Time For A New Military Sidearm

Consider a new .45 caliber Service pistol.

The Marine Corps needs a new Service pistol, a new all-mission sidearm. For its day (designed between 1970 and 1975), the Beretta Model 92 or M9 9mm Service pistol was a unique and advanced weapon, but that day occurred close to 40 years ago. Today the field of potential Service pistols brims over with better alternatives for ballistics, feel, balance, overall characteristics, and cost. No better example exists than the new Springfield Armory XD, a .45 caliber modern tactical pistol. For all of the above reasons, as well as its power, magazine capacity, and general tactical potential, the Marine Corps should seriously consider moving to a Springfield XD-45 as a Service pistol.

It is difficult for one author to claim comprehensive enough knowledge to enunciate all of the needs of the Service for a pistol. Suffice it to say, however, that the general characteristics of the M9 should be improved if the Corps is to consider it. The M9 was adopted for its accuracy, magazine capacity, safety, and general applicability across the Service to all hand types and sizes. But while the M9 has proven to be adequate, it does have serious draw- backs based mostly on the age of the design. Not least of these is the 9mm cartridge and the momentum that it carries with it, or rather doesn’t carry with it, into the target.

The old M1911 was archaic by the time it was replaced, but it lasted so long in part because of the magnificence of its bullet – the .45 automatic Colt pistol (ACP) – the advantages of which might best be summed up with the two words – “stopping power.” This same quality was among the reasons for which Marine Corps security guards at embassies maintained the .357 magnum pistol for years after the M9 was fielded and for which Marine units requiring close quarters combat potential used Browning .45 pistols for some time. (There are still .357 revolvers at many embassies, though superseded, including the U.S. Embassy, Madrid.) While the basic .45 unmodified is not a penetrator round, it imparts such violent force on its target that it tends to stop or knock it down, something that most of us would consider exceedingly important in any environment, particularly counterinsurgency where the engagement is likely to be sudden, extreme, and of short duration.

The stopping power argument has detractors who mostly question how this feature is measured. One can examine bullet energy, velocity, and the like to attempt to quantify stopping power, but the momentum of the bullet identifies its true impact potential, just as the momentum of a linebacker pushes down his opponent. The momentum that the .45 carries with it into the target almost doubles that of the 9mm with a broader impact surface resulting in a much heavier hit, like taking on a National Football League back after playing high school tackle.

So if this stopping power were to be coupled with the accuracy and magazine capacity of the Beretta, the pistol would presumably be better for the Marine Corps. The Springfield XD- 45 has a 13-round stagger-stack magazine and arguably better accuracy for all hand types and likely levels of strength than does the M9. The reason for this has less to do with ballistics than with time. The autoloader pistol design has had four decades to advance; demand and the proving grounds of the global war on terror and the needs that this conflict has placed on military and government personnel (and contractors, for that matter) to carry and use pistols have been intense. The XD-45 is the inheritor of this knowledge, and its design reflects the consistent demands of field use. As a result it is among the most accurate, regularly available tactical pistols on the market, or as Springfield says, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

The XD provides enhanced contours based on extended trials coupled with a striker-fired system of operation (no hammer) that resolved with a crisp pull the squishy trigger problems of earlier systems. It is a recoil operated, center fire pistol with a trigger safety on the face of the trigger blade, add tional grip handle safety, loaded chamber indicator, cocking indicator on the rear face of the slide like the Glock, and a wealth of modern safety features associated with the hammerless design. It has enhanced magazine release, and some models include rails for mounting anything from lights to optics. The grip is specially designed for allweather performance, including during excessive heat with sweaty hands with its layered grip panels, giving the shooter a high position for recoil control and ergonomically designed trigger well and slide grip to discourage slipping. (The slide is wider at the bottom so that fingers grip more as they slide downward.) There are so many enhanced features that it is difficult to recount them with brevity.

While the M9 was the bow wave of a new generation of pistols, it is now that generation’s patriarch. In terms of ergonomics; the handle and especially the top aft portion of its grip (basically a circular arc) are clumsy and do not induce consistent hand position without practice. Many proponents sing the praises of the Glock line of pistols for their grip, ease of maintenance, and magazine capacity. But Glock has flaws of balance and potentially of durability; the composite materials mean that a full magazine weights the weapon toward the rear, in this author’s experience and in discussions with other shooters, despite its naturally conforming aesthetic. Intergenerational pistols likewise heavily rely on 9mm for their bullet of choice, or at least as the design baseline of their weapons system.

Springfield, using an all metal framing, balances its XD- 45 perfectly (at least as well as the famously balanced 9mm parabellum Luger of World War II) with or without a full magazine while adopting the general, eminently adaptable feel of the Glock. The result is a bigger, more powerful round in a pistol that has all of the features but better balance. From its initial design release in 2002, Springfield has developed enough market to provide a full line of XD products with virtually any modern amenity desired, including tactical rails, several barrel lengths (standard 4- or 5-inch), and a number of calibers.

The relatively short usable life of the initial M9, at somewhere on the order of 22,000 to 35,000 rounds, makes it a poor choice for units that shoot constandy, like the Special Forces or Marine reconnaissance, for example, because the wear on the weapon will render it likely to malfunction or have a slide crack in a short period of time, even on the model 92F. Most of the more modern replacements, including the SIG SAUER, the Glock line, the Browning, and the Springfield, can better that performance. Moreover, most of them can show better maintenance and durability records overall. But none of them can do it for the price. The Springfield XD-45 sells commercially below the market value of any comparable tactical pistol in its class or of the same available calibers. Because commercial values vary, this fact can be confirmed locally (with ease in the vicinity of Quantico, VA).

There is no doubt that the adoption of a Service pistol involves a tremendous investment in time and study, but in today’s world there is a wealth of available data on any given pistol option. The options that better the first generation of modern autoloaders are many and can be found carried by police departments, government agencies, and foreign allies. The XD provides the latest improvement, coupled with the proven track record of the .45 caliber bullet, and acclaim for this pistol has begun, including approbation from the National Rifle Association and competition shooters. No doubt the Marines who work weapons acquisitions are already well aware of the potential; the Corps should consider another soon-to-be-dominating .45.

While the M9 was the bow wave of a new generation of pistols, it is now that generations patriarch.

The Springfield XD-45 sells commercially below the market value of any comparable tactical pistol in its class or of the same available calibers. Because commercial values vary, this fact can be confirmed locally (with ease in the vicinity of Quantico, VA).

Editor’s Note: Let us know what you think the military should use for it’s sidearm. ~Mike P.

Reprinted with permission from and copyright retained by Marine Corps Gazette. Please visit