The Army may have spurned efforts by Beretta to get its M9A3 pistol into the hands of soldiers, but those interested in laying a hand on the handgun now can do so at their local firearms dealer.

The M9A3 began shipping to retailers last week, Beretta announced in a Nov. 2 news release. And while the Army rejected the manufacturer's December 2014 proposal to fill upcoming M9 orders with the M9A3, the handgun is "being offered to military customers worldwide," according to a follow-up release Nov. 5.

  • A modular grip better suited for smaller-handed shooters. Soldiers comfortable with the existing M9 grip can add a wraparound strap to keep the classic dimensions, Bailey said.
  • An accessory rail — familiar to Marines who've used the M9A1 since 2006, but not to soldiers, who've used the M9 since 1985.
  • A complete makeover of the pistol's "internals," Bailey said, which "have basically been updated to our latest commercial configuration, which has improved over 30 years, compared to the M9."

Other upgrades include a 17-round sand-resistant magazine and a removable front sight.

Despite the changes, the handgun's major components are fully compatible with the M9, as are more than three-quarters of its individual parts, per the Nov. 2 release — key selling points in Beretta's proposal that would've allowed for backward compatibility with the existing Army parts inventory as well as accessories.

The Army declined the offer and instead moved forward with the Modular Handgun System, or XM17, program. The process has faced delays and congressional critics — and could be worth $580 million to the winning bidder.

Beretta won't enter the M9A3 in that contest, but will put forward the Beretta APX — a weapon Bailey said would meet all of the Army's requirements. The commercial version of the M9A3, with minor modifications, meets up to 92 percent of the XM17's requirements, Beretta said in its Nov. 5 release.

"Even though the requirements don't specify it directly … when it comes to the whole triggering mechanism, what the Army is requesting is a striker-fired pistol, as opposed to an external hammer pistol. … Beretta did not have one for many years because, especially on the military side, we felt the hammer provides advantages."

Proposals are due in January. The final official request for proposals — which leaves the choice of caliber up to the manufacturer and allows for "special purpose ammunition," such as fragmenting bullets — came out in late August.

"It is a challenge for any company to figure out what that optimal caliber is," Bailey said. "It's taking time … and the Army didn't give us a whole lot of time to develop those rounds."

Orders for the new handgun could approach 500,000 units across the Defense Department, with other services waiting on the Army's decision.

Suggested retail price for each of four M9A3 variants is $1,099, per the Beretta website.

Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.

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