I have been very vocal about my thoughts that the Army failed this program thus failed the American soldier in providing him/her with the best pistol. My logic had nothing to do with either Glock or Sig, but with the failure of the process in selection. I have had comments sent to me that this is just a pistol and in the overall scheme of things it does not matter.

First, I will address the comment that "it is just a pistol and it does not matter". That is utterly false. If you have to use a pistol to defend yourself, you are really down to your last level of defense. If that pistol does not work then the soldier is dead. So, to him, there is nothing trivial about the need for the best quality pistol the US can provide their soldiers with. It is not uncommon for a pistol to be employed in an emergency situation. Whether that be a mortar crewman, machine gunner or anyone else who may require the ability to defend themselves.

I cannot make this any more clear or important. This issue has nothing to do with Glock or Sig. And it has nothing to do with being a “fanboy” for one gun manufacturer over another. There is no "brand loyalty" when it comes to equipping our armed forces in the best capacity possible. Every small arm for any military or even law enforcement use has criteria it must meet to be acceptable for military service. In the US we have military standards and military specifications that state testing protocol.

These protocols include life cycle testing, destruction testing, environmental testing (heat, humidity, cold, sand, salt corrosion, altitude to name a few), as well as a minimum number of rounds, and how many types of malfunctions are allowed and what types. Testing is conducted in two phases. First is the initial down select. In other words, the Army announces to the industry, in this case the XM17 pistol solicitation and invites anyone to compete. So, like this program there was more than 10 pistols submitted. Criteria is selected to determine which ones meet the requirements. This is done first by being sure each pistol meets the written requirements (ambidextrous controls, magazine capacity, accuracy, safety) and then an initial round count is chosen, which in this case was 12,500 rounds. In the case of the XM17, all but two pistols were knocked out of the competition. The Glock and Sig pistols were the last standing. Another interesting note is that all ammunition was fired from the pistols being mounted in a rest. This is unusual because how a pistol functions in one’s hand can be quite different from a vice.

In a proper test, the pistols would now go to phase 2 testing. At this point we will have a clear winner, both be equal or both fail. Clear winner requires no explanation. If both pistols are equal, now they would go through competitive bidding to determine the winner. This was the case with the XM9 trials in 1985. Both the Sig P226 and Beretta 92F came out to be equal in performance. In fact, the pistols were the exact same cost. But we can only have one winner. So now is where competitive bidding comes into play. Beretta came slightly under Sig in the magazine and spare parts packages thus Beretta won. The American soldier could be rest assured that they got the best pistol and was thoroughly tested. Not to say the Sig would not have done just as well but we had to choose one. But price and competitive bidding cannot enter in until the testing is completed.

Phase 2 testing is critical in many ways. This is what determines if the quality and design is true military grade. First, they will do destruction testing. By firing the pistol until failure, they can determine the pistols life cycle or how long major components are serviceable. They also will see what parts wear first, so they will get an idea of what parts they would need to order the most of in their spare parts packages. In the requirements will also be the thresh hold of the pistol such as how many rounds the pistol must fire. In the case of the M9 it was 6,000 rounds. During that 6000 rounds is a list of failures. They are separated by failures that are quickly corrected by hand right up to the pistol going down. There is a list of parts that can and cannot break.

Next is the environmental testing. Our soldiers are deployed all over the world. Our weapons have to work in extreme heat, humidity, cold, as well as desert environments. For example, there are environmental chambers that will either freeze or heat up the firearm to the specified temperature and then the gun is tested to see if it will perform. For sand, there is a sand chamber that exposes the pistol to a desert environment. There are also testing apparatuses for humidity, as well as corrosion. The corrosion is usually as saltwater mist. Mud is another test which is critical. Another test would be parts interchangeability. They will often disassemble 10 firearms and reassemble with random parts and they test fire to ensure parts compatibility. There are a number of safety protocol tests including drop tests to be sure this is a safe firearm.

When all is said and done, the Army will know any weaknesses in the system. They will determine of the weaknesses are show stoppers or may be corrected in the normal course of development. After this testing, the Army will know where each weapons platform stacks up against the other. In the case of the XM17, in the Army’s infinite wisdom, decided to ignore the phase 2 testing. They never competed the Glock and Sig pistols against each other. So, in other words, they had absolutely no clue as to which is the best pistol. It was solely based on price. I have had several uneducated comments left for me that stated the Glock did not meet the modularity requirements, which is completely false. Both pistols met all the criteria. This is why they were the last two standing.  The removable chassis of the Sig pistol was not a requirement. Sigs approach to the XM17/XM18 pistol solution was picking a 2-gun solution. Glock’s approach was going for a 1-gun solution.

In essence, by the Army choosing the Sig pistol without testing, they had no clue: what its deficiencies were, how it would hold up, how it would function in adverse conditions, how the gun shot in a human hand, what the life cycle of the components are, and most importantly, which pistol is in fact the best. Another important thing to note is that many companies in the firearms industry are not willing to submit to US government contracts. The reason being is that these companies spend a significant amount of money on research and development, making the TDP’s, all their own internal testing so they know their weapons meet the required standards, all to have the government cancel the programs. It becomes too great of a cost for manufacturers at the risk of cancelling. Case in point is LWRCI deciding at the last minute not to enter the Individual Carbine competition. They knew it was going to be cancelled, which ended up being a very wise financial decision. This also knocks out new smaller companies from ever getting a chance up to bat, because they cannot afford it. Or you risk having what happened to Glock. They spent all the money on development to not even get a chance to compete even with the requirements being outline in a contract.

Here we are today. Ever since the M17 was adopted the pistol has had issues. These issues would have been discovered in phase 2 of testing. Problems initially showed barrel durability issues, failures to extract and eject. Then comes the trigger debacle. The P320 pistols were going off when they were dropped. Sig claimed this did not affect the XM17 because it had a different trigger. This I found a bit curious. I spoke to a Sig employee at SHOT Show who stated that the new P320 Modular Handgun System (commercial version of M17) has the newest updated trigger and not the military trigger. It sort of pissed me off because I would want to buy a complete duplicate of the M17. He said that he expected the M17 to eventually adopt the new trigger. If the M17 trigger was not affected, why would it need replacement? The commercial pistol also has black instead of FDE controls. I was told that eventually I would see military pistols like that. The commercial pistols also do not come with the 20 round magazines. I would have expected to see M17 written on the commercial pistol, but it is not. It says P320. So essentially the commercial pistol looks like a FDE P320. It has been proven in court that you cannot trademark a US govt designation. For instance, you probably have seen the M9 special edition, as well as the Colt marked M4 rifles.

The fact the M17 has had all these problems right out of the gate are concerning. Would the Glock have had these problems?? I don’t know. But what is most important, and disturbing is that the Army does not know either. That incredibly low-price Sig offered the government, I tend to wonder how it is sustainable with all the reworks. I am not a fanboy for either. I own many Glocks and I own many Sigs. The P320 is really the only Sig model I do not like. I believe if the Army would have followed their own protocol, they would not be in this position. They would have first got the best pistol and then they would also have known what further developments needed to be done to get the M17 out to the troops. Personally, I would like to see a Congressional Oversight Committee review the entire XM17 program. It was conducted in a very unorthodox way. It was very different from the criteria the pistol it replaced went through. I think the Army owed it to our troops to have the best weapons that can be provided to them. Don’t you?


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    Technical Specialist, 10 years in forensics, veteran, technical writer and armorer instructor.