Beretta's M9. Source:
"Beretta has set an unprecedented record for reliability with
the M9 pistol... The average reliability of all M9 pistols tested
at Beretta U.S.A. is 17,500 rounds without a stoppage. During one
test of twelve pistols, fired at Beretta U.S.A. under Army
supervision, Beretta-made M9 pistols shot 168,000 rounds without
a single malfunction."
Gabriele de Plano
, Vice President of Military Marketing & Sales for Beretta
U.S.A. (as quoted by
And yet, the U.S. Army is preparing to holster its Berettas
and switch to a new standard-issue handgun. Why?
Last month, the Army announced plans for an "industry day" at
which gun manufacturers such as
Smith & Wesson
, Colt, and Glock would be invited to show their wares and
compete for a new contract. Its objective: to replace the M9
Beretta semiautomatic pistol.
The U.S. Army holds more than 200,000 M9 Berettas in its
inventory. If it proceeds with plans to use a new handgun,
tentatively monikered the "Modular Handgun System," all of these
M9s could soon be replaced. In fact, Military.com reported
that if other armed services follow the Army's lead, one
lucky gun company could soon receive an order for as many as
400,000 handguns -- a significant contract in an era of
declining civilian handgun sales
, the Army's main concerns with the M9 are that it's
insufficiently accurate, lethal, and reliable for the service's
purposes. That's not entirely Beretta's fault. Project officer
Daryl Easlick at the Army's Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort
Benning, Georgia, was quoted in the Military.com article as
saying that many of the Berettas it has in inventory today are
"old," adding that "it's costing us more to replace and repair
M9s than it would cost to go get a new handgun."
Finding a replacement
Some critics cite a lack of killing power in the M9. Simply put,
the 9mm full-metal jacket round fired from a Beretta M9 isn't big
enough to stop and drop every opponent a soldier encounters. This
raises the odds of the Army's next standard-issue handgun being a
.45 caliber weapon such as the M1911, which Beretta's M9 replaced
in Army service in 1985. Lots of companies make .45 caliber
weapons that the military could consider and companies might be
submitting news designs for the Modular Handgun System.
Lots of gun companies make updated versions of the WWI-era
1911 .45 ACP handgun. Smith & Wesson is one of them. Photo
Smith & Wesson
A lot up for grabs
The Army's official position on the Beretta is that it simply
doesn't want the gun anymore. Saying there are a "a multitude of
reasons" why he doesn't think the M9 will be in the running this
year, Easlick complained to Military.com: "It's got
reliability issues; the open slide design allows [contaminants]
in. The slide-mounted safety doesn't do well when you are trying
to clear a stoppage -- you inadvertently de-cock and safe the
Meanwhile, competition to win this contract will be tough
among the companies that have a chance of winning, because the
stakes are so high.
Take Smith & Wesson's SW1911 as an example: The company
advertises these handguns on its website at prices roughly
ranging between $1,000 and $1,500 a pop (so to speak). Times
potential sales of 400,000 handguns, that works out to a $400
million to $600 million sales opportunity -- nearly as much
revenue as Smith & Wesson or Ruger collect in a year across
all their military, police, and civilian sales channels.
In fact, handgun sales account for the majority of annual
sales at both Ruger and Smith & Wesson. So a successful
Pentagon contract bid could easily account for
revenues than these companies ordinarily book from handgun sales
in a year.
Handgun sales as a % of total revenue
Smith & Wesson
Source: Most recent SEC 10-K filings.
Who will win the contract? As soon as we know, we'll fill you
"Like" the defense news page today
to make sure you don't miss the announcement.
More from The Motley Fool:
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but What Will Replace It?
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