Congressional leaders hope that retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, nominee for secretary of defense, will finally address the Army’s troubled project to replace the pistols the service has used since the Cold War.
The program to replace the M9 9mm handgun, which entered service in 1985 has been mired in the bureaucratic acquisition process for years and has already cost $350 million.
“The Army can’t even figure out how to replace the M-9 pistol first issued in 1982,” Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst said during her questions to Mattis during his Thursday confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Armed Services.
The service first started looking for replacements for the M-9 in 2008, and still has not selected the model it wants. The Army is accepting bids from weapons makers for the pistol replacement effort, called XM17 Modular Handgun System (MHS) program.
“Take a look at their 350 page micromanaging requirements document if you want to know why it’s taking so long to get this accomplished,” Ernst said in the hearing. North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis pushed the question a bit further, bringing in a copy of that 350-page document.
“This is a great testament to what’s wrong with defense acquisition,” Tillis said.
“I can’t defend this,” Mattis said, replying to Tillis’ question. He also explained that he does not have the most current information on the pistol replacement and the M16 rifle replacement effort.
“I will say that at times there were regulations that required us to do things,” Mattis said.
For Ernst, who deployed to Iraq as a member of the Iowa National Guard, the issue is one of force lethality.
“The joke that we had in the military was that sometimes the most effective use of an M-9 is to simply throw it at your adversary,”
Ernst said during the hearing. “Do you agree that we cannot grow a more lethal force while using outdated small arms and ammunition?”
“I am not current on it right now what they’ve done with the actual ammunition to perhaps increase the lethality, so I would have to get current on that, but I am 100 percent in agreement with the approach you’re taking,” Mattis said in reply.
The MHS pistol replacement effort is still underway, and the Army is slated to begin testing on three potential models this year.
Chief of staff for the Army Gen. Mark Milley said in October that the MHS program is now “on track” to replace the M-9. The general commented last March, however, that the program was taking too long, and that the testing period alone, which is slated to take 2 years and cost $17 million, is too long.
“We are not talking about nuclear subs or going to the moon here. We are talking about a pistol,” Milley said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing in March.