The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

SIG SAUER’s Secret Sauce to Winning

This article originally appeared in RECOIL Issue 41

Photos by Straight 8 and Candice Horner

An Inside Look at SIG SAUER’s Defense Strategies Group

Just a few years ago, SIG SAUER was barely a blip on anyone’s radar. To say SIG has become a worldwide leader in firearms would be an accurate statement, but few know that was their intent all along. SIG’s 19th century original motivations to be in the military arena came full circle in 2017 when they won the contract to replace the U.S. Army’s service pistol. This historic win was the result of multiple variables that fell into place at the right time. SIG’s company history isn’t a fairytale. But so far, the story has turned out to surpass everyone’s expectations, except maybe SIG SAUER’s CEO, Ron Cohen, who probably knew this would all work out just how he envisioned.

“To me, this field is first and foremost about military and defense,” said Cohen. “I think it was always the real purpose to develop products for military units around the world. That was, to me, for professionals.”

In comparison to current-day successes, SIG had dabbled in military and law enforcement sales. Before the big win, some of the clientele included the Coast Guard, Federal Air Marshals, U.S. Navy Seals, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. And while that’s not too shabby, other longer-established U.S. gun companies were still viewed as the industry leaders. With SIG seemingly crushing competitors in recent years, we wanted to discover their secret — the catapult that validated the brand and left their competition in the dust. We got an inside look at the SIG SAUER Defense Strategies Group, the team that broke ground and firmly planted roots in the U.S. military market.

What’s in a Name?

SIG approaches military sales in a unique fashion, and it shows in the deliberate naming of the organization to reflect this. SIG’s military division is called the Defense Strategies Group – America. “We wanted to influence more than the U.S. defense salespeople,” says Steve Rose, executive vice president, Defense Strategies Group. “A lot of the influence we wanted to have was inside the company as well as in the industry; we wanted to be collaborative and get up out of our seat to sit with the engineering team and end-users to help move the company forward.”

The Defense Strategies Group boxing up MHS pistols for the original submission in 2016. Photo courtesy of SIG SAUER

The Defense Strategies Group boxing up MHS pistols for the original submission in 2016. Photo courtesy of SIG SAUER

The team currently rounds out at 14 people who provide a multilayered, multifaceted approach to supporting defense sales. Rose explains the group is split into teams that assess current and future product needs, capture opportunities, sustain awarded contracts, and maintain engagement in the field. For example, decorated former Ranger, Robby Johnson, director of government products, keeps his ear to the ground for information leading up to the government releasing an official Request for Information/Sources Sought that eventually gets listed as a contract opportunity on FBO.gov. Oftentimes, the government interacts with industry to gain more information and feedback about initiatives they’re planning. If industry says that XYZ product is out of the realm of possibility, the government may switch gears before releasing a Request for Proposal.

Capturing opportunities involves strategic planning and understanding of the contracting process. Katelyn Wilson, director of government programs, does this exceedingly well. She is the take-action asset for proposals and white papers, which are provided to the government. “She’s the architect of the M17/M18, but it didn’t come without a lot of pain and lessons,” says Rose.

Once a contract is awarded, or a unit purchases SIG products, the next phase is sustainment. Gabe Bailey, program manager for the Modular Handgun System, handles this. He has daily interaction with the Army and keeps the program on track to meet the contract requirements.

The winning gun(s) of the Modular Handgun Solicitation. The M17 is full-sized, and the M18 is carry-sized.

The winning gun(s) of the Modular Handgun Solicitation. The M17 is full-sized, and the M18 is carry-sized.

Lastly, one section of the team has their hand in many pots. They’re the commercial entity of the defense group. This team maintains communications with military and law enforcement dealers like Quantico Tactical, ADS, Tactical Gear Distributors, and the Department of Defense’s military exchanges. It’s these team members who provide demos and collect information on what departments are looking for.

The well-rounded Defense Strategies Group touches all the bases. We imagine they miss very little, because they have open-flowing communication internally and externally.

Growing Pains

Remember that pivotal moment when you felt like a grown up? Maybe it was buying a house or learning how to keep to a budget — either way, we’ve all had that feeling like, “Well, check me out — adulting.” SIG’s Defense Strategies Group had a time of immaturity and growth. It was like the awkward teenage phase when you’re trying to be cool but don’t really know how. SIG wanted to support the military through government contracts, but didn’t quite know how. So, they submitted for everything they could and got a lot of practice. “We had so many rehearsals of our failures, so we’d be like, ‘Last time we did this and failed, let’s make sure that doesn’t happen,’” says Wilson. “So we pretty much struck out on every possible thing.”

The team went through countless iterations of the shroud for the SURG. Photo courtesy of SIG SAUER

The team went through countless iterations of the shroud for the SURG. Photo courtesy of SIG SAUER

Leading up to MHS, they learned hands-on evaluations with people were imperative. Gaining input from veterans working at SIG and other shooters helped the Defense team adjust features to make the pistol more shootable. The M17/M18 pistols reflect what the end-user wanted.

Pictured with the stock folded is SIG’s Suppressed Upper Receiver Group (SURG) submission. We definitely can’t wait for it to hit the commercial market.

Pictured with the stock folded is SIG’s Suppressed Upper Receiver Group (SURG) submission. We definitely can’t wait for it to hit the commercial market.

Like many industry professionals, staff in the Defense Strategies Group have also worked in other companies. It was noted by the team that not having to look at the landscape through the lens of a board of directors seeking shareholder approval on a quarterly basis is freeing. SIG focuses on what’s best for the company and for the consumer. They learned to price products based on a gut feeling, market analysis, and strategic vision of where they want to be in the future. Cohen doesn’t hold the team to specific profit margin targets for its products. Instead, the price of a product is set at what it’s worth to them as a company. They don’t lowball; they bid an amount they think makes sense for the future of SIG.

Winning Moment

It was SHOT Show 2017, and the government announced SIG SAUER won the contract to replace the Army’s service pistol. All of the practice by the team paid off with that win, and it put SIG on the map as a government contractor. “We are at a point in history that because of the pistol contract, people are willing to listen to us about other things,” said Cohen. “And the enthusiasm in the company is so high.”

Since that moment, all eyes have been on SIG, from the government keeping track of the contract to the general public looking at them as a leader — a chapter which hasn’t been without its pitfalls, notably the P320 drop test failure and subsequent remedy, which didn’t affect the M17 pistols. The win has allowed the team to focus on developing all kinds of additional military products — we get the impression they want to win more; they want to change the world. When the team meets with Cohen to pitch a new product, Johnson says, “Mr. Cohen will ask, ‘Will it change the world?’”

For Cohen, the MHS win was much more than just a win. “We were walking on air. This was not about money. It’s not about business. It’s about our kids and our grandkids.”

SIG’s had other notable wins after the MHS award. One of their coolest products is the suppressed upper receiver group (SURG) for AR platform rifles. The SURG is based on the MCX, but has a direct-thread suppressor. The most unique aspect of the SURG, which was selected by United States Special Operations Command, is the titanium suppressor shroud, which prevents the operator from burning himself or his gear. SIG went through several basket-style iterations before settling on the one pictured. May 2018 brought another win when SIG’s TANGO6 1-6x scope was selected by the U.S. Army for its Squad Designated Marksman Rifle program.

Commercial vs. Defense

In some companies, the commercial side of the house doesn’t talk to the defense side. That’s just how they operate. At SIG, the commercial and defense teams work closely together. The defense group knows the commercial side keeps the lights on and makes it possible for them to chase any government contract they want. “One of our pillars is that we want the commercial customer to immediately feel what the defense customer feels,” says Rose. “If we’re chasing M17, we want the commercial customer to feel all the great benefits of the M17.”

SIG has three variations of the MCX Rattler; pictured is the 7.62x39 variant.

SIG has three variations of the MCX Rattler; pictured is the 7.62×39 variant.

“The M17 contract changed our lives for sure,” says Rose. It’s undeniable that the commercial consumer now pays more attention to SIG than ever. Recently, SIG released the commercial version of the M17, as well as commemorative pistols. “I think for the next 5 or 10 years, we hope — even 20, 30 years from now — the M17 is the gun people walk into a gun store and want to buy,” said Chief Marketing Officer, Tom Taylor. “The M17 has burst SIG onto the national scene, and the journey is just starting.”

With a 5.5-inch barrel, most gas ports erode quickly, making the gun unreliable. SIG’s workaround is a “gas trap” system that negates the need for a gas port on the actual barrel.

With a 5.5-inch barrel, most gas ports erode quickly, making the gun unreliable. SIG’s workaround is a “gas trap” system that negates the need for a gas port on the actual barrel.

What the Future Holds

For the SIG Defense Strategies Group, the future holds a lot of new products specifically designed around the requests of the government. And with some of those products SIG hopes to change the lethality and efficiency of firearms as we know them today. As of December 2018, there’s a Draft Prototype Opportunity Notice for Next Generation Squad Weapons (NGSW). Underneath that umbrella of a draft are multiple product requests. In the NGSW draft solicitation includes a replacement for the M249 machine gun, M4A1, and high-velocity ammo. SIG is one of five companies selected by the Army to produce prototypes of the weapons and ammo.

SIG’s in-progress suppressor technology, 3D printed cans, and new QD mounts.

SIG’s in-progress suppressor technology, 3D printed cans, and new QD mounts.

In less than a year, SIG produced its first prototype machine gun. With the initial talk of a machine gun, Cohen fully backed the project because he said he wanted to develop a machine gun ever since he came to SIG. The SIG SAUER Lightweight 338 Machine Gun is their answer to a USSOCOM Request for Information solicitation for a Lightweight Medium Machinegun (LWMMG), which should replace the M240. SIG says this 338 is the big brother to the machine gun that will be submitted for the NGSW-AR solicitation to replace the M249. The machine gun has been developed by an engineer with more than 30 years of experience building machine guns — it’s his specialty. Weighing under 20 pounds, the 338 Norma Magnum machine gun fires a bullet at 2,650 feet per second out of its 24-inch barrel and that projectile is still supersonic at 1,500 yards. And it has a cyclic rate of 500 to 600 shots per minute. We’d expect a magnum caliber to have quite a bit of kick, but the SIG team says the unique recoil design produces less felt-recoil than a 308 Winchester. To put it into perspective, the SIG MCX, chambered in 5.56, puts 2 foot-pounds of energy into your shoulder, while the SIG machine gun delivers 3 to 4 foot-pounds of energy to the shooter’s shoulder, according to SIG engineers.

With extensive modularity in mind, SIG is making it possible for units to upgrade their pistols to suit their needs. The SOPMOD Kit for the M17/M18 allows for removal of the manual safety and a grip swap. This essentially turns the MHS pistol into an X5 for units that want a little more functionality.

With extensive modularity in mind, SIG is making it possible for units to upgrade their pistols to suit their needs. The SOPMOD Kit for the M17/M18 allows for removal of the manual safety and a grip swap. This essentially turns the MHS pistol into an X5 for units that want a little more functionality.

With the incorporation of a rear sight plate, the end-user can easily install a Trijicon RMR, which was selected by USSOCOM.

With the incorporation of a rear sight plate, the end-user can easily install a Trijicon RMR, which was selected by USSOCOM.

Those familiar with ARs will notice the lightweight machine gun has standard AR controls and a collapsible buttstock. Unlike some other machine guns, the SIG machine gun has an actual quick-change barrel that can be removed within seconds without tools. To load the machine gun, the shooter either opens the feed tray or just loads it from the side. Overall length of the gun is 49 inches; it’s 42 inches when folded.

The 6.8mm Next Generation ammo needs to have the velocity to penetrate body armor; this is one of the requirements from the army. Cohen feels this ammo could change the path of firearms, because it’ll allow for new platforms of weapons. Having seen it first hand, we believe the new hybrid technology is a truly significant development in ammunition design and, by extension, what firearms will be capable of. SIG opted for a bi-metallic, multi-piece case instead of a telescoping polymer case. During testing, SIG learned that it’s difficult for polymer rounds to keep high pressures. As of December 2018, SIG has demonstrated at two separate locations for the U.S. Army the 6.8mm Hybrid ammo shot from a 16-inch barrel at 3,000 feet per second.

SIG hybrid ammo SIG hybrid ammo 2

One of the many benefits of SIG’s Hybrid ammo is that it can be used in legacy firearms. For the regular consumer, this translates to access to high-pressure, high-velocity rounds in the future that we can use in the guns we already own. For competitors, Lindsay Bunch, of the Strategic Weapons Group, likens the increased performance of the hybrid ammo to getting 24-inch bolt gun velocity in a 16-inch gas gun. That capability would be a huge competitive and hunting advantage. To learn more about NGSW, go to the Federal Business Opportunities website, www.fbo.gov, and search for solicitation number W15QKN19Z042P.

SIG’s machine gun is easy to disassemble at the operator level.

SIG’s machine gun is easy to disassemble at the operator level.

SIG also continues to improve current products, such as the MCX Rattler. They’ve had the Rattler in 300BLK, 5.56, and 7.62×39, which has been ordered by elite military units around the world. At the 2017 SIG military range day, they demoed all three variations. To improve performance and life of the Rattler, the company developed a “gas trap.” The hardened piece captures the gas after the barrel in order to maintain barrel life as the gas port doesn’t get worn out like with short-barreled standard gas port designs. This improvement will be implemented on both the military and commercial sides.

“Moving the needle on current suppressor design is more challenging than it looks,” says Johnson. “When you talk about a military silencer, it has to really hold up, and it also has to be quick-detach.” While building the NextGen rifles, SIG is also developing improved suppressors. Some of the suppressors are QD, and some are 3-D printed. New requirements demand a lifespan on a silencer of 125,000 rounds. The new technology SIG is working on supports a longer lifespan and an easier end-user experience.

Recipe for Success

During our visit to SIG, Cohen’s positive leadership style was a recurring topic. He leads from the front and by example. The Defense Strategies Group says he allows them to fail and gives them room to color; the group is able to cast a wide net instead of casting one jig. Failure happens, and when it does, Wilson says, “If you win by luck, that won’t impress Mr. Cohen half as much as if you failed and explained why I came to this choice and why I believed in this choice. He always respects if you left nothing on the table and were fighting for it.”

While developing the machine gun, SIG kept in mind that AR-style controls and grips are what most shooters are used to. Shooting the machine gun shouldn’t be hard for guys who know their way around a gun.

While developing the machine gun, SIG kept in mind that AR-style controls and grips are what most shooters are used to. Shooting the machine gun shouldn’t be hard for guys who know their way around a gun.

SIG’s secret is the people. “We have a really great team with the right people in place and have a wonderful working relationship,” says Wilson. And that feeling is obvious in the way that Cohen speaks about his team, “I always say if you want something to succeed, put the right people in place, give them a sense of independence and focus and a narrow field of view and don’t mix them up with other areas.”

The vision Cohen has for SIG is that 20 years from now, people look back and say, “Those guys did it.” He says, “that would be the legacy for the SIG team of today.” We look forward to seeing what SIG’s future holds because they’ve got a stacked deck. Like the Borg, they’ve assimilated areas beyond their original remit and now have their hands in firearms, optics, and ammunition. With a downturn in the firearms economy, those companies with a broad product line will weather the storm, and SIG better positioned than most to ride it out.


Visit https://www.sigsauer.com/

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