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MMQB: MHS Decision Analysis

Last week, we reported that the US DoD chose the SiG P320 as its new handgun. So let’s take it apart Monday Morning Quarterback style.

First, is this an improvement? Yes, but with caveats. From a shooters perspective, given the choice between a new M9 and a new P320, I’ll take the SiG every day of the week. I like the ergonomics of the P320 better. I like the trigger better. The P320 is one of the new crop of striker-fired pistols that’s been designed to try to compete with Glocks and M&Ps, both notorious for mediocre to lousy trigger pulls by having a good trigger. Plus, it’s a striker fired trigger, and I prefer that to a double action trigger. Also the P320 doesn’t have a slide-mounted safety/decocker. I would prefer one control or the other (i.e. a safety or a decocker, but not both) mounted on the frame. Plus, the P320 is a modern, polymer-framed design, so it’ll require less lubrication and maintenance. The P320 is also equipped with sight dovetails, and comes with decent night sights out of the box. In any case, it’s a lot easier to order/mount tritium sights on the P320. The M9 does not have sight dovetails for the front sight, limiting the changes you can make. Well, without drilling, and I doubt the DoD is going to do that.

There are two caveats here. First, I’ve tried to be as kind to the M9 as I can. The ones in the inventory are mostly ill-maintained and worn out. They’re in need of spring replacements, locking block replacements, and a bunch of TLC. The M9s in inventory are pretty much EOL.

Second, in the grand scheme of things, pistols are relatively unimportant arms. So I might like some more cost analysis, but I think the M9s are too abused to be salvageable in a cost-effective way. Which means the alternative to this sort of winner is rolling in M9A3s to the existing contract. And I don’t think ignoring more recent developments is in any way a good idea. Plus, the DoD wanted a striker-fired design, and wrote the rules accordingly. Good for them.

Okay. So let’s look at the chosen P320 itself, viz.

There’s a few things I like, and one thing I really don’t. Let’s start with the positives: it’s a good design. The DoD wanted modularity, and even though I’m not sold on this being all that useful, they did and got it. And it is cool from an engineering standpoint. I like that the pistols are finished in something FDE colored: guns are a pretty good spoiler of camouflage if they’re colored black as they usually are. So that’s a small thing, but a nice one. The full-size pistol has an installed factory extended mag, and that’s good too. Not a lot of extra length for five more bullets. That’s a tradeoff I’m cool with in a service/duty pistol. And there are flush fit ones for when you don’t want the extra length. Finally, if we look closely at the rear sight, we’ll note that it’s mounted to a large plate. This is removable, and can be replaced with a SIG Romeo 1 mini red dot, or something else with the same footprint. That looks like some planning ahead for once. Red dots are a much nicer sighting system than irons, and it’s really good to see the idea getting traction out of the box in a big contract.

Now, the negative. You guessed it: that manual safety. I don’t like it. I don’t think factory standard striker-fired triggers benefit from one, and it’s one more thing to screw up. If you think otherwise, well, at least it’s ambidextrous and sensibly mounted to the frame. Still. Not needed.

Finally, the thing everyone’s probably wondering: Why not Glock? By all accounts they were part of the downselect.

Well I don’t know. Rampant speculation time. First, that safety I don’t like. If the DoD required one, or wanted one enough to give more points to the design with one, that’d be a good reason. The manual safety on the MHS winning P320 looks reasonably well thought out, if you like such things. I haven’t seen the guts though. Historically, adding a manual safety to Glocks hasn’t ever worked out well. The designs have been awkward. So that’s a possible reason.

Possibility two is a lower bid. Either SiG wanted the contract more, and was willing to go lower, or maybe they had production capacity to deliver faster. I don’t know. But economics is something else that’s good.

Finally, modularity. The P320 is modular, and the DoD really wanted that. The P320 is more modular than the Glock. Those are points in its favor.

So, did the DoD do badly by not picking Glock? Nope. Setting aside any particulars, both Glocks and P320s are good designs. Bet between the two, you can’t go wrong. I’d probably decide based on who could bid lower and deliver faster anyway.

Finally, what does this mean for shooters? Will SiG dethrone Glock in terms of popularity? Well, the future’s hard to figure. So…maybe? But probably not anytime soon, if ever. We can expect some Glock design improvements, to take care of things like that trigger, because competition drives innovation. Plus, we can expect SiG to gain a lot more aftermarket support, which is always great. So this is nothing but good for us shooters.

Also, the pistol the US Military issues doesn’t have any bearing on what pistols I buy, like, or carry. It didn’t before, it won’t now.

Modular Handgun Winner: P320

It’s official, per the US DoD’s press release. The massive contract for an M9 replacement has been awarded, and the winner is SiG with their P320.

I guess this shows you how good my prediction was. Oh well. It happens. You can’t get all the analyses right, and I read too much into the deep-sixing of their competition team.

I would like to congratulate SiG on winning the contract. They could use some good news of late, and it appears they’ve got it. I would also like to congratulate the US Military on their new pistol. They wanted modular, and the P320 is the ultimate in modularity.

While the P320 isn’t my top choice for new 9mm pistols, it’s still a fine firearm. It would make a great project gun. And I like it a lot better than the M9.

Way to join the striker fired future, US Army.

Perhaps I should get one of the customized Bruce Gray P320s. He’s got a great trigger package for them.

Hudson H9 Range Report

I’ve got some data for you from Top Men in the field. First, here’s the design overview and analysis.

Range impressions were good. In general, people were happy with the trigger. It’s nice. Of course, it will take some getting used to, like any trigger (good or not). But they seem to have delivered on their design goal of “Crisp, 1911-like trigger” in a striker-fired design.

The gun is also very low recoil and very flat shooting. Our shooters really liked it. That’s another design objective accomplished.

Further things for the plus column: while the grips are not interchangeable with existing 1911 grip panels, Hudson has contracted VZ grips to make them. So options should be available pretty quick.

One other note, this likely a negative. The patent design shows a large number of small parts. So disassembly might be a royal pain. We can’t judge reliability from that, though, so don’t.

These sorts of range expos are not good for judging a pistol, but they can help build excitement and optimism. Check and check.

One more thing. Mags appear to be based on those for the S&W 5906. Which is a strange choice for magazines, as that pistol is no longer in production. It should keep some costs down though. And for all I know those get the grip angle they wanted better than other magazines.

Avidity Arms PD10

More fun from SHOT. The Avidity Arms PD10 is another relatively new arrival. Avidity Arms is a small outfit, who have been working with Rob Pincus.

The PD10 is a roughly Glock 19 sized, single-stack 9mm pistol. It’s polymer framed. It uses 9mm 1911 magazines. On the one hand, this was almost certainly chosen to avoid magazine development and testing costs, so the final product could meet their target price point. Magazine development (like any part of pistol development) is expensive, and a single-stack, Glock 19 sized gun isn’t going to be in the running for any police or military contracts in the 21st century. Note that this does mean the grip is going to be somewhat longer than on a Glock 19, to accommodate a standard 1911 magazine.

It also raises some objections from me. I understand 9mm 1911 magazines are relatively common. But when you hear “9mm 1911”, you don’t think “paragon of reliability”. You probably think “unreliable”. Maybe “Jam-O-Matic”. 9mm 1911s have a well-deserved reputation for being difficult to get running right. The magazine is a part of this. I’m skeptical of using these in a pistol and getting a reliable result. Good 9mm 1911 magazines are also rather expensive, which bodes badly. Part of the problem with 1911 reliability is people buying cheap, crappy mags, discovering that they jam a lot, and blaming the platform. Ol’ Slabsides has a bunch of nostalgia value to back it up. This doesn’t. Also, with a 1911, you can at least buy a known good pistol while you mess around with magazines.

Problem two with 9mm 1911 magazines is that they tend to come in ‘full size’ lengths. Why is this a problem? Because that means you’re getting a ‘full size’ pistol. It’s a lot harder to scale a design down than it is to scale a design up. Want a bigger version of your pistol? That’s easy. A smaller version takes a lot more testing. I bring this up because small single-stack 9mms are selling really well right now. The M&P Shield, Walther PPS, and Glock 43 are all extremely popular. They’re all small. Considerably smaller than a G19 as far as length and height goes. For most of the gun-buying public1, I don’t really see the appeal here.

The PD10 seems to come with decent sights out of the box. They’re metal, at least. I don’t know what the sight picture looks like. The front dovetail is an M&P type, and the rear dovetail is a Glock type. I don’t know why this wasn’t designed to take M&P sights (front and rear dovetails) or Glock sights (front screw and rear dovetail). Picking a common sight mount is a good choice, but it really should be a common sight set.

And, of course, there are all the questions of reliability and company longevity that come with something new. Like I said with the Hudson H9, probably best to wait and see how this shakes out. In the meantime, the SiG P239 is a known reliable single stack 9mm pistol. Consider that if you’re in the market for a 9mm single stack that’s bigger than the M&P Shield.

1.) Fishbreath will be along in a moment to tell you about small-handed people who need pistols too.

M&P 2.0 Range Reports

Alas, I am not (yet) an important member of the Gun Media to warrant getting my hands on weapons that are so new as to be unreleased yet. But I have friends who are. Let’s look at what Top Men think of the M&P 2.0. My overview of the design can be found here.

Our sources really liked the new grip texture. They said it was good enough to not require modification out of the box. Your mileage may vary, since everyone’s tastes are different, but that’s a big improvement. The stock M&P 1.0 pistols have pretty slick grips.

The trigger was always going to be the $64,000 question. And our sources say it’s much improved. Likely totally redesigned. It’s got a very “Apex-like” feel, with much less of a mushy feeling, and a crisper reset. It also felt lighter than an M&P 1.0 trigger. They also got some time on a Performance Center version which had an even nicer trigger and a red dot. This version performed very well.

Accuracy at distance, even with wind, was good. Small sample size, but this is a good sign that S&W has fixed the accuracy issues. We can certainly hope.

I’m hoping S&W gets its act together and makes a good pistol. Competition drives market improvements. Also, note that the M&P series is second only to Glock in terms of aftermarket support, and whoever’s in third place doesn’t come close. M&Ps have a pretty decent lineup of accessories and training aids. So it’s good if they can keep their product solid.

Hudson H9

It’s being teased, and it’s coming at SHOT, so let’s talk about it. The Hudson H9. Or, what happens when a 1911 and a Glock get drunk one night.

It’s a striker-fired, metal-framed, double-stack pistol. It’s got a sliding trigger, which should feel good. It has an ambi slide release, may have an ambi safety variant (prototypes had one, all the teaser shots don’t), and a conventional rotating takedown lever. And it’s got a weird front end. It appears (and patent drawings seem to back up this) that the really low dustcover and bizarre front end is to put the recoil spring assembly and rotating take-down lever in front of the trigger rather than above it. This would lower the bore axis, which would lower the recoil vector to be more in line with your hand.

And now, a brief aside to step into one of the many minefields of gun discussions, bore axis. Bore axis is how far the center of the barrel is from the web of your hand. It’s also commonly either overblown into “GUNZ WITH A HIGH BORE AXIS ARE TEH UNSHOOTABLE!!1!” or ignored with a “GIT GUD, N00b!!!!” As usual when morons get to keyboards, both parties should be ignored. Clearly, physics tells us there is something to bore axis worth thinking about. It’s why we try to get a grip as high as possible up on the gun. To be closer to the recoil force vector. That works. Every reasonably good pistol shooter knows that works. So all things being equal, a lower bore axis is better. But it’s not a huge deal, because even guns that commonly are called out for a “high bore axis” are still pretty shootable. A higher bore axis will put more emphasis on your recoil control technique in your grip, if you care about fast follow up shots. It’s a thing, but it’s not the be-all, end-all of pistol design.

So a super low bore axis, because we’ve moved some important operating components out of the way, is going to be good for quick follow up shots and gamer-ness. Sweet. Plus, that metal (steel?) frame is going to soak up recoil like a sponge. Again, great for the gamers. And sliding triggers feel really good, and are easier to push straight back to the rear, all other things being equal. Presuming it’s not a stupid-heavy trigger, that should also be great.

Oh, and it’ a proper double-stack, single-feed magazine. You know, like a Glock, or just about any other full-size pistol that isn’t a 1911 these days. It’s a rather fat looking magazine too. List capacity is 15 rounds, at least according to the website. I was hoping for more before going to extenders, maybe 20. Oh well. I’ll live.

From an engineering standpoint, this thing looks like a real winner. So let’s talk outstanding questions:

  1. ┬áMagazines. They’re a new design. Are they reliable? Will they be easy to come by? What will they cost?
  2. Sight Dovetails. Is this a new design, or something established. Hopefully it’s a standard dovetail so we don’t have to wait to see if the pistol is popular before looking for other sight options.
  3. Grip panels. Basically everything I said about dovetails. Are these a new grip panel design? Grips are a bit cheaper to fab, I think, so maybe those designs will come quicker if this is a new thing.
  4. Reliability. Hello 800 lbs. gorilla in the room. Have you done your homework, Hudson? Does this damn thing run and run and run? Or do we have an heir apparent to the Throne of the Feedway Stoppage?

So on the one hand, color me skeptical. On the other hand, I don’t know Hudson’s financial backing or engineering team. So I don’t know what kind of backing we’re looking at. On the one hand, pushing the envelope has gotten us things like Kel-Tec, makers of impossible-to-find vaporware guns, Boberg nonsense that pulls bullets apart, and the ‘recall all the things’ Caracal.

On the other hand, let’s also not forget that Glock was once revolutionary and weird for trying to make a frame out of plastic, and look where it’s got them.

There are a lot of ‘revolutions’ in the gun world that have gone nowhere. And a few that have taken off, and some that just kinda hang around unnoticed. We’ll see what this one brings.

As for my opinion of the H9, well, I am a cynical sort. I’ve already got a lot of really nice pistols. I’ll wait for the initial reviews and reserve judgment. I do like flat-shooting guns, but I generally don’t like being a beta tester. So we’ll see.

See more on range reports from SHOT here!

S&W M&P 2.0

It may have lost the US Army’s competition, but it’s coming to a gun store near you! The Smith and Wesson M&P M2.0 is being teased with videos and press coverage.

Offhand, it looks like they took the M&P that everyone loved and fixed the major gripes. Let’s review:

  1. The M&P had a stupidly smooth grip texture. No more! The M2.0 has a properly aggressive looking texture
  2. The M&P factory trigger is crap. Parts from Apex are required to bring it to the level of a *factory* Glock. NO MORE! The M2.0 is teasing a better trigger.
  3. Users who like pushing their pistols beyond 10 yards sometimes complained of poor accuracy. No more! S&W is teasing accuracy improvements
  4. Users like front cocking serrations, but the M&P didn’t have them, necessitating expensive custom milling. No more! The M2.0 has front cocking serrations from the factory

Admittedly on 2 and 3 we have to take their word for it until review copies drop. So I wouldn’t buy this without looking at a bunch of reviews from places that don’t mind being critical. It still has the option of a manual safety, if that’s your thing, and it has those great M&P ergonomics.

That said, it’s facing a lot of stiff competition from the VP9, PPQ, P320, and the new CZ P10. Plus, the Glock 17M/19M that won the FBI contract are likely to be dropping this year too.

As with any other pistol, I would be reluctant to buy the first few copies. I prefer to let other people find bugs that slipped past initial testing if at all possible. But that’s me.

UPDATE: Read about early reports from the range here.

US Military Modular Handgun System Update: S&W Eliminated

We’ve got some news on the US Military’s Solicitation for the M9 replacement.

First, a brief aside. I am extremely skeptical that this program will actually result in a pistol being procured by the US Military. There have been many, many attempts to replace the M16/M4, and all have failed. At this point, I’m pretty sure the carbines just start laughing at the attempts. So color me skeptical of this XM17.

See, a large part of the problem with replacing the M4 is that its really quite good. There are some perceived flaws, but it’s a great gun. It’s actually really reliable. And it’s in the system. Spare parts, armorer training, the whole lot. So when compared to a bunch of expensive “wonderguns” that don’t live up to the ad copy, or a bunch of slightly different guns that still shoot the same damn 5.56 mm round, it’s no shock that the M4 sticks around.

But what about the M9? Well, here’s my two bits, though it’s not really at issue here. I think it’s a fine gun. I’m also not personally a big fan1. I think the decocker/safety is in an awkward place. I’m not a fan of double action pistols. And you’re basically stuck with the sights its got, though newer models have rectified this somewhat, depending on sight availability. But that’s the opinion of one guy. Who’s a pistol shooter and pistol enthusiast. The M9 is mostly in the hands of guys whose job doesn’t involve lots of shooting. They don’t get a ton of practice with it. Changing the pistol isn’t going to change the fact that they won’t be able to hit a barn from the inside, and they won’t care about their pistols. Now, people who actually care about and frequently use pistols, the elite forces types, get enough training to make it work and have budget items to buy whatever they please. And really, pistols aren’t that important. Since the competitors all shoot 9 mm rounds, I’m not sure this is worth the effort.

But for now, the Army disagrees on that last point. Or perhaps they agree with my earlier point of disliking the M9. So they solicited a new “Modular Handgun” which was a really, really long document when compared to the FBI’s solicitation. We’ve learned one of the entrants has been tossed.

Smith & Wesson.

Now, part of me was surprised by this. S&W had partnered with General Dynamics Land Systems for its offering. And GDLS is one of the biggest American contractors, with lots of experience getting contracts in Washington. I thought this was a great business move for them, work with someone who has experience in dealing with the Pentagon. But it wasn’t enough. They’re out.

And now, time for some rampant speculation!

First, who might we expect in the downselect? Glock, of course. Especially after winning the FBI contract. Glock is the big, obvious, 800 pound gorilla in the room. They’ve also been selected by SOCOM, so those guys whose job involve lots of faceshooting seem to like them. I might also expect SiG to go far, and then possibly FN or Beretta, since FN is a big weapons contractor, and Beretta makes the current pistol. We’ll see from there.

Now, let’s talk about the S&W entrant, the M&P. I’ve got some time on an M&P40. It’s a solid gun. Of course, the US Army is interested in 9 mm. And the M&P9s have a poor reputation for quality control and accuracy at range (beyond 25 yards). Not all of the full size 9 mms have the problem, but that’s the rep they’ve got. Maybe there were QC issues with their submission? Maybe there were production concerns?

Note of course that the M&Ps come with a manual safety option, but the Glock, P320, and the Beretta APX don’t. Doesn’t really matter. It’s something that can be added if a competition demands it. I’m also not sure if that’s a requirement of the MHS, or something preferred, or if the US Military has moved on from that desire.

1.) It is, however, quite iconic. The Beretta 92 is the weapon of choice of many wonderful fictional characters, including John McClane, Martin Riggs, and the S.T.A.R.S. team.

On the Gewehr 36

First, the news.

The German court in Koblenz has found in favor of HK that they are not at fault for the issues plaguing the G36. This was expected, at least by yours truly. HK asserted in its lawsuit that the German government never required their rifles pass the tests in question, therefore they couldn’t be held liable for said rifle failing to meet those requirements. And it is true that the Bundeswehr never had requirements regarding the failures in question. Nor indeed did they do the tests until the chorus from the troops became so loud that they could not be drowned out. A good, legalistic defense. And good news for HK.

And let me be clear. I’m not blaming them for failing to meet standards they weren’t tested for. You might be a trifle peeved at HK if you’re following the news, but how would you feel if you took a high school Algebra test and then your parents scolded you for failing to pass a calculus exam?

What were the problems? To put it mildly, the G36 sucks when exposed to heat. The barrel is mounted to the polymer receiver and the polymer sight assembly in such a way that heat will compromise the mount, causing accuracy issues. I am not sure if this is a question of structural engineering or polymer composition or both.

Here is a picture of the trunnion on the G36.

That area, of course, is right around the chamber of the rifle. It’s gonna get hot quick. Now, I’m no engineer, but that doesn’t seem all that sturdy of a mounting method. And I might be curious as to how hot that area gets. And I know no other rifle does things that way.

These issues can be found in as little as 90 rounds (three magazines) of automatic or reasonably quick semiautomatic fire. They are also significantly exacerbated by high temperatures. The kind you might find in the Middle East. You can imagine the shock and horror in the Bundeswehr when they finally went out to go kick some haji ass with their American (and French!) pals and discovered that their rifles couldn’t take the heat.

Now, Germany is a temperate place. But the Germans have been in warm places before. Where? Hmm. Well, there was that bit in Afrika back in the 40s, right?

NEIN!
DISCUSSION OF THE WAR IS STRENG VERBOTEN!!

Okay. So, maybe not. I imagined Rommel. But hey. When 90 or so shots make your targets look like you forgot how to shoot all of a sudden, there’s no trouble at all, right? We’re imagining things.

But don’t take my word for it. I’m just some Amerikaner. What do I know? What do the German special forces units use? They use the HK 416 as much as they can. Hmm. Aluminum receiver, eh? I think my police friends might call this a “clue”.

German troops deployed to Afghanistan always tried to acquire G3s or HK 416s in the field. Another clue!

Then there’s the XM8, which was a G36 with a fancy shell. Same construction. It was plagued by heat issues, which caused its weight to skyrocket. Huh. This is turning into Cluetown over here.

Other than the massive heat issues, the G36 isn’t a terrible design. It looks kinda space age. It has an ambidextrous charging handle and ambidextrous safeties. The mag release is a paddle (which is in the center, and therefore also ambidextrous), and the mags do not drop free. The paddle isn’t operable by the strong hand from its usual position on the firing grip. It’s not as nice as an AR-15 pattern weapon ergonomically. The gas piston system works well. The magazines are also a good feature of the weapon. They can be clipped together using lugs on the side. They are also made of a translucent polymer, so you can see how many rounds remain. Plus, they were designed from the start for thirty rounds, so they have a continuous curve, instead of the dogleg of the AR-15 magazine. The optics are kinda goofy, and they’re integral, so have fun with that. The compact G36C version would introduce a lower picatinny rail sight/carry handle. But not as low as on other not-G36 rifles, because the charging handle is right there under the carry handle.

Also, in case there was doubt, the HK 416 is basically HK’s take on the AR design, but with the G36 op rod system. So there’s that, and it’s way better. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. They’re clearly paying us Americans back for stealing the Mauser design for the Springfield 1903.

Overall, the G36 a meh rifle before we knew about the heat problems, and now I can’t imagine why you’d get one. Despite all of the fancy new-age polymers, the regular G36 rifle isn’t lighter than the M16A2 (or M16A1, which is lighter still). And the M16A2 won’t make your groups the size of a barn after 90 rounds.

HK 416 Wins in France!

The French are not wasting any time in selecting a replacement for their worn-out FAMAS rifles. The HK 416 has been selected as the new French Service rifle, beating out the other downselected rifle, the FN SCAR 16.

Congratulations, HK!

I came to a similar conclusion while back in my own HK 416/SCAR 16 head-to-head. So I totally called it.

Let’s review salient points in the 416’s favor, in case you’re wondering why the French picked a gun from La Boche. I’ve got some more thoughts on the 416 itself, but those will wait. This is about France.

1.) The HK 416 has been chosen as a general issue rifle already, by Norway. The SCAR 16 has not. While both were developed by American special operations units, and both are in service with a number of special operations groups around the world, including some in France, there’s a lot you can learn from a rifle by giving it to a bunch of grunts to use and abuse. Grunts can break everything. And the Norwegians have found some minor issues, which HK has fixed. So that’s a bunch of bugs the French won’t find. Picking something someone else has already issued generally means you’ll find fewer problems.

2.) The HK 416 is going to be the G36 replacement. Only a matter of time. I’ll have more on the G36 later this week, but given the problems it has in the heat (even if no one in cold-ass Germany thought to test in the heat), the Germans will be ditching the G36. The winner is going to be German, because they’re still secretly nationalist. And that means it’s going to be the next service rifle of Germany.

Why does this matter for France? Well, France is trying to cooperate a lot more with Germany on military matters. They’ve got a bunch of projects in the works with Germany, including a new tank project. Even if I think multinational projects like that are a terrible idea, and no multinational tank project has ever actually delivered anything, they’re committed. So choosing a common service rifle is a no brainer.

3.) The HK 416 is very automatic-rifle-like. Remember, in its off the shelf form (ok, they nicely put USMC on the side), the 416 was selected as the Squad Automatic Rifle for the US Marine Corps, in sort of a modern-BAR type role. I’m not sure if this is important to you, but if it is, if you’re worried about battles like Wanat (and can’t just fix your officer corps), the 416 is the rifle for you. It is also heavy. If you like heavy, it’s the rifle for you.

So there you have it. That said, I’d still prefer a more traditional direct impingement M4, maybe from Colt, or maybe Colt Canada (they actually have a somewhat different catalog than regular Colt), or LMT.