Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Saying good-bye to the M9

The Army has announced that it will be replacing the 25 year old M9 pistol.  This announcement came on Aug 28th, 2011.

M9 Service Pistol
The M9 has had a long and some what sordid history with the U.S. Armed Forces.  Starting early in its life cycle a now infamous slide failure injured a Naval Special Warfare member.  Other slide failures were observed during this time period which resulted in several design changes.  One of these changes was the inclusion of a device to capture the slide should it fail thereby preventing it from striking the shooter.

During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan other problems were discovered with the pistol, among those were problems with the contract magazines that often failed in the sandy conditions.  This was remedied with a new contract being put out and a new vendor selected for manufacturing the magazines.

Unfortunately the problems didn't stop there with the M9.

The open top design of the M9 has also been criticized as it tends to allow debris into the action of the pistol relatively easily thereby causing malfunctions.

The locking block of the pistol was known for failures.  After 5,000 rounds were fired, it was recommended this piece be replaced.  It took several years, but Beretta finally fixed this problem and now the locking blocks are said to be quite durable.  The Army still claims that the M9 has a service life of 5,000 rounds, however Beretta contests this claim and says that the service life of the M9 is more along the lines of 35,000 rounds.  A test carried out under Army supervision fired 168,000 rounds through 12 M9's without a malfunction.

The slide mounted safety has also been a problem.  When Soldiers or Marines have used immediate action to clear a malfunction, they've inadvertently engaged the safety of the pistol.  Immediate action generally requires the operator to grab the slide firmly with their non-shooting hand and rack it rearward very quickly and positively.  Where the operator grabs the slide is where the slide mounted safety is located.

Walther P-38
But the M9 has also had its fans and supporters.  It is an elegant pistol that shares many of its innovations with the WWII era P38 Walter pistol.  The dropping block system of lock-up was borrowed directly from the P38.  The slide mounted hammer drop safety was also borrowed from the design, as was the open top design of the slide.

One thing of interest is that the Army has said that the M9 lacks lethality.  One of the requirements for a new pistol will be "an increase in permanent wound channel" which seems to suggest a caliber change might also be on the horizon.  I would imagine this will be a tough battle given our NATO allies use 9mm and if the US once again goes off the reservation with a non-standard caliber, our allies might protest.  That, or perhaps NATO is considering a caliber change too.  My guess is that the .40 S&W will be a strong contender.

It's also worth noting that back in 2008 the USMC adopted the M9A1 (4,000 delivered that year) which had several improvements including a beveled magazine well, 1913 type rail,  re-contoured trigger guard and a new buffer system.

I look forward to the new pistol trials to be carried out in 2012.  The field should be awash in competing designs including the Glock, M&P, Px4, Sig, HK P30 or HK45, XD, etc.


  1. I hope it is replaced with a M&P variant.

  2. I really hope the M&P or XD wins out. I like them very much and they are made here in the states. We don't need to have any other country making out militarily's firearms....

  3. Well, actually, the XD is made in Croatia as the HS2000 and sold through Springfield Armory as the XD here in the U.S.

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  5. Nice article. I'm by no means a gun expert, but I will say this. Personally, I hope they pick a glock. Legendary reliability, easy to field strip, easy to clean, and quite accurate. I'm not a glock "fanboy", but I really do admire the pistol.

  6. about time seconded my brother was USAF and used the m9 extensivley in training and in outside courses. basic complaints - weight -size - and when something goes wrong it goes very wrong minor issues for him were few and far between but when it crashed it crashed hard. my vote M&P first American made is a big deal to me economically jobs insourcing 2 it is a light and durable design high capacity and in my experience talking with local Leos a "very fast to the fight pistol"