since the 1980s, is approaching this limit. Examples in service are showing signs of terminal wear, and rather than replacing them with newly built M9s, the Army is opting for a new weapon to address design weaknesses. Vital structural components on the M9 like the barrel, frame, and locking block are prone to breaking, especially on the oldest models. Special Forces use pistols more often and reach the end of the M9's service life relatively fast, and regular troops are also reaching their handgun's end lifecycle through sheer age. Special Operators have opted for other side arms like the Sig Sauer P226 and P228 (Navy SEALs) as well as the Glock 19 (Army Rangers) and Glock 22 (Delta Force). Conventional soldiers have problems with M9 features, or lack thereof, including no accessory rail or suppressor attachment, an ergonomically poor grip, a heavy trigger pull, poor safety selector placement, and an open slide that lets in debris and can cause malfunction.
The U.S. Army initially required the MHS to be more effective, accurate, and reliable than the M9 pistol. The MHS requirement called for a non-caliber specific weapon with modular features to allow for the adaption of different fire control devices, pistol grips, and alternate magazine options. The weapon will fit various hand sizes and will mount targeting enablers using Picatinny rails. The new weapon will incorporate detection avoidance by having a non-reflective neutral color and will be operable with sound and flash suppressor kit in place.
In January 2013, the Army released a Request for Information (RFI) to assess available handgun technologies and U.S. small arms industrial production capacity for the Modular Handgun System. The announcement seeks information “on potential improvements in handgun performance in the areas of accuracy and dispersion out to 50 meters, terminal performance, modularity, reliability, and durability in all environments.” The handgun should have a 90 percent or more chance of hitting in a 4 inch circle out to 50 meters consistently throughout the weapon's lifetime. Ergonomic design should minimize recoil energies and control shot dispersion. Features include, but are not limited to, compatibility with accessory items to include tactical lights, lasers, and sound suppressors. Full ambidextrous controls are required and there is interest in ergonomic designs that can be controlled by female shooters. There is no specific caliber, but terminal ballistics at 50 meters through 14 inches of ballistics gel will assess lethality compared to M882 9mm rounds. Specific interest is given to pistols that can accommodate higher chamber pressures over 20 percent greater than SAAMI spec for the cartridge without degradation of reliability. The RFI calls for 2,000 mean rounds between stoppages, 10,000 mean rounds between failures, and a 35,000 round service life. Manufacturers are asked to provide production capacity estimates on minimum and maximum monthly rates, as well as the lead times to achieve those rates. Estimated pricing is requested for quantities of 250,000 to 550,000 handguns.
The requirement for the new pistol originated with the MHS program initiated by the Air Force in 2008. It has received Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) validation. The MHS program was to select a commercial off-the-shelf handgun in financial year (FY) 2011–2012. Testing was to be completed by FY2013 and type classification was expected in FY2014.
Testing and evaluation of replacement pistols was expected to begin in early 2014. The new pistol will also be carried by more soldiers, namely squad and team leaders. A three-year test and evaluation will determine if a commercial off-the-shelf contender can replace all 239,000 M9s, as well as the concealable M11. The program is in conjunction with the Air Force. The House Armed Services Committee is still pushing to upgrade the M9 rather than pursue a new program. Project officers believe buying a new pistol is cheaper than improving and maintaining the M9 and offers designs that outperform it. The three-year engineering, manufacturing, and development (EMD) phase will test a variety of capabilities including accuracy, dispersion, compatibility, and corrosion resistance. Pistols will be tested in extreme weather and extreme combat conditions. A request for proposals was expected to be issued in January 2014. The Army plans to buy 265,000 new pistols.
The Army plans to hold an industry day for the MHS on 29 July 2014. The program is looking to replace the entire handgun system, which includes the gun, ammo, holster, and some other parts. Due to the poor reception of the 9 mm cartridge in combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, the program will be an open-caliber competition to evaluate larger rounds like the .357 Sig, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. Although the objective is for a round with better terminal ballistics, the argument for adopting a larger bullet has disadvantages. The FBI and certain police forces have reversed earlier decisions to replace their 9 mm pistols with ones chambered for .40 S&W because the heavier bullet and greater recoil caused excessive wear and frame damage. Law enforcement personnel have found that even marginally larger pistol rounds are still too underpowered to kill a person with one shot, and that smaller rounds allow for better shot placement when firing rapidly. Beretta has submitted changes and product improvements to the M9 system, like the M9A1 accepted by the U.S. Marine Corps in 2006, but the Army has maintained that the M9 system does not meet their MHS requirements.
- Outdated Weapons Bring Calls for Speedier Upgrades - Nationaldefensemagazine.com, January 2013
- Efforts Continue to Replace Army, Air Force Small Arms - Nationaldefensemagazine.com, January 2014
- "Emerging Technologies". 10 November 2010. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
- U.S. Army Explores Potential Modular Handgun Systems - Defensemedianetwork.com, January 15, 2013
- Testing of M9 replacement to start next year - Armytimes.com, 23 July 2013
- Army Wants a Harder-Hitting Pistol - Military.com, 3 July 2014