The Modular Handgun System (MHS) competition began way back in 2015, but it feels like it was last week. The Beretta M9 served for over 30 years as America’s sidearm, but many of the guns were ending their service life. As such, the military could order more M9s, or it could begin looking at a new handgun. As we know, they chose the latter, and the SIG P320 won and became the M17 and M18 pistols. However, Beretta tried one last Hail Mary to keep the M9 in armories with the M9A3.
The Problem with the M9
So the ole M9 was a great gun, but it was a product of the Cold War era. Handgun design has come a long way since then.
The old M9 had a few inadequacies, and some, like a Picatinny rail, were solved with the M9A1. However, the M9A1 still lacked the modern flair the U.S. military wanted.
The M9 series was still a fat-bottom girl with thick grips that were far from friendly for those with smaller hands. I have 2XL man-sized hands, and the grip fit just right so I could see why it could create problems for smaller troops. On top of that, the front sight was fixed to the slide and couldn’t be replaced easily. This eliminated modern sighting options, from companies like Trijicon, or suppressor height sights.
On top of that, attaching a suppressor to the M9 wasn’t easy. Finally, to top it off, the M9 magazine sucked in sandy environments, and where are we fighting the GWOT? Oh yeah, in sandy environments.
What’s an M9A3
The M9A3 represented Beretta’s attempt to stay in the armories of military forces by addressing all the perceived problems with the M9.
You might be asking why did Beretta jump from the A1 to A3? Where is the A2? Well, the M9A2 was a concept that never went into full production. All of the features from the M9A2 found their way into the M9A3.
Those new features included a thinner, more vertical grip that somewhat resembled the 1911 grip angle. The thinner grip offered a more ergonomic option for shooters with smaller hands and admittedly made the gun easier to conceal. The new grip design could use M9 panels or Vertec style thin grips.
Armorers could now also change the front sight with ease. The threaded barrel allowed the easy addition of suppressors and other muzzle devices. The rail from the M9A1 made its way to the gun, as did the M9A1’s beveled mag well. The safety allowed the user to convert the gun to decocker only or decocker and safety.
Finally, Beretta produced a newer sand-resistant 17-round magazine that was also beveled for easier reloading. Oh, did I mention they gave it a very nice flat dark earth finish? Because they did. The M9A3 was a welcome upgrade to the older M9.
No Fair Shake?
Beretta submitted the M9A3 to the Army as the MHS contest began. They submitted the design to the Army’s Configuration Control Board not as part of the MHS contest but as a means to end it quickly. Adopting the M9A3 would reduce training costs for both end-users and armorers. This would allow Beretta to keep their sweet military contract, and soldiers would get a better gun out of the deal.
However, after brief consideration, the Army rejected the M9A3 and opted to continue the contest.
Many might say the M9A3 did not get a fair shake, and that might be true. However, the Army’s MHS requirements did specify finding a long-lasting new service pistol that would incorporate the most modern technology possible.
The M9A3 fixed a lot of problems with the M9 series but didn’t meet the Army’s needs. The Army’s desire for a modular pistol with multiple grip sizes and frames, optic capability, and beyond, wasn’t met by the M9A3.
Although Beretta did enter the APX series pistols into the MHS contest, as we know, the SIG eventually won.
You Can Own One!
As an M9 fan, I think the M9A3 is a superb pistol and the Beretta design is fantastic. You can imagine, after drooling over the M9A3, I was quite happy that Beretta chose to release the M9A3 to the everyday Joe. The M9A3 is currently available on the American market and comes with an admittedly sweet ammo box carry case. Good on Beretta for recognizing the civilian market and making the pistol available to us.
What do you folks think about the M9A3? Should the Army have given it a fair shake? Would you buy one? Let us know in the comments below.