US Army’s 101st Airborne First to Receive New Service Pistol to Replace M9

© AP Photo / Lynne SladkyA customer looks at a SIG Sauer hand gun at a gun show held by Florida Gun Shows, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Miami.
A customer looks at a SIG Sauer hand gun at a gun show held by Florida Gun Shows, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Miami. - Sputnik International
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The US Army announced on Wednesday that the 101st Airborne Division will be its first unit to be equipped with the SIG Sauer P320 semi-automatic pistol, winner of the 2016 Modular Handgun System (MHS) competition. The P320 is meant to eventually replace the Beretta M9 as the US Military’s standard service pistol.

The $580 million, 10-year contract is expected to involve the purchase of more than 400,000 handguns, according to military equipment organization Program Executive Office Soldier (PEO Soldier). The Army will get 195,000, the Air Force 130,000, the Navy 61,000 and the Marines 35,000.

Lieutenant Colonel Steve Power, leader of PEO Soldier's individual weapons division, sung the gun's praises at the National Defense Industrial Association's 2017 Armaments Systems Forum.  "It has increased lethality, faster target acquisition, better reliability," he said.

The word "modular" in "Modular Handgun System" refers to the P320's multiple grip sizes and flexibility for accessories like flashlights. Adaptability for a variety of operators and conditions was one of the key qualities the Army sought out during the MHS contest.

US Army soldiers representing units participating in the the Anaconda-16 military exercise, attend the opening ceremony, in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, June 6, 2016. - Sputnik International
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SIG Sauer won the MHS contest that the Army and Air Force held in 2016 to choose the M9's replacement. Twelve pistols were entered into the competition, and in January 2017 the Army announced SIG Sauer as the winner. "The Army determined that this MHS (full size handgun, compact handgun, ammunition, and ancillary components) was the best value in terms of its performance capability, the terms and conditions of the vendor's proposal, and price," reads the accompanying media release.

Glock, which also entered the competition, filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Given the size and scope of the contract, a protest from one of the runners-up was expected.

However, the Army is free to continue to develop the specifics of the P320 roll-out until the GAO makes its ruling in early June.

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"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.

The 101st Airborne is one of the Army's most elite and famous units, nicknamed "the tip of the spear" by former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Some 1,400 members of the Division are currently deployed in Afghanistan in operations against al-Qaeda in Daesh.

The SIG Sauer is already in use by the Royal Thai Police, which purchased more than 150,000 of the handguns in 2015.

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