The Department of Defense will soon chose three finalists in a competition to be the U.S. Army and Air Force's new sidearm. One of the three finalists could go on to outfit all of the services, with total sales of of 500,000 handguns—but not before the Pentagon bureaucracy makes it as long and complicated as possible.The problem here is not cost, just as it was not with the hammer. The problem is the cost added by the time involved. A handful of gunnery sergeants from the Marines and first sergeants from the Army could take the candidate pistols, put some rounds through the tubes and figure out which one to by in a single day at the range, with plenty of time for beers afterwards.
The Modular Handgun System (MHS) is a $17 million dollar effort to replace the aging Beretta M92 handgun. First adopted in the 1980s, the U.S. Army's Berettas are beginning to wear out. The M92 is also a product of another time, and hasn't kept up with recent advances in pistol technology.
Everybody knows that the M92 is not a good weapon. It jams a lot and is generally unreliable. Replacing it is a no-brainer. The weapon the Beretta replaced, the Model 1911 Colt, remains a better pistol. It stops what it hits. Period. It is not famously accurate at more than short distances, but it isn't supposed to be, although in the hands of a trained user, it is an accurate weapon.
Pistols in the military are carried by officers and vehicle crew members, such as tankers and pilots. The officers need to be paying attention to leading their unit, not going off firing their pistol thinking they can hit something. And for vehicle crew members, if they are using their pistol, things have really turned to shit, the bad guys are very close, and stopping them with one hit is the primary concern.
Nonetheless, the military -- at least the Army -- wants a pistol more accurate than the M92 (which is more accurate than the 1911). Is this really the way to go about finding it:
The selection process—beset by the Pentagon bureaucracy—is progressing at a snail's pace. First begun in 2015, the MHS program will chose three semifinalists in August, with a nine month evaluation process to follow. A winner will be picked afterward, with the winning entry to go into "low rate production." That means it will be at least another thirteen months before any pistols are delivered to the military.Maybe not for everyone, but certainly for everyone rated to carry a pistol. A 9mm is not necessarily a bad solution -- Marines Special Operations Command, which officially uses a 1911-based .45, allows MARSOC operatives to use 9mm Glocks if they choose. But it shouldn't be this hard to pick one. Too many civilian bureaucrats in the process whose jobs depend on them having something to do, even if they don't do it well and what they do isn't really necessary.
The program's complexity has been stifling, prompting complaints from the Army's top general and Congress. The paper outlining the MHS's requirements runs a ridiculous 350 pages. Senator John McCain described the handgun selection process as "byzantine", and Army Chief of Staff General Mark Miley complained in March, "We're not figuring out the next lunar landing. This is a pistol. Two years to test? At $17 million?" Miley claimed he could walk into a Cabelas outdoors store with $17 million dollars and buy a handgun for every person in the military.
Kind of like the rest of the federal government.