The new military handgun: who gets it next?

Airmen will soon carry the newest handgun in the services, a 9mm pistol first fielded by the Army, as the Navy and other services make plans to follow suit.

Airmen will soon carry the military’s newest handgun, a 9mm pistol first fielded by the Army, since requested by the Navy and Marines, and soon to be followed by the Coast Guard.

But airmen will carry the compact version of the Modular Handgun System sidearm that the other services bring to the fight.

“We’ve started the procurement process and plan to buy approximately 130,000 weapons,” wrote Laura McAndrews in an email to Military Times. “We determined the M18 MHS, the compact version, will best meet the Air Force mission needs, and selected it as the standard handgun for all Air Force users.

The MHS will replace all the Air Force’s Beretta M9 pistols, which have been the standard service-wide sidearm for all the services since the mid-1980s.

The Modular Handgun System, made by Sig Sauer, is a striker-fired pistol that has rails for attaching shooting accessories and can have a suppressor. The older M9 required modifications for accessories or a suppressor.

The MHS’ hand grip also has three sizes that can be changed by the user to better fit individual hands. And the MHS system also includes a drop holster that can be mounted on a belt, vest or thigh.

In their February budget request for the upcoming fiscal year, the Navy and Marine Corps also plan to order the MHS to replace nearly its entire handgun stock, with a starting order of 35,000 for Marines and 60,000 for sailors.

Like the Air Force, the Navy will order mostly compact versions of the pistol.

Their reasoning? It will be a “more affordable and efficient pistol for maintenance. The MHS also provides modularity and greater shooter ergonomics over the current models.”

Magazines for the Modular Handgun System are seen during a test conducted for U.S. Army Operational Test Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. (Army).
Magazines for the Modular Handgun System are seen during a test conducted for U.S. Army Operational Test Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. (Army).

With the new request, the Air Force brings the handgun system full circle.

The Modular Handgun System began as an Air Force program in 2008 and was moved under the Army’s supervision in 2010.

(Quick historical note: the company that makes the MHS, Sig Sauer, competed in the 1980s for the contract to produce the previous 9mm pistol. Sig lost to Beretta.)

The Air Force bought Sig’s pistol, the P226, for its pilots.

Early reporting on the handgun procurement listed all the services except the Coast Guard. But, according to Sig Sauer spokesman Tom Taylor, the Coast Guard has participated in monthly meetings with the company.

“They have committed to ordering handguns, but official quantities have not been determined as of yet,” Taylor wrote in an email.

He said that they expect the Coast Guard to look to fiscal 2019, beginning in October, to expect deliveries, if the budget request is approved.

Sig Sauer won the 10-year, $580 million contract in January 2017. The Army first fielded the handgun to soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky after multiple tests by soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, according to officials.