Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Beretta M9 Automatic Pistol:

The Beretta M9 Automatic Pistol:

I've done a thread on US service sidearms, and another on Italian military pistols; but never one wholly dedicated to one of my favorites; Beretta's 92FS/M9. I just picked up an M9A1 and finished kitting it out, so i thought I would show it and my other two off today. Also, recently I found a new home for my 2005 production M9, so soon it will be handed over to a new owner after nearly a decade of being mine. So this is a Goodbye dedication to it too, a pistol that has served me well and never once malfunctioned on me. I've always enjoyed shooting it and most everyone I've ever let do so too liked it. More than a couple ended up buying one later themselves.
I took parts out of my 2 old threads; updated, corrected, and edited them to form part of this one. Most here though has been newly shitted out for your cullenary enjoyment!
Much like the classic debate over Cats vs. Dogs, we have the one that goes something like the M1911A1 vs. the M9. So lets wade into the world of military politics, backroom dealing, and arm chair commando'ing.

Born In Italy:

(Original first pattern 92 from the 1970s)

The Beretta M92FS or M9, is the most famous Italian pistol today, at least in the U.S.A. There is much out there on this design, so i won't even attempt to reproduce it all here. It is extremely interesting to look at Beretta's first automatic, the Brevetto 1915, and compare it to the 92FS. The lineage is more than a bit apparent. Of course the Beretta 92FS is the American general issue sidearm today, for all military branches, under the designation of M9.

The model took inspiration from the 1951, but was a new design. Development lasted from 1972 until 1975, with a limited production run in 1976. In the late 1970s Pietro Beretta introduced the 92 as their next-generation military and police handgun. It used the same Walther pattern falling block locking system as the 1951, as well as the same open topped slide; but there the similarities ended. The 92 is a double action / single action automatic handgun, with lever type safety, 4.9" long barrel, lightweight alloy frame, and double stack magazine with a standard capacity of 15 rounds. extended magazines are available too. The design quickly was altered to meet the needs of its users.

(A 92S, the first major variant in the family)

The 92S variant introduced a combination decocker/safety leverrelocated to the slide, something requested by police agencies in both Europe and North America. Originally, it was located at the rear of the pistol's frame, similar to an FN High Power. The 92S-1 was an altered 92S, with the magazine release moved from the heel to behind the trigger guard, new ambidextrous safety, and vertical texturing applied to the grip straps. The mag catch could be reversed, to suit either handed shooter also. It was created for the first round of US military trials held in 1981.

(A 92SB, with updated controls and firing pin block)

The 92S-1 morphed into the 92SB which introduced an automatic firing pin block, making the pistol drop-safe. The 92G had a decocker only safety lever, and was made to fulfill the needs of the French military. The 92SBF version was built for the 1984 U.S. military XM9 trials. It had a chrome lined barrel, as well as a corrosion resistant finish to all of the metal parts. Beretta's name for this type of blued finish is Bruniton. It also had a reshaped trigger guard and 100% parts interchangeability. The designation of 92SBF was shortened to 92F in 1987, after the pistol had won the XM9 military trials.
The 92DS is a 92F, with a double action only trigger and bobbed hammer. The 92D is the same firearm, but lacking a manual safety. Finally, the 92FS is an updated 92F, with improved metalergy and safety features. It became the new M9 standard in 1989. Beretta has released many other versions of the 92 design, some in different calibers and/or with compact slides.

Trials and Tribulations in the USA:

(early commercial M9 'Special Edition,' with original style metal parts)

The famous or infamous Beretta M9 pistol. Some like it, some hate it, and most just like to hate it, but will actually admit its not bad if forced to do so. As with the M1911 nearly 75 years before, the Beretta underwent years of testing and product improvement before it was officially adopted into the United States Armed Forces as the Model 9 service pistol. It is still very much the current standard issue sidearm today, despite frequently reoccurring rumours of its demise.

The story of the M9 goes back to the formation of the Joint Services Small Arms Planning Commission in the late 1970s. This was the group that decided that America's military should transition away from the .45 ACP cartridge, and adopt the 9x19mm round in order to have a common handgun cartridge with other NATO member nations. Thus in 1979, trials for a new handgun were announced and it was to be chambered for a slightly modernized version of the 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge, later designated as 9mm NATO. Ironically nearly the same cartridge had been tested by the US military in 1907, when it first looked at the Luger. This decision had the unintended side effect of making many marines' heads explode.

In 1980, Beretta's entry of the 92S-1 for the first round of trials conducted by the Air Force wonout over others submitted by such companies as Colt, Smith & Wesson, FNH, and H&K. Naturally, feeling that a bunch of flyboys couldn't know much about firearms, the Army contested the results of the trial. Keep in mind, it was also the Air Force that spearheaded the adoption of the M16. A rifle system so terrible , that it only has lasted over 50 years in military service. So in 1981, the Army announced a new round of testing to be administrated by themselves, with their own particular criteria and standards. Again Colt, H&K, SIG, and Beretta submitted pistols; and the Colt M1911A1 was used as a control. Beretta this time submitted its product improved 92SB and it failed the trials. Don't worry though, every other pistol did too, including the entry from SIG. Most who studied all of the standards and guidelines agree, that this round of testing was rigged to favour the M1911A1. Why would the Army do that? so it could keep the well loved old Colt and its .45 ACP cartridge as standard issue.

Though the USMC was perfectly happy with the outcome of this last round of pistol trials, the USAF was not. Neither was Congress, who ordered a third round in 1983, and just to tweek the Army's nose, the budget line for funding to purchase additional .45 ACP ammunition was cut. So basically, either choose something in 9mm or learn to fire rocks out of the M1911A1 when ammo stocks run out in a few years.

In 1984, the XM9 trials were held, with entries from Colt, S&W, FNH, H&K, SIG Sauer, Steyr, Walther, and Beretta. Again, Beretta submitted an improved design, the 92SBF. Half of the designs were disqualified early on for technical reasons, and the Walther and FN didn't pass initial durability testing. In the end, it was between the Beretta 92SBF and the SIG Sauer P226. The two ran neck and neck for a time, with the beancounters even getting involved to see which pistol package would be less expensive, even down to literally a few cents. Naturally, the Beretta 92SBF pistol won again, and naturally many still continued to protest. A rumour has even been widely circulated that Beretta was tipped off (illegally) to SIG's bid, so it could come in with a lower one. No hard evidence has ever come to light to support the accusation though. What is very clear is that Beretta really wanted that contract and would have done just about anything to win it. I think in the end, they simply wanted it more than SIG Sauer, who was already starting to show more interest in the law enforcement market.
Despite every objection and obsticle, in January of 1985, the 92SBF was officially adopted into US military service as the Model 9 automatic pistol. The Army, Air Force, and Navy all agreed to the new design; but the Marines resisted and the Coast Guard did not have the funds for large scale purchasing at the time. Nevertheless, adoption moved forward, with M9 manufacturing transitioning from Beretta's Italian factory, to their one in Accokeek, MD USA.

Shortly after adoption, two problems were noticed. First off, cracking was observed in the frame, behind the grip. A military study concluded this issue did not pose as a danger to the shooter and was only cosmetically displeasing. Nevertheless, Beretta was ordered to fix the problem if it wanted to retain its nice fat government contract. So by 1988, a retrofit was developed for the frame which successfully prevented further cracks from appearing. The other issue was more serious and had to do with M9 slides. In 1987, it seems some slides were breaking and flying back to hit the shooters. These run-away slides killed over 500 US serviceman and Beretta never even said 'sorry!'
No not really, only 3 slides actually separated from their frames in the field and no one was seriously harmed, much less killed. During testing, the military was able to reproduce the malfunction 11 times, most occurring after 10,000 rounds and some not until after over 30,000. Still this was not acceptable and the problem was eventually traced back to slides manufactured with too soft metal produced in Italy. Some also claimed (including Beretta themselves) the malfunctions were due in part to over pressure ammunition having been used, though this doesn't seem to have been the case. In 1988, the metalergy was improved and M9s began to be 100% made in the USA at Beretta's US factory. A hammer pin with an enlarged head was added to Beretta's improved 92FS design, which even if the slide did break; would not allow it to separate from the frame.

As a result of M9 problems, the XM10 trials were held in 1988 and again Beretta won, with the product improved 92FS, which became the new milspec for the M9. By 1990, the new pistol began to see widespread use throughout all branches of the military, replacing old 1911s and revolvers, of which many dated back to WWII and even WWI.

A Maturing Service Sidearm:

(M9 '20th Anniversary Edition,' with late style polymer parts)

Despite all of the negativity surrounding it and a bit of a rocky start, the M9 has actually prooven to be a decent service sidearm. It replaced a single action only design with a7 round magazine, whose safety could only be engaged once the hammer was back afterall. The M9 has a smooth trigger in double action, and an acceptably short and crisp single action pull. It is lighter than the old Colt, but retains a 5" barrel, and its sights are easier to acquire. It holds 15+1 rounds, and the safety is both ambidextrous and can be engaged with the hammer down. This means the slide can be fully racked, with the safety constantly engaged, which can be useful in certain situations. The M9 is reliable and durable, and not highly succeptible to harsh climates. It is easier to field strip and clean than the M1911 as well. So have I sold you yet? Of course the Beretta isn't perfect and has its downsides too, but its not the worst thing ever and the 9mm cartridge can be just as leathal as a .45. The top three complaints that soldiers express about this pistol are: its caliber, its weight, and its grip size. On the other hand, many like its large capacity and its low felt recoil. As to caliber, don't blame the Beretta. The US government wanted a 9mm, and no matter which handgun was going to be selected, it was going to be in that caliber. I am sure Beretta would have offered a version of the 92 in .45 ACP if the trials had called for such a thing.

In 1985, the US military placed an initial order for just under 316,000 pistols with Beretta USA. Then in 1989, a second large order for 50,000 was placed. Throughout the 1990s, Beretta delivered pistols to all branches of the military at regular intervals, with completion in 1998.

In 2002, the USAF ordered an additional 19,000 M9s as the war in Afghanistan was heating up. 60,000 more were ordered in 2005 and were to be distributed to all branches of the military, as everyone was needing more sidearms in Iraq.

Since 1990, the M9's design and construction has changed very little. Really only some of the small parts are different today. Around 2001, the magazine catch, lanyard ring, and trigger were switched from metal to polymer. Well actually, the trigger has a steel core, with a polymer outer coating. The magazine floorplate was changed from one made of metal, to one made of the same polymer; at least on Beretta and Mec-Gar magazines. The grip screws were changed from having a slotted head, to a hex type. A short time later, the hollow round steel guide rod was replaced with a fluted polymer one. Finally, a few years later, the safety too was switched to polymer, which some sources claim also has a metal core (but I myself have not varified this). Naturally, using polymer parts did save on weight a bit and was less expensive, but those were not the only reasons. The polymer mag catch puts less wear on magazines and the polymer baseplate withstands being dropped onto the ground better. The polymer safety and trigger can not rust like steel parts could, which since these parts make contact with often sweaty hands regularly, is a consideration. Of course the one switch that is often most criticized is the polymer guide rod. Actually though, this is a clear upgrade from the original. The round rod could trap sand in between the slide, hampering the pistol's performance. This is why the new rod is fluted. The old rod was partially hollow, so it was possible to bend it in extreme situations, such as dropping the pistol muzzle first onto a hard surface, with the slide retracted or by launching it into a wall during disassembly. A metal rod could bend slightly and impact the pistol's functioning, but a polymer rod is either fine or broken in two. No ambiguity there as to if you have a servicible or junk part.

Internally, the only change of note occurred to the locking block. In the early 1990s, just after the M9 began to see deployment in real numbers, Beretta introduced a new stronger block. This was done to insure the pistol could handle a continuous diet of 9mm +P ammunition, without experiencing a major breakage that is. Finally, around 2000, at least some M9s were manufactured with a backstrap that was scalloped slightly at the top. I know this was done with commercial 92FSs to allow shooters with smaller hands to obtain a higher grip, however only recently have I learned that some military M9s also feature it. Still though, the design has changed remarkably little considering how long it has been not only in production, but in the field under actual combat conditions. That has to say something about Beretta and its original 92FS design. Even the legendary M1911 had to be updated with some changes, after it saw real world use during and after WWI.

the 21st Century M9A1:

(Current production M9A1, with milspec Crimson Trace LG402m laser grips and CMR202 weapons light)

The M9 began its service in the first Gulf War, and has since seen action all around the globe. There was discussion in the early 2000s of replacing the Beretta with a different design; which many were hoping would hail a return to the .45 ACP cartridge. Both the Army and Special Operations Forces went as far as combining their efforts in the Joint Combat Pistol Program, in 2005. The JCP called for a .45 pistol, with and without a manual safety, and the ability to except extended capacity magazines and to be able to mount lasers and lights. Commercially available models from many manufacturers were discussed. These included ones from S&W, H&K, SIG, FNH, and Beretta.

However, in 2006, further funding for research and testing of possible M9 replacements under the JCP Program was drastically cut. Then the Army withdrew and it became just the CP Program lead only by Spec-Ops. At the same time, the M9A1 was accepted into service by the USMC, who were tired of the Army and Air Force arguing over what exactly the requirements for the new wonder pistol should be. Instead, the USMC took a prooven design and requested a few minor but important updates.

The M9A1 is a modernized Beretta M9 with the addition of a Picatinny rail under the barrel. The trigger guard was strengthened and reshaped, to allow easy use with lights and lasers mounted on the rail. The grip was also redesigned with checkered front and back straps, as well as having a beveled magazine well. It includes a new type of magazine, with a sand releaf groove running vertically on each side. Additionally, the magazine has a new PVD applied 'anti-friction' finish, which is supposed to offer greater feeding reliability in dry and dusty environments.

The USMC originally ordered 3,500 M9A1s, and increased its order to 7,500 at the end of 2006. Two years later, it ordered 500 additional pistols. Other branches though continued to use and even order new standard M9s. In 2007, the Army and Navy together ordered 10,500 standard M9s, to replace wornout or destroyed sidearms. So what happened to the CP Program and the would-be .45 replacement for the M9? Basically it was killed altogether that same year.

At the beginning of 2010, when the M9 reached its 25th adoption anniversary, Beretta stated at the time, that over 800,000 pieces had been purchased and delivered to the United States military. By the beginning of 2014, thousands more M9 and M9A1s have been shipped out. The military estimates that as many as 1,000,000 M9s will be in service before the model is retired. It has successfully out lived any possible replacements that have come along to date.

M9 Magazines & Gear:

(Early all parkerized metal, modern parkerized with polymer base, PVD metal with polymer base, and Airtronic contract parkerized magazines)

Several different makes and types of magazines have been used in and issued with the M9 pistol. During the 1980s, they were Beretta factory which I believe even back then were made under contract by Mec-Gar. In the 1990s, the military purchased some mags directly from Mec-Gar, before switching to ones manufactured in the USA by Check-Mate. CM was awarded the contract for a simple reason, it had the lowest bid and was considered a 'low risk' contracter. Much has been made today about how CM mags are unreliable junk, but honestly it isn't the company's fault. It built magazines to the military specs it was given, heavy phosphated coating and all. Of course, with such a low bid, CM did cut some manufacturing corners too.

It was these CM mags that Americans went to war with in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001-2003. In those harsh environments, they prooved to be less than reliable. In particular, the milspec coating used was found to attract and collect sand and dust, especially when well oiled. When not well oiled though, magazines could sometimes stick, and since the inside of the mag tube was also phosphated, the follower itself could fail to rise properly; causing feed problems. In 2005, the military looked into the numerous reports of M9 failures in the field, and came to the conclusion that the magazines were primarily to blame.

In 2006, a contest was held to select a new vender to supply M9 magazines to the military. The three main contenders were Triple K, Airtronic, and Check-Mate. With the lowest bid and an improved mag design, Airtronic was awarded the contract in 2008. The company claims it referred to the original Beretta/Mec-Gar blueprints and notes, when designing its version of the M9 magazine. Of course it also had to conform to milspec requirements too. It was still phosphated, but with a thinner/smoother coating, and the inside of the tube wasn't as heavily finished either. The baseplate was changed to thinner stamped steel to both save on weight and cost also.
After loosing the contract, Check-Mate went back and redesigned its own magazine model. Mec-Gar, though it didn't enter into recent US military mag trials, has kept its own 92FS/M9 magazines up to date, including an improved phosphate finish and polymer baseplate. Beretta itself designed the M9A1 type magazine in 2005, with its enhanced PVD coating.

Today the military issues several types of magazines for the M9. Older MG and CM ones are still in inventory, there are plenty of Airtronics floating around, and many Beretta PVD mags are now in the field. On top of those, recently CM was given another chance and several of its new, improved magazines were purchased in 2012. Though nothing mechanical can ever be made 100% reliable, in all environments, all of the time; these new generation mags are performing much better than the older ones. Also keep in mind that when the milspec finish for the M9 magazine was outlined in the 1980s, planners were concerned with protecting the metal from moisture, as Vietnam and tropical warfare were still on their minds. It took time and a bit of trial and error to adapt the weapon system for optimal performance in a desert climate.

Most agree that the factory PVD mags work the best in Iraq, with phosphated MGs coming in as a close second. Airtronics aren't quite thought of as highly, but I've been unable to find many specific cases where a failure was directly attributable to their magazine. Even the newer CMs are doing fine. In other words, it appears as if most of the kinks have been worked out of the design now.

(A current production Beretta factory extended 30rd magazine)

As for capacity, the standard M9 magazine holds 15 rounds; however, the pistol can feed from any 92FS comparable magazine. Early on, Beretta also offered an extended 20 rounder for use in the select fire variant, and for law enforcement users of the semi 92 series. Recently, an enlarged capacity and flush fit version was released, which holds 17 cartridges. If that is still not enough firepower, Beretta just released a long 30 rounder, with grip extension. 30 round mags have been available on the aftermarket for years, but they were never terribly reliable. The new factory high-capper though is prooving to be about as reliable as any 9mm magazine so long with such a strong spring, can be.

(Bianchi 2 pocket pouch, a single pocket pouch, and milspec lanyard cord)

(M12 Bianchi holster, with M1025 belt)

The M12 ambidextrous universal holster was designed by Bianchi in the 1980s, specifically for the US military to use with the M9. Though many soldiers use newer, more modern holster designs today, the M12 is still the official general issue M9 holster. Other accessories include the M1025 dual magazine pouch (also by Bianchi), the M1015 pistol belt, and a nylon lanyard cord. Often times though, soldiers private purchase gear that they feel better suits their individual needs and tastes. Several different makes and models of pouches have NSNs, and often rather than using an official lanyard, simple para-cord is substituded for.

Because Everyone Else Is Doing it, the M9 vs....
I am going to try and keep this short, but I will probably fail at it. Everyone always compares the 92FS/M9 to the P226, Glock, and M1911A1. Its practically a weekend passtime in the firearms community. Still it is interesting. The 92FS and P226 are true contemperaries, the M1911A1 is at least two generations older than the 92FS, and the Glock is nearly a full generation younger.
The M1911A1 and the 92FS honestly do not share much in common, aside from the simple fact that they both survived very intensive testing and abuse at the hands of the US military. The M1911A1 has a larger caliber going for it, as well as a slimmer grip and better SAO trigger. It also has a frame mounted safety, which many prefer. However, it can only be engaged with the hammer back. The M1911A1 falls short when it comes to capacity. It might fire a large bullet, but it only holds 7 to 8 rounds in its magazine. It also has more felt recoil, small profile sights, has no ambidextrous controls, disassembles into several parts (some quite small too), and its hammer must be cocked before firing. The 92FS holds more than twice as many rounds, has a DA/SA trigger, ambidextrous safety that also decocks the hammer, disassembles into 6 larger parts, and has larger profile sights. That said, yes it holds more but 9mm is considered less effective than .45 ACP by many. Then again, 9mm has less felt recoil and produces less muzzle flip than .45, so its easier for novices to hit accurately with. The M1911A1 has always required a bit of skill and experience to shoot accurately. The 92FS is lighter than the M1911A1, but only by about 4 oz when both are fully loaded. Its DA trigger is smooth but heavy, making an accurate first shot difficult for some. Others criticise its SA trigger, but mine feels about as heavy as an SAO on a military M1911A1. People should remember that there are differences between a commercial M1911A1 and a standard milspec one, especially in trigger quality. Still any M1911A1's trigger can be made very nice, and there is only so much one can do to improve the 92FS's. The Beretta's safety is reliable and durable, but many do not like its placement on the slide. Some even activate it accidentally when racking the slide. The 92FS's grip is larger than the M1911A1s, which is a problem for people with smaller hands. Some anyway. I have smaller hands and I find it comfortable enough. When it comes to reliability, tests have proven that actually a well maintained M9 will go longer in between stoppages, than a well maintained milspec M1911A1. Both are very reliable pistols though.

Moving on to SIG's P226, it and the 92FS have much in common. In fact, since they were both designed and modified for the XM9 trials and made it to the final round, they both look very similar on paper. Both have alloy frames with steel slides, fire 9mm, have DA/SA triggers, a decocking device, a standard magazine capacity of 15 rounds, and are easily disassembled into 6 large parts. Both are equally durable really, and both have an equally heavy trigger in DA and only a so-so one in SA. Many people like the P226's frame mounted decocking lever better than the 92FS's slide mounted combination decocker/safety. However, the P226 lacks a manual safety of any kind and its decocker is not ambidextrous. Weight and size of the two designs are roughly the same, though the SIG has a slightly shorter 4.5" barrel. The P226 lost out to the 92FS because of its associated costs, but today it does serve with the Navy SEALs as the MK25 and the compact P228 is in limited use accross all branches as the M11. So SIG didn't totally loose the XM9 trials. Well technically they did, but they did obtain later (if much smaller) military contracts.

And finally, the Glock G17. The G17 came out in the early 1980s but was not qualified to even enter the XM9 trials because it was striker fired; not hammer. Also, at that time very few people were open minded enough to give a polymer framed pistol a fair chance. It took over a decade for it to gain widespread acceptance, and Glock had to work and market hard to get where it is today. The 92FS was just conventional enough for the military in 1980 and even then, Beretta had had half a decade to refine it. The Glock is lighter than the Beretta, holds 17 rounds standard, is both durable and reliable, and is instinctive to operate for most users. Its frame really can't rust, and its slide and barrel are very resistant to it. On the otherhand, its striker firing system means it has to be cocked before firing and in the event of a miss fire, the slide must be retracted to reset the striker for a second attempt. The G17 lacks both a decocker and manual safety, but does have 3 automatic ones. Like the 92FS, it has a larger grip, but more so front to back then side to side. Both are equally reliable, but the Glock requires less oiling. The Glock does look superior to the Beretta on paper, but keep in mind it is from a more recent generation of service handguns. Comparing these two, would have been like comparing the M1911A1 to the Walther P.38 half a century ago. The fact remains, the Glock G17 was simply not ready when the XM9 trials were held; and even if it were, the US military was not ready for a polymer framed pistol. Hell, back then it was barely accepting of a frame made of alloy rather than steel.

The M1911A1 is a truely Classic pistol, right up there with the P.08 Luger. Unlike the Luger though, it is still a viable combat weapon today, for certain shooters and in certain situations at least. The SIG P226 is one of the best firearms in its class, and its difficult to find anyone who seriously dislikes it. Pretty much the same can be said for the Glock series. They are all just great service sidearms: reliable, durable, accurate, and none cost a mint to manufacture either. And right there with them all, is the Beretta 92FS/M9. It has its faults and flaws, but so does every other firearm ever dreamed up. Its heavy trigger at least, really can not be blamed on Beretta either. It was neccessary to have it in order to satisfy the milspec for safety and reliable primer ignition of all ammunition types. I do not feel the M1911A1 is superior to the M9, and I do feel it is at least on par with both the P226 and Glock.

the Future of the M9:
Today, the 92FS is one of the most popular handguns in the world. It has seen use by dozens of militaries and hundreds of police departments. The 1951 might have put Pietro Beretta on the International firearms map, but the 92 secured the company's position. It is an incredibly reliable, durable, and accurate handgun. The slide moves as if it is on ballbarings, the controls are instinctive, and it has a simplistic field strip procedure (like most all of Beretta's pistols). This is just personal taste of course, but I appreciate how it handles and shoots. My own examples have never once jammed or otherwise malfunctioned. I have found it to be even more reliable than a Glock or SIG. It is well made, with nice machining and attention to detail, especially for a general issue military sidearm. If you can't tell, it is one of my very favorite pistols of all time.

However, to hear tell in gunshops, online forums, and at gunshows; the 92FS/M9 is a giant piece of shit, that both endangers the shooter directly by flying apart in the hand and by being so unreliable that one is lucky to get more than 2 shots off without a jam. Like I said at the beginning of this thread, people seem to love to hate on the Beretta. So for years, rumours have abounded that the military is going to replace the M9 with something else. Young, modern Mall Ninjas and Tactical Commandos want whatever is the most recent, hottest fad in the firearms community. Older long retired Vets and civilian Arm Chair Commandos though, basically have always wanted a return to the good old Colt M1911A1. And there in lies the problem, much like the public, the branches of the military haven't been able to come together and decide on even a possible replacement for the M9. Hell, they can't even agree on what the requirements for a new sidearm should be. From time to time, a Special Forces unit in one of the services will purchase a small number of handguns, say 500 to 5,000; and often times this is what gets a new rumour going that the entire US military is about to replace the M9. Other times, small studies and limited trials are held, featuring various pistols.
Meanwhile, if one zooms out and looks at the bigger picture, its pretty clear the M9 still has a future with our Armed Forces. In 2009, Beretta made quite a big deal out of announcing the fact that it had just secured a 5 year contract with the US government, which might call for as many as 450,000 new M9 and M9A1 pistols. These pistols were for both domestic use and for use by American overseas Allies. Beretta's 5 year mission to Boldly go where no firearms company has gone before, ends this year,however in 2012, an additional 5 year order was placed for 100,000 more pistols.

Its true that in 2014, the military plans to again examine off the shelf current production pistol designs from half a dozen manufacturers, including Colt, S&W, and even Beretta; but honestly know one could possibly know for sure if what they find will result in any changes. The military has invested so much time, training, and funding into the M9. Switching to a new design would cost substantially more than maintaining the existing one, and for what? Yes, the M9 has faults and failings but if it were total trash, even the US military wouldn't have kept it around for nearly 30 years. The simple truth is, any pistol design will have hidden, unknown faults; which will only come out after being put through the total shit that only the military can dish out oh so well. On top of that, yes many modern 21st century pistol designs are better than the Beretta, which dates back to the 1970s; but are they so much better, so much of a leap ahead that its worth investing millions to re-equip our entire military with them? And if we did conduct another round of testing and trials, it would take years (if not a decade) like it did both in 1910 and 1985. The Beretta 92 was quite advanced in 1975 but it took 10 years for it to be adopted and another 5 for it to be perfected and deployed. So a pistol that is state-of-the-art by today's standards, by the time it was actually fielded several years later, wouldn't be the newest and greatest thing any more. The military could spend millions of dollars and countless manhours today to adopt something that is marginally better than the Beretta, or it could wait until there really is a revolutionary step forward in handgun technology and adopt that pistol instead. Finally, one also has to ask, just how important is the pistol to the average 21st soldier? I am not talking about Special Forces or troops on special assignment, I am talking about just your normal officer or NCO who is issued a pistol as a matter of course.

For soldiers with unique needs or for specific missions, there are other pistols available already such as the SIG Sauer P228 M11 and P226 MK25, the HK MK23 Mod 0, and even the Glock G19. In addition to those modern pistols, both the USMC and Navy retain the good old M1911A1 in their inventories. They do not have many, but when an original one wears out, they do purchase a new one from Colt or Springfield. Just a few years ago, the Marines bought 4,500 from Colt in fact. Still, for most soldiers and in most situations, the M9 with good magazines manages to provide acceptable service. If the soldier needs to attach a laser or light device, there are aftermarket adapters available for the M9, and even the railed M9A1 if there is no other practical solution. There is another benefit of the Beretta. It has been around so long, and used by so many, that virtually every parts and accessories vender offers gear for it. Its no problem to find magazines, sights, holsters, grips, and lasers designed specifically to work with the 92FS/M9.

So in the end, though many wish to replace the thing, none seem to be able to come up with enough justifications to actually do so. The M9 is good enough for now, and the military has indicated that it will remain standard issue until at least 2020. Afterall, they are still buying the things. They stopped buying M1911A1s in 1945, but kept that one as GI for 40 more years. Of course they did have a shit ton of them stock piled up after WWII, so they didn't exactly need more. Maybe in a decade or so, something truely new and advanced will have come along, which can really benefit and protect our soldiers? At the end of the day, that is what its all about too. Its not about which we as individuals like more, be it the Glock or M&P or Beretta or even the M1911A1; its about giving our soldiers the best gear, but balanced against the costs. Don't forget where those millions of dollars the military spends comes from. Its ultimately tax payer money. The government bean counters shouldn't have the run of things, but some more actual fiscal responsibility and spending restraint within our government (including our military) would honestly be a welcome change.

So I say hold off on totally replacing the M9, and only re-equip a few troops with more modern off the shelf designs as needed. Do this until the millions it would cost to select and field a new service sidearm are truely justified. Look at the M9 vs. the M1911A1. The M1911 has many virtues and is even better than the M9 in some areas, but the M9 is clearly a more advanced design, generationally speaking. We need to wait until we can make that kind of technological leap forward, before moving to a completely new GI sidearm. As to those who think we should just go back to the M1911A1, as our GI sidearm, I can only say that's a truely stupid idea. It also shows a lack of understanding of our modern military, its missions, and the abilities of its soldiers. Yes, in some situations, the M1911A1 is the right tool for the job, but those are in the minority today. Its like a specialized star headed screw driver; great and even required for removing one type of screw. The M9 is more like a flathead screw driver. Its not especially great at any one thing (and you sure can't use it to remove that special star head screw), but damn is it useful for general work. Really what most like about the M1911A1 is its .45 ACP cartridge. The US military just isn't going to go back to it again, forget about it. Having a GI handgun that uses the NATO standard round is very important at the strategic level. This is also why something like .40 S&W won't become the US military's new service cartridge either, at least not until the rest of NATO also moves away from 9mm. That doesn't look likely either, because much like the M9 itself, 9mm NATO is a good enough round for now. It may not have quite the knockdown power of the big-old .45 ACP, but on the other hand it is lighter so soldiers can carry more, it has less felt recoil so its easier for novices to use effectively, and because its smaller more can be squeezed into a magazine. Finally, if we replaced the Beretta M9 and 9mm NATO, what would all those gunshop, forums, and gunshow people have to bitch about then? I tell you what they'd do, they'd start complaining about the new service pistol. Probably even before more than 10,000 were in the field. Hell probably the same day the new adoption was announced! And you know what else? then the Beretta M9 would slowly but surely start to become the best thing ever in the minds of the shooting public. The M1911A1 had more than its share of critics and complaints surrounding it too; especially in Korea and Vietnam. It wasn't until it was being replaced that so many civilians started to treat it like it was firearms perfection. What happened was when the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was passed in 1994, single stack low cap pistols like the M1911A1 went from being moderately popular, to extremely so. In the 1970s and 1980s, so called 'Wonder 9s' were all the rage, with their double stack high capacity magazines. Since the AWB limited civilian handguns to either preban magazines or low-cap 10 rounders, most felt that if they couldn't have lots of shots, they might as well have powerful ones. I lived through that era. I can recall the shift from one style to the other. Of course, that is only one factor too.

For now, it sure looks as if the Beretta M9 will remain the US military's standard service sidearm, for at least another combat generation. Just as a side note, after a decade of developing and testing possible replacements for the Colt M4 and M16A4, just last year the military announced it would update the rifles it already has and not adopt a wholey new platform. I suspect we will see something rather similar happen with the M9.

M9 Specifications:
Service: 1985-1990 limited service for evaluation and improvement, 1990-On going as standard issue
Number in US Military: 1,000,000 (projected number by 2015)
weight: 2 lb 2 oz (original all metal version) 2 lb 1 oz (current version with polymer parts)
length: 8.5"
barrel: 4.9"
Operating System Double/Single Action, Automatic Pistol,
Safety: Slide mounted manual with automatic decocker, Internal automatic firing pin block, Loaded chamber indicator,
Sights: Bar & Dot Style
Cartridge: 9mm NATO
Capacity: 15 rounds standard (17, 20, & 30 extended available)

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