The Army's long-time pistol supplier, Beretta, is criticizing the service for failing to communicate perceived shortcomings of the M9 sooner — a move the gun maker says would have led to improvements to the weapon, saving the Army time and potentially millions of dollars.
"There's never been any formal correspondence or formal communication from the government to Beretta suggesting that there are flaws or concerns with the weapon system," retired Brig. Gen. Howard Yellen, Beretta consultant and senior military adviser, told Army Times, during a Jan. 13 visit to the gun manufacturer's headquarters in Accokeek, Maryland.
The Army, meanwhile, is expected very soon to release a request for proposal seeking options for a brand new pistol. A new handgun, targeted for delivery in 2017, could address soldier complaints concerning the M9, which range from reliability to lethality to ergonomics to lack of accessories.
"The government will tell you, 'We did an exhaustive business case analysis and an exhaustive market survey,'" Yellen said. "My response is, 'OK, how could you do an exhaustive market survey when your prime contractor was never contacted, was never approached?'"
Had the Army communicated these problems sooner, Beretta could have made adjustments to the weapon, Yellen argued, perhaps avoiding having to seek a new pistol.
While Beretta intends to compete for the new pistol, it has separately worked to keep the M9 contract alive. In an attempt to derail the new pistol search, Beretta formally proposed to alter an existing contract, replacing the M9 with the M9A3 at a lower per-unit cost. Beretta has an existing contract for up to 100,000 guns, about 20,000 of which have been purchased. The Army has yet to respond,according to Beretta.
The upgraded M9 variant features new earth tone colors, a beveled sand-resistant magazine that carries 17 rather than 15 rounds, threaded barrel for suppressors, and an accessory rail for laser sights and flashlight. The M9A3 also has a slimmer handle for smaller hands, and a wrap-around backstrap grip for shooters with bigger hands, addressing a core Army priority. The existing M9 can also be converted to an M9A2 with modifications that cheaply and almost exactly replicate the M9A3.
Spokespersons from the Pentagon and Program Executive Office Soldier declined to comment before the RFP was released. Beretta declined comment on what it will submit for the competition, in which each company can enter two guns, provided they're differing calibers.
Savings, he said, would come from the selection process, incompatibility of existing gun parts and accessories such as holsters, and the expense of having to re-train soldiers with a new weapon.
The company said the Marine Corps adopted changes to the M9 via the M9A1 in 2006. Beretta representatives said the Army declined to join in adopting those upgrades, some of which it now says it wants — such as an accessory rail and improved magazine.
While the Army is considering changing caliber (the draft RFP does not designate a caliber), Beretta said that goes against the prevailing winds in the industry, and that coming improvements to the current standard M882 round would address many concerns regarding the handgun system.
"We still strongly believe in the 9mm. A lot of experts, including the FBI, believe there's nothing wrong with the 9mm," de Plano said.
The FBI switched to a larger round after a bloody shootout in Miami in 1986. But in July of last year it issued a pre-solicitation for a handgun that shoots 9mm rounds, reigniting an online debate among gun enthusiasts as to whether the reduced recoil and wear and tear on guns from 9mm outweighed any power benefits of a bigger bullet.
Beretta has produced about 600,000 handguns for the Army since initially earning the contract in 1985.