The Army’s now-finished XM17 Modular Handgun System Competition had its work cut out for it: replace the U.S. military’s standard-issue sidearm, the long-lived Beretta M9. First introduced into service in 1985 during the Regan era, the M9 was a more compact, higher-capacity alternative to the even older M1911 pistol, the standard-issue American sidearm since 1911.
The contenders for the Army MHS competition included some of the world’s best-known firearm manufacturers, including Beretta, which offered an M9 alternative, Smith & Wesson, FN Herstal, SIG Sauer, and of course, Glock.
Glock, Stock, and Barrel
Glock’s entrant was an interesting hybrid “crossover” pistol, which combined features of full-sized and compact pistol platforms. The Glock 19X mated a full-size Glock 17 polymer frame to a compact metal Glock 19 slide. The Glock 19X had a lanyard loop, ambidextrous slide levers, and seveteen round magazines, as well as Glock’s GLOCK Marksman Barrel, a polygonal rifled barrel known for high accuracy. It was, in a few words, a great pistol.
The quality of the Glock 19X package almost can’t be overstated—less than six months after the Glock 19X’s release on the civilian market, Glock sold over 100,000 Glock 19X pistols. On paper, and measured by sales numbers the Glock 19X is a great pistol. So why didn’t it win the Army’s XM17 Modular Handgun System competition?
SIG Sauer edged out Glock to win the XM17 Modular Handgun System competition. Their two entrants are based on SIG Sauer’s P320, itself a respected and well-known pistol. But aside from coming in standard and compact sizes, the SIG’s P320 isn’t particularly different from the Glock 19X. But where it is leaps and bounds ahead of Glock is ammunition.
For the XM17 Modular Handgun System competition, SIG Sauer partnered with Winchester, a company that supplies large amounts of ammunition in a variety of calibers to the U.S. military. As part of SIG’s bid, they also offered Winchester’s M1152 Full Metal Jacket and M1153 Special Purpose loads.
Unlike virtually all other standard ball ammunition, Winchester’s FMJ is flat nose round that Winchester claims offers more accurate shooting. The Special Purpose load? It is essentially a jacketed hollow point—offering superior stopping power from an established ammunition manufacturer with a long history of supplying ammunition to the United States military. It was an unbeatable combination.
Though Glock challenged the results of the MHS competition, their protest was “denied in part and dismissed in part” by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. In their report, the GAO cited SIG’s ammunition license rights and ammunition production/manufacturing plan, both of which were listed as “Outstanding” whereas Glock’s bids in those two categories were “Marginal” and “Good” respectively.
There is an argument to be made that Glock’s 19X pistol was the better platform. But the ammunition that is now available as a part of SIG Sauer’s bid? It’s unbeatable. Further hurting Glock’s case: SIG Sauer’s bid was over $100,000 cheaper.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.