The Marine Corps has tapped Colt Defense LLC to make more than 10,000 new Close Quarter Battle Pistols for the service's elite special operations troops.
The July 19 contract, which has a total value of $22.5 million, brings an end to the Corps' exhaustive search for the top .45 caliber, 1911-style pistol to replace the fleet of worn-out Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, or MARSOC, M45 pistols.
Colt Defense, based in Hartford, Conn., was the original maker of John Browning's revered 1911 design – a potent handgun that served all branches of the U.S. Military for more than 70 years until it was replaced by the M9 9mm pistol in 1985.
Marine officials, however, say they didn't play favorites.
"It was performance based. . . . We picked the best-performing pistol," said Charles Clark III, who oversees infantry weapons requirements at the Corps' Combat Development and Integration office in Quantico, Va. "There were three candidates that made the final round of consideration," but Clark would not discuss the competitors.
In addition to Colt, Springfield Armory's Full Size MC Operator and Smith & Wesson's 1911 design were also contenders, sources tell Military.com.
Marine testers placed a high priority on accuracy. The winner had to be capable of putting five-shot groups on target that "didn't exceed four inches by four inches at 25 yards" from an unsupported firing position, Clark said. Reliability and magazine life were other important factors in the decision.
The new Close Quarter Battle Pistols will be very similar to the M45s they are replacing this fall. They will have a rail for mounting lights, a custom trigger, a manual safety, improved ergonomics and glowing Tritium sights for low-light conditions.
The most visual difference is the Colt models will come in Coyote tan instead of gunmetal, Clark said.
The Corps began issuing custom 1911 .45 pistols to its elite Force Reconnaissance units in the 1990s. Gunsmiths at the Quantico Weapons Training Battalion Precision Weapons Section hand built them from old 1911s that had been replaced by the M9 in the mid 1980s.
The creation of the first MARSOC units in 2006 caused the requirement to grow from 400 pistols to 4,000 pistols. Finding enough surplus 1911s for the Precision Weapons Section's custom rebuilds became impractical.
"We realized that hand building 4,000 guns was not sustainable," Clark said.
Marine officials would not discuss the individual price for each new pistol. But the $22.5 million contract to Colt will allow the Corps to buy replacements for the new pistols as they wear out, Clark said. The contract also includes some money for spare parts.
"The contract is built so we can re-buy the approved acquisitions objective three times, so we can buy 4,000 guns three times," Clark said. "These pistols will be getting used a lot; deployed a lot so the guns are going to get shot out." MARSOC operators stay on a rigorous deployment cycle, "so they fire a lot of rounds. It's a 15,000-round plus [training] work-up to a deployment," Clark said. "It's more efficient to replace the guns over time instead of attempting to completely rebuild them."