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Army’s New Handgun Off-Target

Weapon malfunctions and whispers of a contract based more on price than quality are casting doubts on the pistol's reliability.

Almost exactly a year ago, IEN reported on the Army’s decision to replace the infamous Beretta M9 9mm handgun after 35 years of service. 

The decision to go with Sig Sauer’s P320/M17/M18 modular pistols was reportedly based on the ability for greater customization of the grips, sights and other components. The contract’s value held the potential to reach nearly $600 million. 

M17s and M18s were first issued in November to soldiers with the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, Kentucky as part of a 10-month rollout that includes this unit’s deployment to Afghanistan this spring. 

However, according to a recent Department of Defense report, the new handgun is failing to hit the Army’s performance targets. Leading the list of concerning issues are accidental discharges that occurred during drop tests, and trigger breakage that occurred when trying to address this malfunction.

The handguns are also ejecting live ammunition at the same time as expended rounds, and the slide, which controls the bolt that fires rounds and expends used shells, was not locking in place once a full magazine was fired.

From a product testing perspective these seem like small glitches. However, running out of ammo too soon or having to take a couple of extra seconds to load a new magazine represent critical malfunctions for soldiers who depend on these side-arms. And then there’s the shadow of doubt being cast on a key weapon’s reliability.

After Sig Sauer was awarded the Army contract, one of its’ competitors - Glock - filed a protest in which it claimed that the Army failed to compete reliability testing before making its decision. While that claim was dismissed, the General Accounting Office later suggested that Sig Sauer was awarded the contract based more on price than quality.

Although headquartered in Germany, the Army’s handguns are all made at Sig Sauer’s factory in New Hampshire. The company has been tasked with performing root cause analysis of these malfunctions and providing solutions.

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