It’s official!  After a year’s worth of testing at their Picatinny Arsenal, the U.S. Army has announced that after a forty-year run, they are retiring their current service pistol, the Beretta M9, and replacing it with the Sig P320, a polymer-framed gun featuring interchangeable backstraps to more snugly fit different-sized hands.  The pistol has been on the civilian and cop market for a few years, like every Sig it’s a nice-looking gun and there haven’t been any complaints about reliability or holding up under normal wear and tear.

sig320             The deal could be worth upwards of $580 million to Sig over the next ten years, assuming that various military units purchase 500,000 guns during that period of time. While this works out to $1,100 a pop, don’t think for one second that Sig is laughing all the way to the bank. Because in addition to the gun itself, Sig also has to supply holsters, cleaning rods, modular backstraps, multiple barrels, suppressors and ammunition, all of which will probably eat up half of the total cost that the military services will pay for each gun.  On the other hand, when the military decides to outfit its troops with a new weapon, the civilian version of said product usually sells very well, as does the gun when it is offered to consumers and tax-exempt agencies overseas.

Why did the U.S. military decide to outfit its troops with a new gun?  The actual design and functioning of the weapon was a secondary consideration, the real issue which has stayed in the background of all the chatter about this deal, has to do with the ammunition that the gun will use.  Because if you look at the official RFP that the Army published to define the testing for the gun, any manufacturer who wanted to submit a test weapon also had to submit the ammunition that would be used in the test, the gun  has to accommodate standard military ammunition known as ‘ball’ ammo, as well as something else called ‘special purpose’ ammunition, which must meet functionality and reliability standards as well.

The Army has been using ball pistol ammo since it first adopted the 45-caliber Colt pistol prior to World War I.  When the Colt was replaced with the 9-millemeter Beretta in 1977, ball ammunition continued to be used.  This ammunition is a conical-shaped bullet which is completely solid and hence, tends to easily slide up the loading ramp which moves the cartridge from the magazine into the barrel of the gun. It turns out that ‘special purpose’ ammunition is a bureaucratic euphemism for ammunition with a hollow point, which means the round expands on impact and makes a much wider and deeper hole. Problem is that such ammunition, although more lethal than ball ammo, also requires a slightly different angle for the feed ramp so that even without a solid tip, the bullet will slide right up the ramp and away we go.

The Beretta 9mm pistol was engineered only for ball ammunition because that’s what the military decided to use when they began buying that gun. The decision to stick with ball ammo has now evidently gone by the board.  But wait a minute – isn’t there something called the Geneva Convention which prohibits the use of hollow-point ammunition precisely because it’s considered too lethal and destructive even by troops at war? These treaties cover such things as the treatment of POWs, outlawing chemical weapons and hollow-point ammunition, among other things.  But guess which country never actually signed those treaties, which means that this same country isn’t bound by any rules about using hollow-point ammo, in case you didn’t know.

The reason the United States follows some aspects of the Geneva accords is because, for example, if we mistreat POWs of another country, then that country will no doubt mistreat American POWs as well.  But pistol ammunition?  Who cares, particularly when we’ll use that ammo to, as Mister 45 said today, “eradicate Radical Islamic Terrorism completely from the face of the Earth.”