Special: Replacing the M9 Contract: Does Beretta really have anything to worry about?

Rumor has it the Army is making plans to make plans to replace the M9.  Within the firearms community, this has been a hot topic (actually one of the hottest) for years now.  So when I had the opportunity to visit Beretta’s Maryland factory, I asked about the scuttlebutt surrounding the M9’s imminent demise.

Beretta execs must be shaking their Italian loafers, right?

Not at all.

Why not?  The answer was different depending on who you asked.  Here’s the rationale I pieced together from conversations with Beretta’s Ben Cook, product manager, and Matteo Recanatini, web and social media manager.

Ten solid reasons not to bet against Beretta.

  1. The M9 works.  Haters gonna hate.  There will always be those who mourn the (near) retirement of the fighting 1911.  Yet, the M9 is an effective pistol.  It works.
  2. After all of the talk this summer about replacing the M9, the Army placed an order for more M9s—15,778 in fact.  Not an insignificant number.  Who orders 15,778 of something they intend to replace?  Bureaucrats.  That’s who.  But still…
  3. The cost of replacing existing M9s.  How many are in service now?  How many others are available for service?  How many are stripped for parts?  The answers aren’t easy to find, but you can bet that they will be available when the time comes to do the math.
  4. The cost of retraining the end users.  We’re talking about a tremendous amount of training.  It is expensive enough training new recruits.  Imagine retraining everyone.
  5. The cost of educating armorers and gunsmiths.  Some of this education happens now in Maryland at the Beretta factory.  It was happening while I was there taking the tour.  Any new weapon will come with a steep learning curve.
  6. The cost of equipping armorers and smiths.  Parts, tools, dies and gauges, these things take time to develop and refine (and they get expensive fast).
  7. The time all of this will take.  How long will it take for another company to tool up for the initial order?  How fast can orders be filled?  How quickly can pistols be distributed to the troops, and at what cost?
  8. The cost of testing.  How much testing would be required to hit the required parameters of dependability, life of service, modularity, and reliably interchangeable parts?
  9. The M9 is made in America.  Many M9 detractors take an uninformed view of Beretta’s corporate identity.  Yes it is an Italian corporation, but the guns are made in the US.  And Beretta’s role in this country’s martial past is worth exploring more.  The Beretta family’s resistance to the Axis powers during WWII is fascinating and complex.
  10. We have no money to spend.  If we had no sidearm and we needed a sidearm, then this would be a no brainer, but I have to go back to #1.  The M9 works.  While it may not do everything that the Army would like, is it worth replacing?

What does the Army want, exactly?

No one knows, yet.  Not even the Army, but there are some educated guesses.

The Army Times published an insightful article on the topic last summer called “Pistols with a shot at replacing the M9.” In it the newspaper points out “limitations the [M9’s replacement] must overcome.”

The Army Times lists:

  • The slide-mounted safety. When solders rack the slide to alleviate a jam or stovepipe in the M9, they often inadvertently engage the safety—and won’t realize this until they reacquire and squeeze the trigger.
  • The open-slide design, which allows contaminants and dirt into the system.
  • The lack of a modular grip, integrated rail and night-sight capabilities.
  • The inability to suppress.
  • Limited service life — replacement should have a service life of at least 25,000 rounds.

How will Beretta compete in the trials?

Beretta M9, 9mm service pistol.That too remains to be seen.  But there are many logical options. 

They could rework the existing M9 platform.  They could use the 96A1—a .40 S&W evolution of the M9.  But that doesn’t answer all of the listed concerns. 

The PX4 platform offers many possibilities, not least of which is the PX4 Special Duty, which seems ready to go as is.  The PX4 was Beretta’s entry into the last round of talks—the 2005 Joint Combat Pistol Program.  The PX4 Special Duty is an impressive weapon, by any standards. 

But the real answers to this question are closely guarded trade secrets.  It seemed to me that the folks at Beretta had agreed upon a unified we’re-not-worried response.  This may have meant we’re not worried because talk about replacing the M9 is just talk, but it could also have meant we’re not worried because we have an ace up our sleeve.

After all, much of the discussion board guess-work about Beretta’s entry into this imagined competition was done before the success of the Nano.  Beretta may well have an entry that looks nothing like our preconceived notions.

For now we can only guess at what the Army will decide it wants. 

I expected to find the designers at Beretta sweating this decision, but they know better.  Odds are the Army will take a good long look at this and decide that the M9 works just fine.  In the meantime, Beretta has an order to fill.

Image Credit: The American Historical Foundation