Mil­i­tary bungling hand­gun up­grades

Re­quire­ments per­plex gun mak­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The Army is botch­ing the pro­cure­ment of what should be one of the sim­plest weapons to buy: the pis­tol.

Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man John McCain will soon is­sue a re­port called “Amer­ica’s Most Wasted: Army’s Costly Mis­fire.” It says the Army has spent 10 years pre­par­ing a com­pe­ti­tion for a gun that will cost about $500. Dur­ing all that time, he says, the Army has lit­tle to show but a thick, com­plex re­quire­ments pack­age that per­plexes gun mak­ers and may pro­duce a rigged re­sult.

“Worse, the Army may fail to field a hand­gun at all be­cause of the way it has struc­tured this weapon sys­tem ac­qui­si­tion,” said the up­com­ing re­port, a copy of which was ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Times.

All the while, Army sol­diers con­tinue to pack the Beretta 9 mm, or M9, model hand­gun first in­tro­duced 30 years ago. As a com­par­i­son, law en­force­ment and spe­cial op­er­a­tions troops change out to a newer, more ad­vanced model about ev­ery 15 years.

A bat­tle­field sur­vey by the Cen­ter for Naval Analy­ses found 46 per­cent of soldier re­spon­dents ex­pressed un­hap­pi­ness with the M9 be­cause of mal­func­tions and high main­te­nance. Twenty-five per­cent re­ported stop­pages, or jam­ming, dur­ing a fire­fight.

“The Army has man­aged to cre­ate en­tirely new ac­qui­si­tion prob­lems for what should be a sim­ple, straight­for­ward pur­chase of a com­mer­cially avail­able item,” says Mr. McCain, who has made ac­qui­si­tion re­form a hall­mark of his chair­man­ship. The Ari­zona Repub­li­can has been par­tic­u­larly tough on the Pen­tagon’s largest, and, some would say, most cost­bloated weapons sys­tem: the F-35 Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps strike fighter.

Now he is tar­get­ing one of the small­est, the $1.2 bil­lion Mod­u­lar Hand­gun Sys­tem. He con­cludes the Army sim­ply does not know how to buy an off-the-shelf pis­tol.

“The Army’s ef­fort to buy a new hand­gun has al­ready taken 10 years and pro­duced noth­ing but more than 350 page[s of] re­quire­ments … mi­cro­manag­ing ex­tremely small unim­por­tant de­tails and Byzan­tine rules and pro­cesses the Army wants fol­lowed, many of which are un­nec­es­sary or an­ti­com­pet­i­tive,” he said.

Mr. McCain said the ex­cess pa­per­work is adding $50 in cost per­gun, or about $15 mil­lion “wasted on pa­per­work and bu­reau­cracy.”

Queries to Army head­quar­ters by The Times were not an­swered.

In the war on ter­ror, small arms can of­ten make a life-or­death dif­fer­ence for in­fantry­men as they find them­selves em­broiled in close con­tact with the en­emy, be they Tal­iban, al Qaeda or other ter­ror­ists.

The Times last year did a se­ries of sto­ries on the Army’s main ri­fle, the M4 car­bine. Some sol­diers com­plained the gun was ill-suited for in­tense fire­fights be­cause the bar­rel over­heated and the mag­a­zine jammed.

Congress forced a re­luc­tant Army to con­duct a com­pe­ti­tion to find a bet­ter ri­fle. But the top brass abruptly can­celed the shoot-off mid­stream and de­clared no gun greatly ex­ceeded M4 ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The Times ob­tained test re­sults that showed at least one ri­fle did beat the M4.

As vo­lu­mi­nous as the Army’s re­quire­ments — known as a re­quest for pro­posal (RFP) — are, the 350 pages lack one crit­i­cal guide to gun mak­ers: the cal­iber.

Mr. McCain’s re­port said this omis­sion will make it im­pos­si­ble for some man­u­fac­tures to com­pete.

“The cal­iber of the car­tridge and the type of bul­let it launches is ar­guably the most im­por­tant per­for­mance com­po­nent of the hand­gun,” he said. “One of the prin­ci­ples of a com­mer­cial off-theshelf ac­qui­si­tion is that the gov­ern­ment must be clear on what it is seek­ing to buy. This lack of clar­ity will likely re­sult in top hand­gun mak­ers not com­pet­ing as many of them are not large de­fense con­trac­tors, which means that our sol­diers won’t nec­es­sar­ily get the best hand­gun that com­mer­cial industry has to of­fer.”

Mr. McCain said the Army per­haps al­ready knows who the win­ner will be, or what he called a “pre­ferred out­come.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Army sol­diers con­tinue to pack the Beretta 9 mm, a model that was first in­tro­duced 30 years ago.

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