September 10, 2020
By James Tarr
Fad /fad/ noun: An intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze.
I’m not sure if the modern increased desire for caliber conversions/multi-caliber capable firearms qualifies for the level of “fad”, but they sure seem to be pretty darn popular with American gun owners. Whether you’re talking about rifles, shotguns, or pistols, the number of products on the market which offer replacement barrels or kits in a second (or even third) caliber seems to be larger now than it ever has been. Perhaps because so many of today’s modern firearms are modular?
One such multi-caliber offering that is both modern and very retro are the 9mm/.22 TCM combo pack 1911s from Rock Island Armory (Armscor.com).
Rock Island Armory/Armscor is the largest manufacturer of 1911s in the world. Rock Island Armory has been offering combo packages for quite some time — a 1911 supplied with two barrels and recoil springs. One of the barrels is chambered for 9mm, the other for RIA’s proprietary bottleneck cartridge the .22 TCM, which flings a +/- 40-grain .22 bullet out of the muzzle at roughly 2000 fps. I consider this a modern/retro combo because the .22 TCM is a modern cartridge, stuck in a handgun that was designed well over a century ago. I will dive in to the interesting history and capabilities of the .22 TCM in a bit, but first let’s look at the pistol package.
RIA offers a lot of 9mm/.22 TCM 1911 combo packages, and the specific one I acquired for testing was the “TCM Tac Ultra MS HC Combo”, which when translated into English means the pistol itself is a Commander-size (MS for mid-size) double-column high-capacity 1911. The “Tac” is short for tactical, as this pistol is set up for defensive use.
The combo pack comes with two barrels and recoil springs, one each for 9mm and .22 TCM. The barrels are 4.25-inches long and the caliber is marked on the barrel hood. The TCM barrel is installed at the factory. Two magazines are supplied with the pistol, and will work with either 9mm or .22 TCM, and provide a 17+1 capacity with either cartridge.
The pistol itself is all steel, and it is a serious chunk of steel at that. The frame reminds me of a first-generation Para Ordnance frame, and is quite big in the hand. Weight of an unloaded pistol (with magazine inserted) is forty-four ounces per my scale.
This gun has a simple Parkerized finish, and a very businesslike appearance. The front sight is a steel post with an orange fiber optic insert. The rear sight is an LPA MPS-1 all steel fully adjustable model with two white dots. The left side of the slide features a very small silver “ROCK ISLAND ARMORY” and their logo. The right side of the slide features a subdued “TCM” forward of the ejection port.
The pistol has an extended beavertail on an Ed Brown frame cut, extended bilateral safety, and aggressively textured narrow G10 grips held in place with hex-head screws. Both the magazine release and slide release are checkered. The mainspring housing is aluminum and checkered. The front strap of the frame features vertical serrations in a narrow strip down the center. The magazine well features a slight bevel.
The frame features a tactical rail that is extended a bit so you have more room to mount your weapon light/laser. If it hadn’t been extended there would only have been room for one cross-slot; extended, there is room for two.
The slide fit on my sample was good. The barrel fit of both the 9mm and .22 TCM barrels was tight, and both barrels are ramped to support the high pressure (compared to a .45 ACP) cartridges. The front of the .22 TCM barrel is flared to mate with the barrel bushing, as for most of its length it is a slender .50" in diameter. From the muzzle, it looks like most .22 LR conversion barrels. The pistol has a full-length stainless steel recoil spring guide rod.
The clicks on the thumb safety were loud and very positive, which I like. When it comes to 1911s, RIA builds no-nonsense workhorses, with common-sense controls and businesslike finishes at very affordable prices — the MSRP on this combo is just $960.
Advertised trigger pull on this model is between 4–6 pounds, and the pull on my sample came in at 6 pounds even. Trigger pull had a little creep but was very smooth. It has Series ’70-style internals, so there is no firing pin safety.
Rock Island Armory is a division of Arms Corporation of the Philippines (Armscor). If you own a “budget-priced” 1911, chances are that Armscor made it, even though its name might not appear anywhere on the pistol. Armscor makes the STI Spartan 1911 and all the Auto-Ordnance 1911s, just to name a few. This pistol was manufactured in the Philippines, and that is marked on the underside of the dust cover.
All Rock Island Armory frames and slides are manufactured on modern CNC equipment out of 4140 chrome-moly steel. While they started out making GI-clone basic 1911s with Parkerized finishes, they now have a full line of pistols loaded with all the modern controls (beavertails, extended safeties, etc.) American 1911 fans have come to expect. While I’ve been spoiled by $3000 1911s recently and wished the corners on the thumb safety and beavertail weren’t so sharp, the fact is that all the parts on this RIA gun are properly fitted and work.
Armscor is located in Marikina City, Philippines and is a huge, modern company. They received ISO-9001 certification eight years before Colt got theirs. They are one of the biggest arms and ammunition producers in Asia, and have been working to increase their market presence in America. To that end about seven years ago they began manufacturing ammunition in Montana. I obtained Armscor 9mm ammunition as well as .22 TCM. Right now, Armscor is the only company making .22 TCM ammunition that I’m aware of, although several companies including Hornady make reloading dies for the cartridge.
The .22 TCM cartridge was originally the brainchild of custom gunsmith Fred Craig. The “.22 Micro-Mag,” as he called it, was developed for several reasons. First, he wanted to design an American cartridge that could offer excellent muzzle energy and light recoil, and combine it with, as he says, “the one true American pistol platform” …the 1911.
Secondly, he had economics in mind. Craig thought it would only be a matter of time before .45 ACP ammo cost $1 or more per round, and anything he could do to reduce the cost of ammunition would be a good thing.
How did the .22 Micro-Mag end up the .22 TCM? Craig had been working for several years as a consultant to Armscor, helping to tweak its modern iterations of the 1911. He also personally hired and trained many of the machinists working at the Armscor factory in the Philippines.
Craig had been working on a custom 1911 chambered in his .22 Micro Mag, using Rock Island Armory frames and slides, and the cartridge attracted the attention of Martin Tuason, President of Armscor. Tuason was excited about the cartridge, and it wasn’t long before Rock Island Armory was making production versions of the pistol chambered in .22 TCM — Tuason Craig Micromagnum.
You might have read that the .22 TCM is a necked-down 9mm case. Considering the .22 TCM is often marketed in a combo pack with 9mm barrels, and the two cartridges share magazines, I understand thinking they’re related. They’re not. The fact is that the parent case for the .22 TCM cartridge is the .223 Remington.
The case head diameter of the 9mm (.394") is very close to that of the .223 Rem. (.378"), and holding them side-by-side, the difference really isn’t visible to the naked eye. And the important difference isn’t on the outside, it’s on the inside. Internally, the web of the .223 is stronger to handle the higher pressures. The extractor cut is shaped differently as well.
The .22 TCM is a bottlenecked cartridge, and the shoulder starts at about where the case of a 9mm ends. As the TCM is designed to fit and feed from 1911 magazines, the overall length will never be more than that of the .45 ACP, 1.275 inches.
To convert the .22 TCM to 9mm, the process simply involves swapping out the barrels and recoil springs. Visually there was a slight difference between the two recoil springs; the TCM spring was slightly shorter and of a thinner gauge. The recoil spring provided for the TCM is 7 pounds, the one for the 9mm is 14 pounds. If you get confused as to which spring is which, trying both in the gun reveals a definite difference in resistance.
I’ve put a lot of .22 TCM rounds downrange over the past five years. So, have my two boys, and they love it. Shooting .22 TCMs is a bit like being in a Hollywood action movie — you pull the trigger, there’s a huge explosion, a giant ball of fire, and there’s almost no recoil from the gun in your hand. Seriously, the gun recoils much more with the 9mm barrel in place than when shooting .22 TCMs. It’s like firing full-flash blanks, or setting off a flash-bang. Except, of course, you’re sending a bullet screaming downrange at nearly 2000 fps.
Let’s talk about that velocity. Several years ago, I was filming some segments for the Guns & Ammo TV show. Rock Island Armory’s Martin Tuason was there, trying to set off some Tannerite (binary explosive) with a .22 TCM pistol. Because this article might be read by our lawyers WE OF COURSE MOVED BACK TO MINIMUM SAFE DISTANCE which is 100 yards standoff for every pound of mixture.
Tuason did his best, but the Tannerite wouldn’t blow, and that’s because to ignite Tannerite you have to hit it with a bullet travelling at least 2000 fps. The .22 TCM barely does 2000 fps at the muzzle. Using a ballistics calculator, it looks like the velocity of a standard 40-grain .22 TCM bullet will be below 1700 fps at 50 yards, and well below 1500 fps at 100 yards. Lack of go meant no blow for us, but a bad day at the range is still better than a good day at a real job…
In case you’re wondering, while wind resistance sucks a lot of fps out of the bullet, it’s still moving so fast you won’t see much drop at distance. With a 25-yard zero, you’re looking at just a three-inch drop at 100 yards, six inches at 125, 10 inches at 150, and 24 inches at 200 yards, where the velocity will be just over 1000 fps (all numbers are, of course, approximate).
At standard defensive handgun distances, though, the .22 TCM is still a screamer. Which begs the question, just what kind of damage would it do? I’ve done a lot of gel testing, but I’ve never done any gel testing with the .22 TCM. Heck, I’ve never even heard of any gel testing with the .22 TCM.
Robin, to the Batmobile!
For my gel testing I used Clear Ballistic gel blocks purchased from Brownells, which are advertised to provide the same results as FBI 10% Ordnance Grade gelatin, while being reusable. I tested both kinds of .22 TCM ammo currently available, a 39-grain JHP and a 40-grain JHP. While from their description the only difference between these two rounds appears to be a 1-grain weight difference, if you look at the photos, you’ll see they have very different profiles.
The 40-grain JHP should be described by Armscor as a jacketed soft point with a truncated cone. There is a tiny dimple in the center of the exposed lead tip which I suppose is the hollowpoint, but for all intents and purposes this is just a JSP with the front half of the bullet just exposed lead. Advertised velocity for this load is 2000 fps.
The 39-grain JHP, listed as the 9R load, is fully enclosed by a jacket, and is nearly round in profile. It looks like someone stuck a brass BB in the end of the cartridge case and then drilled a hole in the end for the hollowpoint. Advertised velocity for this load is 1875 fps.
You never know what you’re going to get when gel testing, but I suspected that the small bullets travelling at high velocities would show rapid, almost explosive expansion and fragmentation, with a maximum penetration of 8–10 inches.
I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.
I fired several rounds from each load to get an average performance. The 40-grain soft-point (cough COUGH excuse me JHP, what was I thinking?) penetrated an average 14.7 inches and showed textbook mushroom expansion. The bullets expanded to an average diameter of .36, and had a retained weight of roughly 38 grains, which is 95% weight retention.
The 39-grain JHP was travelling slower, and hits with a larger frontal area, so it was no surprise that it penetrated less deeply and expanded more. Average penetration into the block was 11¾ -inch, and they expanded to an average diameter of .38. Average recovered bullet weight was 28 grains, which works out to 72% weight retention.
Both ammo types made the gel blocks jump, as while the bullets are small they’re smacking into it at quite a respectable velocity. The temporary wound cavities appeared to be equivalent to most conventional handgun hollowpoint ammunition. As to how these rounds will actually perform in the real world, if you read back to Fred Craig’s reasons for designing the .22 Micro-Mag, stopping power/terminal performance was nowhere on the list. But the gel tests show me that this cartridge is definitely lethal against humans. The 40-grain JHP meets the FBI Protocol penetration depth requirement of 12 inches. While expanding nicely. And it seems like it would be a great small game cartridge, providing roughly the same numbers as the .22 WinMag.
I tested this pistol out to 50 yards — the pistol isn’t really suited for that distance, but the cartridge is. With a 25-yard zero, the .22 TCM only drops 3 inches or so at 50 yards, which is margin of error for most people.
The .22 TCM is not the world’s first bottlenecked cartridge fired out of a pistol, not by a long shot. Our own David Fortier has such a love for the storied 7.62 x 25 that he’s thinking of moving to California where he can legally marry it. While I think of bottlenecked pistol cartridges as a bit old-fashioned (7.63mm Mauser, 7.65mm Luger) both HK and FN have developed minor caliber bottlenecked PDW cartridges in the last few decades (the 4.6 x 30mm and 5.7 x 28mm respectively). FN’s 5.7 is the closest to the .22 TCM in ballistics (not to mention more successful and commercially available), so let’s compare the two.
The 5.7 x 28mm from FN was first chambered in the P90 PDW and then the Five-seveN pistol. FN designers were looking to create a light-recoiling cartridge to replace the 9x19mm that would also defeat personal body armor. It features bullets between 31 and 40 grains, with velocities up to 2300 fps, at least when fired out of a P90’s 10.4-inch barrel.
The original 5.7 armor-defeating round is not available for commercial sale, but even in straight FMJ configuration the small fast bullet provides a lot of penetration. How do the 5.7’s numbers compare to the .22 TCM? Well, while the velocities of FN’s 5.7 at first seem better, most published velocities for that cartridge are out of the P90’s barrel. When fired out of the FN Five-seveN handgun, 40-grain loadings of the 5.7 provide about 1850 fps. This is at least 100 fps slower than the 40-grain 22 TCM load. Fred Craig stated that he specifically designed the cartridge around a truncated bullet to allow for more space inside the cartridge for powder, and it was designed to be fired in a pistol.
Even when fired out of a 5-inch barreled pistol the .22 TCM provides a lot of flash, so I know there’s unburt powder going downrange with every shot. I’d love to see what this little round would do out of an 8- or 10-inch barrel. I’m guessing you’d see 200–300 fps more…with still very little recoil. The .22 TCM is a cartridge that to me just seems to be made for a PDW/SBR/AR pistol.
Loaded with light bullets, and built off of the very common .223 Rem. case, ammo for the .22 TCM is not very expensive, even though it is a new and relatively uncommon caliber and only made by Armscor. Armscor USA sells both .22 TCM loads on their website, and I’ve noticed that the prices have dropped close to 25% since the cartridge has been introduced as production has increased and the cartridge is becoming more well-known. The ammunition is manufactured in Rock Island’s Stevensville, Montana factory.
Reloading dies and data are already available, if you want to go that route. As it is designed from standard .223 Rem. brass, I don’t think it would be too tough to make your own .22 TCM cases either if you enjoy that kind of thing. As for bullets, 35- and 40-grain .223 projectiles are widely available. While some enterprising soul will probably experiment with heavier bullets, they can lead to excessive overall length or insufficient powder capacity with such a small case.
I’ve taken up a lot of space talking about the .22 TCM, but not much about the fact that this is also a 9mm 1911. 9mm 1911s are very popular these days — not only are they cheaper to shoot, they have substantially less recoil than a .45 ACP and magazine capacity is higher. 9mm 1911s have become very popular in USPSA and IDPA competition for all of the above reasons. Firing 9mms out of this 44-ounce pistol is a fun, pleasant experience.
No matter which caliber you choose to use, this pistol gives you something you can’t find anywhere else, at a reasonable price.
Rock Island Armory 9mm/.22 TCM Combo 1911 Specs
- Type: Single action semi-auto
- Caliber: 9mm and .22 TCM
- Capacity: 17
- Barrel: 4.25"
- Length: 8.0"
- Height: 5.5" (without magazine inserted)
- Width: 1.4"
- Weight: 44 oz.
- Finish: Parkerized
- Slide: Steel
- Frame: Steel
- Grips: G10
- Sights: Post front with red fiber optic insert, fully adj rear notch with white dots
- Trigger pull: 6.0 pounds (as tested)
- Safety: Manual, grip
- Price: $960
- Accessories: Two 17-round magazines, 9mm barrel and recoil spring, .22 TCM barrel and recoil spring
- Manufacturer:Rock Island Armory, Armscor.com
Rock Island Armory 9mm/.22 TCM Combo 1911 Accuracy Chart