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New Service Pistol: What Should It Be?

New Service Pistol: What Should It Be?

The U.S. Army will hold an industry day July 29 to kick off a new Modular Handgun System project.

Photo by Jeff Rose

The Beretta M9 has been serving for almost 30 years. Its introduction was controversial, and since then it has not been especially beloved by service personnel during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its reliability and stopping power have been questioned, and even its fans concede its basic design dates all the way back to the 75-year-old Walther P.38.

Traditionalists will call for the reinstatement of the M1911, but it's hard to imagine that classic ever again being issued to anyone other than specialists. You can love the M1911 and still admit that just maybe technology has advanced in more than 100 years. The Army is apparently open to all calibers, and will be looking for an entire system, including ammunition, holsters, web gear, etc.

Cynics will note that Beretta was awarded a contract for 100,000 more M9s less than two years ago, so the Italian product is in no danger of being displaced anytime soon. But a whole lot has happened in the pistol world in the last 30 years. What hasn't changed is the requirement for ball ammunition, which argues in most minds for a larger caliber like .40 S&W or .45 ACP. The benefits of 9mm, most importantly standardization with other NATO countries, reduced shipping weight and use of raw materials and ease of training, seem to have taken a back seat to the desire for a more effective sidearm.

One thing that seems unquestionable is that the new pistol will have a plastic frame; the advantages in cost and durability are just too great to ignore. That frame will have an accessory rail and will come in multiple sizes. The gun will probably have a threaded barrel for mounting a suppressor and will have the capability to mount optical sights of some sort.

The Army indicated it was looking for a .45 pistol a few years back, leading manufacturers to develop several new designs, then pulled the carrot away. Those guns are presumably still on the shelf, along with some significant developments that have come along since, like the SIG P227.

If a new pistol contract comes to fruition, it will definitely be worth winning, with a projected 400,000 guns required. Pistols arouse a lot more passion, than do, say, new howitzers or trucks.

The pistol is the most personal weapon of all, so the interest in it greatly exceeds its tactical importance. What's your nomination for a new service pistol? It can be a gun that actually exists or one that's just in your imagination.


When choosing ammunition for an accessory fighting kit, I lean toward quality stuff that passes the FBI protocols. Over-penetration and innocent bystanders aren't likely to be of first concern in an emergency survival situation; terminal performance on violent attackers is. Several loads pass the protocol and will provide yeoman's service; the one we chose to include in the kit is Hornady's 135-grain Critical Duty.

Include at least two spare magazines for semiautos and a speedloader or speedstrip if you choose a revolver. The full-size 9mm featured here carries 17 rounds in its magazine — with a magazine in the gun and two spares, you've got 51 rounds on tap.


For the handgun, we agreed that it should be a common, proven model in a widely available caliber. For many, that suggests a full size Glock just because they are so common and widely esteemed. We chose a Smith & Wesson M&P9 Pro Series for the simple reason that shooters unfamiliar with both tend to prefer the feel of the S&W. It's also widely available (though not to the same extent as are Glocks). Mine is chambered for 9mm, but the absence of 9mm on store shelves in recent months suggests that currently a .40 might be a better choice.


Including a holster is as important as it is awkward. If you really need the contents of your case, you won't want to have to open it up and fish out your trusty piece at the moment of truth; you'll want it strapped firmly to your person. However, good holsters for full-size handguns are generally bulky.

You're left with a couple of options. If you want a proper belt holster, putting the gun into the holster, then in the case saves a lot of room. Fit the foam to suit. Or, you can include a very compact, simple holster such as a Versacarry.

For the first option, several holsters work well — such as this list of IWB holsters. If you want an OWB holster, I like Blackhawk's Serpa CQC Concealment holster ($50). Made of Kydex and very streamlined, it has an ergonomic retention device, is available in multiple colors and blends relatively well under a loose shirt or jacket.

For the second option, get an easily flattened neoprene job for a few bucks at the local gunshop (cheap and comfy, but not very secure), or better yet the Versacarry mentioned above. While holstering your gun into a Versacarry is a pain (you have to remove the holster each time, and the muzzle of many guns shave a thin curl of material from the muzzle retention post every time they're 'holstered '), once installed it carries your piece very comfortably, discretely and securely. Aside from the re-holstering rigmarole, the only thing I dislike about it is that Versacarry warns specifically against carrying with a round in the chamber.


Once you have your handgun stoked with quality ammo and hung somewhere convenient on yourself, the next most important tool you can have is probably a knife (some would argue a light).

Choose a blade for quality, ergonomics and suitability for its intended purpose. Most knives are used for common practical cutting applications rather than self-defense, but by all means if you want a blade designed for defense, put one in your kit. Personally, I like folders rather than fixed-blade models because they're easier to carry and more discrete, and I tend to prefer blade designs suitable for both defensive use and everyday tasks. I chose a Cold Steel Hold Out II ($89) with a 4-inch blade, so that's what I included in the kit featured here.


A cheap-and-cheerful LED from the endcap at the nearest hardware store isn't going to cut it here. In a survival situation, this would likely be the last light you ever own, so choose accordingly. Picking the right one comes down to personal preference and your environment.

You can go with a proper weapon light such as a Surefire X300 ($299); a powerful pen-light type tool such as Bright-Strike's slender EPLI ($80), which uses common AAA batteries and is the most-used light around my house and in my truck; a headlamp such as the new 2760 LED Headlight offered by Pelican ($46), which will likely be the most practical of them all; or you could choose an all-out, hand-filling tactical flashlight such as the Alpha-TAC 24 ($100) by Extreme Beam, which is a waterproof, tailcap-activated, high-output light rated to deliver up to 235 lumens, withstand recoil up to that of a .50 BMG and project to 400 meters.

I couldn't narrow it down to only one. Practicality decreed that I include the compact but powerful Surefire X300 weapon-mountable light and the Pelican 2760 LED Headlight, which gives me hands-free, user-friendly operation plus dedicated, powerful, fighting-quality illumination.


Why? Why not! Few items are more useful in a survival situation than good string. Paracord is helpful in fashioning shelter, setting snares, strapping all your gear together and myriad other tasks. Lacking a suitable holster, you might even use it to create a lanyard for your handgun. String is a simple thing and doesn't cost much, but you'll curse the day you left it out, so don't.

Compact Hard Case

I've used Pelican long-gun cases to protect coveted rifles during travel to Africa, Scandinavia, Canada and all over the U.S.A. with excellent luck, so when shopping for a tough compact hard case, I naturally turned to Pelican.

The iM2100 Storm Case I chose is 13 x 9 x 6 inches internally, offering enough room for a full-size handgun and all the doodads. Particularly, it's deep enough to put magazines in vertically and has two layers of 'pick n' pluck ' foam, maximizing use of the available space and making it easy to configure for your items. I fitted the gun, magazines, knife and weapon light into the top layer. Bulky items like the Paracord, trauma kit and headlamp went into the lower layer of foam. Waterproof, chemical resistant, airtight, crushproof and padlockable, the case has impact-absorbing corners and offers outstanding protection for the tools contained within. The official retail price is $125, but as of this writing it can be found for sale online for $84.

Trauma Kit

Some might argue this item, but the fact that you consider having fighting tools appropriate to survival indicates that you accept the potential for conflict. Conflict tends to end in people getting hurt, and while you hope that you will prevail in your personal protection efforts, it's very likely that you won't come out unscathed. Having a simple tourniquet, a packet or two of clotting powder, antibiotic ointment and basic bandaging material can save your life, help prevent infection and make you a lot more comfortable.

Trijicon Night Sights

Night sights are a luxury — until you really, really need to make your first shot count in very low-light conditions. I'll always point out that you need a good weapon light — whether hand-held or mounted to your gun — because unless you can identify your target, you have no business shooting. A good light reduces the need for night sights, but hey, why not have both?

Several companies produce quality night sights with tritium inserts. My personal favorites are the Heinie Ledge Straight Eight sights ($147 for the S&W M&P), closely followed by the Trijicon HD Night Sights ($185 for the S&W M&P).

Waterproof Matches

While not a fighting tool in common perception, matches are not only frequently critical to pure survival, they create fire and warmth that help ward off function-impairing cold and the depression sure to attack in a decaying, threatening world. No survival kit, whether an accessory or the full shebang, is complete without matches. By all means, let them be waterproof — nothing is more disheartening than wet matches. And let's face it, fire can be used as a deadly weapon.

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