Army weapons officials plan to open the official competition next year with the goal of awarding a contract to a single gun maker for nearly 300,000 new pistols by 2018.
"We expect to release the final solicitation in 2016," Col. Scott Armstrong, the head of Project Manager for Soldier Weapons, said in a June 17 press release from Program Executive Office Soldier.
"This will be followed by a phased down-select process that will run through 2017. When all is said and done, the XM17 will provide Warfighters with greater accuracy, target acquisition, ergonomic design. The new handgun will also be more reliable, durable and easier to maintain."
This is the second draft solicitation the Army has released for its effort to replace the M9, a pistol Beretta USA has made for the U.S. military since the mid-1980s.
The service had planned to open the competition in January, but delayed the effort to modify its plans for MHS after receiving feedback from the small-arms industry.
The completion schedule, procedures and requirements for the XM17 MHS "were modified as a result of industry feedback and DoD's decision to allow use of special purpose ammunition," the release states.
The January announcement also followed a Military.com report about the December decision of the service's Configuration Control Board to deny Beretta USA's submission of a modernized version of the M9 pistol, the M9A3, as an alternative to MHS.
The Army plans to hold a fourth industry day July 7-8 at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., to discuss the document and receive feedback from industry.
"Each vendor may provide up to two separate proposals of handguns with different calibers to the Army for evaluation and testing in early 2016," Armstrong said. "Vendors must submit mature designs that are production ready. They are free to select a caliber that best meets the XM17 requirements."
One of the major goals of the MHS effort is to adopt a pistol chambered for a more potent round than the current 9mm, weapons officials said. The U.S. military replaced the .45 caliber 1911 pistol with the M9 in 1985 and began using the 9mm NATO round at that time.
Soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have complained that the 9mm round is not powerful enough to be effective in combat, Army officials maintain.
But experts from the law-enforcement and competitive shooting worlds have argued that tactical pistol ammunition -- no matter the caliber -- depends on proper shot placement to be effective at stopping a determined adversary.
The Army began working with the small-arms industry on MHS in early 2013, but the effort has been in the works for more than five years. If successful, it would result in the Defense Department buying about 500,000 new pistols during a period of significant defense-spending reductions.
MHS is set to cost at least $350 million and potentially millions more if it results in the selection of a more potent pistol caliber, sources said.
Current plans call for the Army to purchase more than 280,000 handguns from a single vendor, with full-rate production scheduled for 2018, according to the release. The Army also plans to buy approximately 7,000 compact versions of the handgun. The other military services participating in the XM17 program may order an additional 212,000 systems, Army officials maintain.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.