Military bungling handgun upgrades
Requirements perplex gun makers
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.”
Army soldiers continue to pack the Beretta 9 mm, a model that was first introduced 30 years ago.