It's the first time the U.S. military has made a major upgrade to personal weapons in over 30 years, and so far, the only way anyone's gotten an impression of what this new gun can do is to look at press releases and a few pictures from test ranges.
But as the Army is set to field upwards of 500,000 new M17 and M18 Modular Handguns to replace the 1980s-era M9 Beretta pistol, We Are The Mighty got an exclusive look at the impressive new firearm from the folks who designed and built it.
Soldiers on the range testing the new Sig Sauer M17. (Photo from US Army)
Comparing the M9 to the M17, gone are the external hammer, double action and decocker, and in its place is a slick handgun with a streamlined build based on the most modern technology available in pistol operation and design.
Engineers with M17 maker Sig Sauer likened switching from the M9 to trading in a 1980 Pontiac Bonneville station wagon for a 2015 Honda Accord.
"That old car works just fine, but think of how far car design has come in over 30 years," one Sig official said. "That's kind of what's happening here with the M17. Pistol design has come a long way since the 1980s."
The new M17 — and its smaller cousin, the M18 — is a 9mm handgun based on the ground-breaking P320 civilian pistol, which is a lot like a pistol version of a Lego set.
The M17 is built with a removable trigger module that can be inserted into new grips and mated with new barrels and slides to make a whole new handgun based on whatever the mission calls for.
The M17 and M18 use the same polymer grip module and trigger group, with new slides and barrels for full-sized or compact models. (Photo from We Are The Mighty)
But the main difference most soldiers will notice with the M17 is the change from a double action to a striker fired operation. What that means is an end to that heavy first-shot trigger pull with much lighter follow-up pulls. With the M17, every tug of the trigger is the same — and that makes for easier training and better familiarity with the handgun during yearly qualifications, Sig officials say.
"Soldiers will have a consistent trigger pull every time they shoot the M17," said Sig Sauer pistol product manager Phil Strader.
Also, the M17 does away with the need for a decocker, so soldiers won't have to be taught how to drop the hammer before holstering the weapon. Now, once you're done shooting, you simply engage the external safety and put the gun on your belt.
Shooting the M17 is a no brainer. The design of the grip encourages a natural aim and the 4.7-inch barrel provides good balance between accuracy and compactness. During quick draw-and-shoot drills engaging steel targets at 10 meters, the M17 hit the target every time, even in this amateur's hands and without taking the time to line up the sights.
The new M17 is lighter and simpler to use than the Beretta M9. (Photo from We Are The Mighty)
For those not used to an external safety on a striker-fired handgun, switching from safe to fire and back again takes a bit of getting used to, and lining up your grip hand thumb so that it doesn't engage the slide released takes a few mags to drill into muscle memory.
But other than that, the M17 and M18 are pretty much as easy as any modern pistol to figure out.
The M17 also comes with glow-in-the-dark Tritium sights. The sights have a green front sight and orange rear sights to encourage proper alignment under stress, Strader said. What's more, the M17 and M18 slides have a removable rear plate so soldiers can install Delta Point red dots optics.
All that, and the M17 is being outfitted with two extended 21-round magazines and a standard 17-rounder. The more compact M18 uses the same frame as the M17 with a size-medium grip and features a 3.9-inch barrel and shorter slide.
Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division will reportedly be the first to receive the M17, with more units following closely after. Rumor has it that the M17 and M18 have attracted the attention of the special operations community as well, with SEALs — who recently ditched their Sig P226 handguns for Glocks — particularly digging the ability to tailor the same gun to a variety of missions.
It was a tough fight that took many years, but in the end the U.S. military is poised to field an innovative, modern new handgun that makes the most of today's technology and could give troopers a big advantage for a last ditch defense.