The Beretta M9A3 (Beretta)

Dr. Beretta, sir, you are a genius.

After delivering over 600,000 M9 pistols to the DOD and on the heels of being awarded a new contract for up to 100,000 M9s, Beretta USA announced today the presentation of the M9A3 to the US Army. The M9A3 introduces major improvements to the M9 that will increase the operational effectiveness and operational suitability of the weapon. The improvements include design and material enhancements resulting in increased modularity, reliability, durability, and ergonomics.  They are being submitted via an Engineering Change Proposal (ECP) in accordance with the terms of the current M9 contract.

Made in the U.S.A. by an American workforce since 1987, the M9 has been the sidearm of the U.S. Armed Forces for nearly 30 years; serving with U.S. service men and women in training and combat operations throughout the world. The M9A3 is designed for the next 30 years – delivering 21st century capability and features while increasing usability and reliability.

“The M9A3 represents the next generation military handgun utilizing the best of the legacy M9 combined with proven COTS modifications that increase performance and durability” stated Gabriele de Plano, Vice President of Military Marketing and Sales for Beretta USA. Mr. de Plano added, “After listening closely to the needs of U.S. Army and other Service small arms representatives, we determined the M9, much like its counterpart legacy weapon systems (M4, M16, M240, etc.), was capable of being upgraded through material and design changes. The resulting M9A3 we are offering to the DOD will likely cost less than the current M9 and answer almost all of the Services’ enhanced handgun requirements.”

The M9A3 features a thin grip with a removable, modular wrap-around grip, MIL-STD-1913 accessory rail, removable front and rear tritium sights, extended and threaded barrel for suppressor use, 17-round sand resistant magazine, and numerous improved small components to increase durability and ergonomics, all in an earth tone finish.

“Furthermore, the M9A3 benefits from having a law enforcement and commercial variant that will be launched at S.H.O.T. Show 2015 in Las Vegas, NV” stated Rafe Bennett, Vice President of Product Marketing for Beretta USA. Mr. Bennett added, “The M9A3 offered to the DOD is the exact gun that consumers will be able to purchase in the second quarter of 2015.”

While it isn’t mentioned even once in the press release, the clear goal of the M9A3 is to derail the Army’s Modular Handgun System (MHS) competition to replace the existing M9 pistol.

Beretta is adding some of the desired characteristics of the MHS program (thinner modular grip, Picatinny rail, threaded barrel, earth-tone finish, etc) and promising that the pistol will “likely”cost less than the existing M9. It’s an enticing offer, designed to give the Army a “known known” that will require minimal retraining, extend the current (and presumably comfortable) working relationship between Beretta and the military, address some of the military’s gripes about the pistol, with the added possibility of being less expensive (per unit) than current contract M9s.

The House Armed Services Committee will exert considerable political pressure to simply shelve the Modular Handgun System competition (which they don’t like) and buy the M9A3 as a replacement for the current generation of M9s.

Beretta is smart enough to the foresight to work against the MHS contract on one hand and exploit the House Armed Services Committee desire to kill the MHS program, while no-doubt prepping a PX4 Storm variant for MHS competition if the program moves ahead. They’re covering all their bases, which is part of the reason Beretta has been around since the 1500s.

It is my opinion, however, that while the M9A3 is indeed an improvement over the existing M9, it simply fails to address the major shortcomings of the platform. The open-top slide, structural design weaknesses in the barrel, locking block, and frame, poorly placed slide-mounted safety, substantial grip size/ergonomic issues, DA/SA action, and 9mm NATO chambering all work against the pistol. The M9 is an aged design, and gets the lowest marks of all small arms (PDF) used by U.S. military combat-experienced servicemen for both durability and reliability.

All of the pistols that meet the specifications of the MHS program will be a tremendous improvement over the Beretta M9.

They’ll fire harder-hitting ammunition (the .45 ACP is presumed to be the round to beat), have far superior ergonomics to fit a much wider range of shooters comfortably, will get back on target faster, and will be truly modular and mission adaptable.

The M9A3 looks to be a decent pistol… but our soldiers deserve better.