A Look at Military Options


by R.K. Campbell

photography by R.K. Campbell

August 17th, 2007




I am not talking about nuking Iran or moving the fleet. But I am very interested in the new military handgun selection process. The news that the establishment may adopt a new handgun has been met with intense interest. More than a few makers have tooled up for a special model for the military tests. Heckler and Koch and Glock are reportedly developing new versions of existing pistols. I admit to a certain excitement because after all I am a handgunner above all else. My police and life experience indicates the pistol can be a very important defensive weapon, although it is less important to the military. When teaching military men and women to handle the handgun, I stress that using the handgun should be avoided. Always use the rifle or a grenade if possible, but if caught with nothing but the pistol then we go with what we know.

Whether I regard the issue pistols as the best or the worst available, my advice is the same - rely upon the long gun and master the pistol as best you can. Just the same - if you need a handgun, you need it badly. At issue is the caliber of the handgun presently used. I have little use for the 9mm cartridge for personal defense. With ball (non-expanding) ammunition, the best reports are that 9mm ball produces a one shot stop about half of the time, or fifty per cent effective in common vernacular. The Police Marksman’s Association conducted a respectable survey over a decade ago that many felt was more realistic than any other ever attempted. The PMA found that 9mm and .38 Special ball were effective in stopping a felon about one time in four - for twenty five per cent effectiveness. Couple this with a design hard to use well, and we have a serious deficit in combat effectiveness.

The caliber is one issue, but the double action first shot of the service pistol is also a problem. I have trained peace officers who qualify four times a year. They have a difficult time mastering the Beretta’s double action first shot. (So do officers issued the Smith and Wesson and to a lesser extent, the SIG.) Double action pistols often produce a sympathetic reaction in the lower fingers that makes a good grip and good first shot accuracy very difficult. The double action first shot pistol is a triumph of the technical over the tactical. First shot hit probability, coupled with once a year qualification, is a poor recipe for success.

I doubt any type of double action first shot pistol will be adopted by the military again. While Heckler and Koch and SIG have offerings, the new pistol will probably be either a safe action or a single action. SIG has a P 220 single action converted pistol. The frame is of the type designed to accommodate a double action trigger. The finger lies above the trigger guard and arcs down to move the trigger to the rear in a double action. The single action P 220 features a single action only trigger and a safety that does not lock the slide. While now a single action the pistol maintains the high bore axis that allows greater muzzle flip than the 1911. This lash up simply takes a good double action type and makes it a very much also ran in the single action game. While it is a .45 and SIG is a reliable action this pistol is far from ideal. A locked slide is a great advantage when the pistol is being holstered. 

HK has hedged their bests with pistols that have a "cocked and locked" feature. This is fine as far as it goes, but the pistol lacks the ergonomics of a true single action pistol. This leaves us with the Glock or a 1911.  There are variations on either theme. The single action handling and slide lock and grip safety of the 1911 are advantages in hard use, but the Glock’s simplicity is also an advantage. Either type features only one trigger action to learn. Each has rapid trigger reset. Each type has a low bore axis that makes for little muzzle flip. The pistols have proven reliable. I had rather have the 1911, but the Glock requires less maintenance. The Glock features a very simple manual of arms. Load, holster, draw, fire. The pistol requires very little maintenance. The Glock is perceived as the more modern handgun. The Glock is not as compatible with small hands as the 1911, but there are advances in Glock frame design that may address this problem. And the .45 Glock is a high capacity pistol.

I am a 1911 man through and through, but respect the Glock. The 1911 is the handgun for a professional whose primary weapon is the handgun. For those who primary weapon is the rifle, the Glock looks good. Tactical doctrine states that the simpler a backup weapon is the better. There should be a minimum of action required to get the piece into action.  That was the original criteria set forth by German national police that gave us the SIG P 220 double action pistol. There are no external safeties with the SIG, only safety features. The Glock is even simpler.

The features we need in a combat pistol are subject to some discussion, but some attributes are not debatable. Reliability is foremost. Ergonomics and human engineering are vital. But the ability to stop a determined attack with a minimum of well placed shots is most important, and the present service handgun is lacking in this regard. The present service handgun is also among the most difficult of handguns to use well quickly under stress. Despite this on many occasions our young warriors have performed beyond all expectation.  But our warriors deserve a pistol worthy of their courage. They need a .45 automatic. If the pistol chosen is a high quality modern 1911 that would be fine. The pistol should have a modern Teflon based finish to handle maintenance and lubrication issues - it need not be lubricated at all with such a finish. The Bearcoat finish used by so many of us here in America, including those on special teams, has given the author excellent service. If we are not to have a 1911, then good work can be done with the Glock. The new small receiver Glock 21 may solve the hand size problem, and the piece is reliable and accurate. In my experience the Glock 21 is the most accurate of all Glocks, and a relatively soft kicking .45 automatic. 

Only time will tell...but these are my thoughts.

Postscript -

There have been reports of the Glock 22 .40 in action in Iraq and they seem to be true, however, this is simply the result of select budget teams ordering what they wish. I admit the thought is interesting. The .40 should be much more effective than the 9mm and the .40 has excellent tactical penetration - more so than the .45. But the chances of a pistol being adopted using ammunition not already in the pipeline is slim to none. The 6.8 rifle program seems for all intents and purposes dead on the vine and the .45 program seems prone to fits and starts. Time will tell.

Military Ammunition -

Military ammunition must have high quality, a sealed and crimped primer, consistency in all climatic conditions, and above all reliability. It is no surprise that much of the ammunition I test is not suitable for military issue. I think that a shining example of top quality ammunition is Black Hills. They have acquired several contracts for match grade rifle ammunition and the ammunition - including the now legendary 5.56mm 77 grain open tip - has performed splendidly in every battle.

Twenty years or so ago the military looked at Hornady’s 124 grain flat point 9mm and conducted a general test of an old concept. The Luger was originally designed to feed a truncated cone bullet and today Hornady carries on with a similar flat point design. Colonel Jeff Cooper’s first choice in a load for his 1911 was the Hornady 230 grain flat point .45. Would the 9mm perform better on animate targets with the Hornady flat point? Of course it would. But if we adopt a new .45 there is no reason to adopt the old round nose load. I vote for the Hornady 230 grain FP. Of course, we are fighting terrorists, not soldiers, and the degenerates we now face are not protected by the Geneva Convention as far as the use of hollow point bullets goes. I think that the XTP might be a good choice. But I am simply commenting on choices, just give our boys and girls a good .45 and good ball ammo.

R.K. Campbell

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Click pictures for a larger version.


The SW1911 and the Glock M 37 are both good effective .45s with excellent characteristics. In the real world either will get the job done.



Lt. Matthew H Campbell tests another 1911- the Delta Elite 10mm. He finds the pistol good enough for whom it is intended.



Two of the author’s favorite .45s. The Springfield Mil Spec would be a fine military weapon, the Rock Island Armory is more of a personal defense piece and a very good one. The grips are from Gungrips.net.



When all is said and done don’t be surprised to see a lot of Glock .45s in service. This one is a .45 GAP but the issue pistols will be in .45 ACP unless we are badly mistaken.



The SIG is not a low bid item but a first class pistol. The Glock has a simple manual of arms and many accessories are available. Either is a good choice.



These are 9mm Luger cartridges. While the author does not favor the 9mm, the Black Hills 124 grain JHP illustrated makes the most of the caliber.



This is the new Taurus PT 1911 .45. The company has high hopes for the pistol and this Heinie sighted pistol has many good characteristics. With a large police contract from the Philippines under their belt, Taurus is a company to keep your eyes on.



Could it happen? I would rather have an affordable quality .45 than a thousand dollar 9mm on my hip, and the Taurus is the right price and seems well made of good material. We will let Uncle Sam do the 25,000 round test programs.