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Is the XM17 Going to Happen?

Official word has come from the Army that the XM17 Modular Handgun System is going to happen. That solicitation seeks to replace the M9 pistol with a “more state-of-the-art weapon system.

According to a release from the Army’s PEO Soldier, more than twenty companies attended the program’s fourth industry day, held at Picatinny Aresenal, NJ, today. The final version of the solicitation, which has been a long time coming, has not yet been released, but the news released today by PEO Soldier spokesperson Debi Dawson seem to hint at action soon.

Perhaps the most significant thing to come out of this morning’s event was word the XM-17 Modular Handgun Competition would include what a representative of the Army Judge Advocate General’s Office called “special purpose ammunition.” This means deployed military personnel would no longer be limited to ball ammunition.

Richard Jackson, Special Assistant to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General for Law of War, addressed the routine use of expanding and fragmenting handgun ammunition by federal, state, local and military law enforcement because of its increased capability to defeat threats.

“Expanding the XM-17 Modular Handgun competition to include special purpose ammunition will provide the warfighter with a more accurate and lethal handgun,” said Jackson. “Other types of ammunition allow the XM-17 Modular Handgun System to be optimized by vendors, providing a more capable system to warfighters across the spectrum of shooter experience and skill level.”

Previously, the sidearm competition was limited to ball (full metal jacket) ammunition. While jacketed hollow point ammunition is authorized for military police, and security forces in the course of their duties on US installations, expanding and fragmenting ammunition has long been forbidden on the battlefield. As of today, though, the US military’s longstanding stance against the use of expanding ammunition in combat has apparently changed, and with little fanfare.

MHS Draft RFP

“Handgun technology has advanced significantly thanks to lighter-weight materials, ergonomics and accessory rails since 1986 when the M9 entered the Army’s inventory,” said Dawson. “The Army is seeking a handgun system that outperforms the current M9 system. It also must be modular, meaning it allows adjustments to fit all hand sizes.”

It’s no secret the Army is intent on replacing the nearly thirty-year-old M9 pistol with a more modern handgun. The Army has been accused of ignoring Beretta USA’s M9A3 engineering change proposal that would address many, but not all of the Army’s M9 concerns, in favor of procuring a new handgun.

Up until today, industry sources said 9mm handguns were all but ruled out and the Army’s next handgun must be .40 or .45 to meet the lethality requirement using ball ammunition. However, if an ammunition capable of greater lethality is now on the table, the argument will be made that the military could use a more deadly version of the smaller, lighter 9mm round.

The press release advises the Army is planning to buy 280,000 of the new handguns (and another 7,000 in a compact version), with delivery slated to begin in 2018. According to Dawson, other military services participating in the XM-17 program could order an additional 212k.

However, 2015 money originally budgeted for the XM-17 acquisition program has been slated for use elsewhere. According to government documents, the DoD is requesting Congress to authorize the reprogramming of this year’s Modular Handgun Program funding, reducing it from $3.9 million to less than $800k. Also, both houses of Congress have removed all of the program’s proposed $5.4m funding in the draft of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, citing delays with the release of the RFP as the cause.

It’s difficult to determine if the proposed funding gap will have any effect on the the XM-17’s fate. On the surface, the Army’s request to reprogram MHS funds can be seen as a result of program delays that preclude the use of funds originally destined to pay for the evaluation of submissions this year. Original MHS program timelines had industry submitting handgun system samples for source selection as early as 4th quarter, 2014.

But, the Army’s reprogramming request, along with the latest draft of the 2016 NDAA could be taken as a lack of confidence by both parties in the $300m+ procurement coming to fruition in a time of shrinking military budgets.

A third, and more likely explanation for the apparent funding gap is the complexity of the budget and funding process itself. While NDAA funds may be pulled, as an established Program of Record this doesn’t shut the program down. The Army can, and likely will reprogram 2016 funds to keep moving the pistol procurement process forward.

The Senate, The House and even the Army itself might be playing bureaucratic stickball with MHs, but it sure looks like somebody in the Army is looking forward to a new handgun in 2018.

 

XM17_recoil

 

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