Shall we? Music, Maestro, please! Welcome to the occasional WeaponsMan recap of pistol purchases pending in the Fed, and what people are saying about ’em. Taken as a whole, these three projects illustrate nothing so much as the United States Government’s ability to mess up a junkyard. It would be hand to make this mess any bigger if you were trying. (Lord, please don’t let these agencies take this as a challenge, because they probably could). In retrospect, the early 20th Century pistol trials make you wonder where those 20 points on the procurement wallahs’ IQs have gone in a century. Nobody expects the next 1911 to come out of this.
US Army Modular Pistol Contract
Everybody hates this doorstop of a solicitation that’s the size and weight of a Russian novel, but doesn’t even specify what caliber the Army wants. “Surprise us!”
No $#!+, surprise us. Could they have thought up any way to signal more forcefully that they have no idea what they’re doing?
Former SecDef Bob Gates said, “This is absurd… it’s a handgun, for God’s sake.” But the Army requirements document is longer than the D-Day base op order… by about 50 times.
John McCain threw a wobbler about the contract last week, as has been widely reported. Here’s Soldier of Fortune magazine on his complaint, just because we’ve seldom linked to SOF mag before. (Huh, they just reused a Shooting Illusrated story. Well, they got one link out of us). Better yet, here’s McCain’s own press release on it at his official site, and best of all, here’s the actual McCain document that everybody’s writing about, but nobody has read. Frankly, it’s hard to argue with about half of it. Sample:
[P]erhaps that’s the whole point, and the Army already has a preferred outcome in mind and is just going through the motions with this “competition”. By purchasing both handguns and ammunition from a single vendor on a single contract, the total value of which could exceed $1.2B, the Army’s selection process favors larger companies over smaller ones and increases the risk that the Army will not select the best performing weapon, ammunition, silencer, holster and training system components available. In fact, with this contract structure, the Army will assuredly be forced to field one or more inferior components of the handgun system to the troops because there will be no way to pick and choose the best of each component received from various bidders without causing protests and legal actions from the losing bidders.
Another serious flaw with the Army’s selection process for its new handgun is that there are currently too many opportunities for vendors to be disqualified for paperwork or technical reasons before our soldiers get a vote. The Army plans to conduct early handgun tests without actual human shooters (using fixed mechanical platforms) to narrow the selections to only three weapons before front line soldiers get to provide any feedback whatsoever. This means that back-office bureaucrats will have more say in selecting the next handgun than our front line troops.
We disagree that the Army has a single preferred pistol in mind, but we think the lack of a caliber spec is a somewhat inept signal that the Army wants to be sold the 9mm again. (Or, God help us, a multicaliber-interchangeable-Man-From-UNCLE gun). But the way the MHS run-off is set up, you can get bounced from the competition if one of your documents has the wrong size margins, but not if your gun doesn’t work.
There’s something deeply pathological about that.
Industry powers and industry little guys are still planning to submit. Along with great theropods like SIG and S&W, Kriss USA is going to enter the competition, according to Bearing Arms — with a steel DA/SA CZ75 clone. In an age of safetyless striker-fired plastic, some stand athwart fashion, yelling “quality!” They won’t win, but neither did Travis at the Alamo.
FBI Pistol Contract
The FBI pistol contract is for a new 9mm pistol for the Bureau and other DOJ (mostly) agencies. Aaron at Blue Sheepdog thinks the fix is in:
The truth is revealed! The FBI RFP seems to be blatantly tailored to fit one particular firearm, the Sig Sauer P320. There is no doubt that government agencies often write tight standards when a RFP goes out, having specific requirements and needs for the product to be purchased. However, this RFP appears to be so specific that only the Sig Sauer P320 would fit all the FBI requirements. Let’s examine the RFP and show how many fine handguns are eliminated by the FBI requirements.
SIG’s definitely in the running, but the contract is not in the bag for them. For one thing, some of the requirements in the FBI document — which McCain holds out as a model of brevity, but is actually 150 pages long itself — are matters of personal preference, which makes them bogus from a contractual point of view. Any contract that hinges on such a flimsy pin is guaranteed to be disputed by excluded bidders, and the bidders may win in arbitration or in court, throwing the whole procurement into chaos. Then Congress can’t help sticking its air-is-free nose in, and can you think of a single example of a weapon improved by Congressional micromanagement? (See the Montague v. Capulet history of the USAF tanker replacement buy for numerous examples of both arbitration overturns and Congressional thumbs on the scale).
An example of the bogus requirements is the requirement that the grip not have finger grooves. These are very much a matter of personal preference; we have seen Glock shooters who had theirs removed because they weren’t in the right place. But Aaron sees these being the cause, or partial cause, of the removal of six competitors pre-testing:
Glock 17 & 19 – DISQUALIFIED – Finger grooves on frame
Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm – DISQUALIFIED – Trigger pull is 6.5 lbs.; Barrel Length is 4.25″
Smith & Wesson M&P 9c – DISQUALIFIED – Barrel length is 3.5″; Capacity is only 12.
Heckler & Koch VP9 – DISQUALIFIED – Finger grooves; Lever magazine release; Barrel length is 4.09″
Heckler & Koch P30 – DISQUALIFIED – Capacity only 15; DA/SA action; Finger grooves on frame
Ruger SR9 – DISQUALIFIED – Barrel length is 4.1″; No compact model or adjustable frame sizes
Springfield XD9 – DISQUALIFIED – Grip safety; Barrel length is 4.0″
Springfield XDm – DISQUALIFIED – Grip safety
Walther PPX – DISQUALIFIED – Finger grooves on frame; Trigger pull is 6.5 lbs.
Walther PPQ M2 – DISQUALIFIED – Capacity only 15; Finger grooves on frame
Walther P99 – DISQUALIFIED – Finger grooves on frame; Lever magazine release; Capacity only 15
FNS 9 – DISQUALIFIED – Trigger pull up to 7.7 lbs.; Barrel length is 4.0″; No size changes for frame
FNX 9 – DISQUALIFIED – Decocking lever; Barrel length is 4.0″; No size changes for frame
Beretta M9 – DISQUALIFIED – DA/SA action; Capacity only 15; External manual safety
Beretta Px4 – DISQUALIFIED – External manual safety; Barrel length is 4.0″; DA/SA action
CZ75 SP-01- DISQUALIFIED – DA/SA action; External manual safety
CZ P09 – DISQUALIFIED – DA/SA action; External manual safety-decocker
The finger groove requirement will not withstand a challenge by Glock, HK or Walther. We are not procurement lawyers, but we’d bet a new Glock, HK or Walther that those companies’ counsel have already told them that (just as SIGs has told them not to count on finger grooves eliminating their competition).
Other requirements, such as mag capacity or barrel length, are trivially modified and don’t be shocked if these “excluded” companies introduce new models that meet the requirements of the FBI and Army contracts at January’s SHOT Show.
The ICE/DHS Handgun Buy
Here, they vehemently deny tailoring the requirements document to the 320 or any specific pistol. ICE firearms managers have insisted that nobody has a thumb on their scales, and that, while the 320 meets their needs, so do a lot of other pistols.
One thing they’re not apologetic about is excluding Glock. While it’s not the only brand excluded by this rule, the ban on trigger manipulation during disassembly was targeted square on the Glock 17/19/26 series of 9mm pistols. While the ICE handgun instructors tend to personally prefer Glocks, they’re much less confident in the ability of the general run of agents — whom, after all, they see at the range — to get the sequence “clear, then disassemble” right ten times out of ten. Police and investigative agencies have always had gun-cleaning accidents, going back to the days of DA revolvers with wagon-train double-action pulls, but no one can deny that agencies that go Glock have more of them.
The problem isn’t the pistol, it’s complacency with the pistol; PA State Police had an instructor shoot and kill a guy while demonstrating the new SIG 227s they were changing to, because they had too many NDs with Glocks.
We’re Not the Only Ones Who Expect the Army Contract to Crater
A little paragraph in the FBI contract is… interesting. It mentions that, if it’s pistol is approved, other departments and agencies can buy using the FBI contract if they like.
Now, they may have intended that only for the military’s criminal investigators (who currently carry SIGs). But the ingredients are there, assuming that the FBI in the end does buy a pistol through this vehicle, for either the Army or Congress to say “screw it” when, not if, the modular handgun project implodes in a welter of squandered dollars and ill-planned requirements, and just buys what’s on the FBI’s contract already.
That would be a sad commentary on the Army’s inability to manage contracts, but the number of people who think the Army’s “just flat got this,” is a small number indeed, and they all seem to be located in the relevant contract office.
Considering that it’s a weapon that’s not what you pick up when you’re expecting a gunfight, a whole lot of cerebral clock cycles are being wasted on these pistol buys. Every agency — especially the Army, which has blown tens of millions on its loopy proposal already — ought to sink the money into training instead. But training doesn’t give a Congressman a press opportunity, and for all 535 of those self-serving, corrupt hosers that press release is worth more than the lives of any of the people that will carry these pistols.