Paul M. Barrett never ceases to amuse me as a writer.

He’s the assistant managing editor and a senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek who write about firearms constantly, and yet, quite obviously finds them distasteful. Barrett dances around the fringes of the gun culture, but isn’t a part of if and doesn’t fully understand it. As a result, everything he writes on the subject carries with it a lack of credibility… it’s like taking sex advice from a monk.

He’s now tackled the competition to replace the military’s aging handgun, the 9mm Beretta M9, and he thinks he’s got it all figured out.

Glock vs. Smith & Wesson: A Shootout for the Pentagon’s New Pistol Contract

For gun manufacturers, no customer rivals the Pentagon for prestige and revenue potential. That’s why, after years of anticipation, firearm makers are mobilizing for the U.S. Army’s imminent competition to replace the Beretta M9 pistol, the American soldier’s standard sidearm since 1985.

The procurement process for several hundred thousand new pistols formally begins in January and is expected to last about two years. Based on more than 15 years of reporting on the gun business, I’d identify the early favorites as a much-improved Smith & Wesson (SWHC), which enjoys a made-in-the-USA marketing edge, and the formidable Glock of Austria.

Unfortunately, Barrett—like most pundits opining on the MHS contract—hasn’t apparently spent any time reading what the Army says that it wants from the MHS program.

We’ll point to the Wikipedia page for the Modular Handgun System (MHS) as a good starting point for looking at the requirements for the pistol. While Wikipedia is regularly (and deservedly) panned for the quality of their entries in general, the MHS page is riveting for it’s style and level of detail that suggests someone within the MHS program itself is maintaining the Wikipedia page.

Let’s look specifically at the all-important “Requirements” section of the page, and see how Barrett’s supposition holds up.

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.[3]

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.[4]

Let’s unpack that first paragraph describing the physical characteristics of the desired weapon system.

  • non-caliber specific
  • modularity that allows for different operating systems, grips, and alternate magazines
  • must fit various hand sizes
  • Picatinny rails
  • suppressor-capable

The devil, as always, is in the details.

[article continues on next page]