The U.S. military held their industry day for the Modular Handgun System (MHS) yesterday, taking questions from potential vendors. The questions taken from the vendors and the program team’s responses will be posted on the Federal Business Opportunities web site in coming days.
Very little news has changed from the 2013 industry day, and so the MHS Wikipedia page (despite being Wikipedia) is still probably the best source of general information on the program.
The four key performance parameters are still apparently locked.
- Modularity: submitted pistol designs must be modular, though specifically what the military means by “modularity” seems to be undefined at this time. Presumably, it means that the system with be able to switch between different barrel/slide lengths and different grip lengths, while still retaining a serial-numbered core frame. The system may also need to change firing control groups (striker fired to double-action/single-action assumed, a return to single-action-only is not likely for a general-issue pistol), and should be able to accept magazines of different capacities.
- Enhanced Precision: The goal of the program is to have a handgun system mechanically capable of firing a 4″ group throughout the 35,000 round expected service life of the system 90% of the time.
- Enhanced Recoil Recovery: Regardless of caliber, the pistol needs to be able to come back on target quickly so that soldiers can make rapid and accurate follow-up shots, since handguns are inherently weak compared to rifles.
- Ergonomics: In both full-size and compact forms, the grips of the MHS must be capable of being used by the 5% to 95% percentile of hand sizes, and the controls should be ambidextrous and capable of being used by both male and female shooters.
It probably isn’t a surprise that the program s apparently avoiding returning to single-action pistols. The program seems to prefer a striker-fired or double-action/single-action system.
The pistol will not be black. The military wants a firearm in a neutral color with an IR non-reflective coating.
It has long been known that the military hasn’t been impressed with the performance of the M882 9mm NATO round, and so the Army would like white papers from vendors suggesting a cartridge with better performance.
Cartridge contenders are thought to be the .357 SIG, the .40 S&W, and the Army’s former service cartridge, the .45 ACP.
Offhand, I’d say that the advantages of the .357 SIG and .40 S&W are increased magazine capacity over the .45 ACP. Their disadvantages are that both cartridges have reputations for causing increased parts wear that shorten the service lives of firearms firing these cartridges, and the performance of each cartridge with FMJ rounds on live targets is something of an unknown (both are primarily used with JHP rounds). The .45 ACP has the benefit of a long and proven military heritage, though at a slightly reduced magazine capacity when compared to the .357 SIG and .40 S&W. [Being a contrarian, I'd like to see white papers investigating the viability of the .41 Action Express and the .400 Corbon cartridges for the MHS program. The .41 AE offers the possibility of a bit better performance and a slightly larger bullet than the .40 S&W, while the .400 Corbon offers 10mm Auto-type performance in the .45 ACP envelope. For those suggesting the .45 ACP, I'd like to see a comparison of the 185-grain load versus the 230-grain; the former would be a lot lighter and presumably easier to carry in bulk quantities.]
The Army and Air Force are pushing for the MHS program against the wishes of the House Armed Services Committee, which merely wants to upgrade the M9 program, despite the poor performance of the M9’s ammunition in combat and ergonomics which make it very difficult to use for a significant number of service persons.
Regardless of the eventual pistol replacement route (MHS winner or M9 upgrade), the fact remains that current M9s are at the end of their service lives, and the military is ordering additional current-generation M9s as a stop-gap measure.