U.S. Army weapon officials announced Wednesday that the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) will be the first unit to receive the service's new Modular Handgun System.
The announcement comes as the service waits for the Government Accountability Office to rule on a protest filed by Glock Inc. in February against the Army's selection of the Sig Sauer P320 as the replacement for its current M9 9mm pistol.
The GAO is expected to make a decision in early June, but the service is free to continue work on the effort.
The Army awarded Sig Sauer a contract worth up to $580 million Jan. 19. Sig Sauer beat out Glock Inc., FN America and Beretta USA, maker of the current M9 9mm service pistol, in the competition for the Modular Handgun System, or MHS, program.
The 10-year agreement calls for Sig to supply the Army with full-size XM17 and compact XM18 versions of its 9mm pistol. The pistols can be outfitted with suppressors and accommodate standard and extended-capacity magazines.
The service launched its long-awaited XM17 MHS competition in late August 2015 to replace its Cold War-era M9 9mm pistol. The decision formally ended the Beretta's 30-year hold on the Army's sidearm market.
Army officials have said very little about the new MHS since the contract award.
"It has increased lethality, faster target acquisition, better reliability," Lt. Col. Steven Power, who runs Product Manager for Individual Weapons, told an audience at the National Defense Industrial Association's 2017 Armaments Systems Forum.
Power said there have been a lot of misconceptions about what the requirements community meant when they described the new pistol as modular.
"This largely focused on the shooter's hand size and the enablers that the weapon is compatible with," Power said, describing how the MHS offers different grip sizes and can accept various attachments such as lights and optics.
The base configuration of the full-size XM17 pistol will come with Tritium sights and three magazines -- one standard 17-round magazine and two extended 21-round magazines. Army equipment officials are developing a holster for the MHS as well.
One aspect of the MHS that Army officials have been reluctant to talk about is the type of ammunition the service's new sidearm will use.
A new Defense Department policy -- that allows for the use of "special-purpose ammunition" -- allowed the Army to require gunmakers to submit ammunition proposals along with their pistols to be evaluated in the competition.
The ammunition chosen to go with the Sig Sauer is a "Winchester jacketed hollow point" round, Power told Military.com.
But before it can be issued, the Pentagon must complete a "law of war determination," which is scheduled to be complete in the next two months, Army officials said.
"Before we can field it, we have to have a law of war determination on the specific ammunition that was submitted with the handgun before we actually continue to field it to the soldier," said Col. Brian Stehle, head of Project Manager Soldier Weapons.
"We have a law of war determination that stated that this type of ammunition is usable. We are very confident that the winning ammunition will be usable."
The current plan is for the Army to buy 195,000 MHS pistols. Here's a look at the MHS quantities the other services intend to buy, according to Army officials:
-- Air Force: 130,000
-- Navy: 61,000, XM18 only
-- Marine Corps: 35,000
As long as the GAO upholds the Army's decision in the Glock protest, the service will conduct final testing of the MHS this summer, service officials maintain.
"Our first fielding of this is going to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, by the end of the calendar year," Power said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.