Army Begins MHS Competition to Find New Pistol and Ammo Supplier

A 101st Airborne Division soldier fires a Sig Sauer pistol during weapons training May 29, 2015 at Tactical Base Gamberi in eastern Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Charlie Emmons)
A 101st Airborne Division soldier fires a Sig Sauer pistol during weapons training May 29, 2015 at Tactical Base Gamberi in eastern Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Charlie Emmons)

The U.S. Army has launched its long-awaited competition to replace the M9 9mm pistol by offering gun makers the chance to supply the service with a new Modular Handgun System and the ammo to go with it.

The Aug. 28 XM17 MHS request for proposals calls on gun makers to submit packages that include full-size and compact versions of their handgun and hundreds of thousands of rounds for testing.

In a break from tradition, the Army is also requiring competing firms to prove that they are capable of delivering millions of rounds of pistol ammunition per month in addition to delivering thousands of new handguns per month, according to the request.

Gun makers have until Jan. 28 to submit proposals.

"The acquisition strategy is to conduct a full and open competition that will utilize the tradeoff method to evaluate and select the best value systems submitted that meets the MHS requirements," the notice states. "The Government will down-select to the Contractor whose proposals represent the best value to the Government ... giving the appropriate consideration to the six evaluation factors: System accuracy Shooter-in-The Loop, Reliability and Service Life, License Rights ammunition, License Rights Handgun and Accessories, Other Characteristics, and Price."

The Army intends to award up to three contracts at the end of the initial evaluation. The service then plans to select from those a single contractor a 10-year contract for the new handguns, accessories and spare parts and a five-year contract for the ammunition, according to the request.

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 more than 400,000 new pistols during a period of significant defense-spending reductions.

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.

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.

The competition will also evaluate expanding or fragmenting ammunition, such as hollow-point bullets, that have been used by law enforcement agencies for years. Earlier this summer, the Army's draft solicitation cited a new Defense Department policy that allows for the use of "special purpose ammunition."

The competition will include a user evaluation with each Modular Handgun System candidate using the Modular Handgun Joint Pistol Qualification Course, or JPQC, according to the draft solicitation.

"Each warfighter in this test will fire each candidate weapon system," the request for proposals states. "The JPQC includes target engagements spanning 1 [meter] to 35 [meters], from various firing positions, with target exposure times of 3 to 8 seconds."

Competitors will also be judged on how close they come to meeting the objective requirement for reliability with is 2,500 mean rounds between stoppages and 10,000 mean rounds between failures, according to the RFP.

Each gun maker will be required to submit full-size and a compact-size MHS packages.

The full-size package includes 100 guns; the compact package calls for 75 guns. Both include magazines, spare parts and other accessories. Both packages also require an ammunition support package of about 600,000 rounds of ball and special-purpose ammunition.

The winner will have to be able to deliver 6,300 full-size pistols per month within a year and 3,000 compact pistols per month with in a year, according to the RFP.

The winning contractor will have to be able to ramp up to delivering 2.8 million rounds of ball ammunition per month within three years and 1.6 million rounds of special-purpose ammunition per month within three years, according the RFP.

Current plans call for the Army to purchase more than 280,000 full-size handguns and 7,000 compact versions, Army officials maintain. The other military services participating in the MHS program may order an additional 212,000 systems above the Army quantity.

--Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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