Although the manufacturer has a legendary reputation — and was favored by some to come out on top — the U.S. Army didn’t like what they saw in Smith & Wesson’s M&P9 M2.0 pistol.
Enter the Modular Handgun System:
The U.S. Army’s now-finished Modular Handgun System competition aimed to replace the Beretta M9, the standard-issue American sidearm. The M9 was initially brought into service in the mid-1980s, and though it was a capable sidearm, the world of firearms design had changed a great deal since Ronald Regan was in office and the Army needed to be brought up to speed.
Some of the world’s most-respected firearms firms entered the Modular Handgun System competition with the hopes of unseating the then-current American sidearm provider, Beretta. A number of firms participated, including the incumbent Beretta, Glock, SIG Sauer, FN Herstal, CZ, and of course Smith & Wesson. The 10-year, $580 million contract is expected to ultimately deliver 200,000 pistols to the U.S. Army, and up to 400,000 additional pistols to the United States’ other service branches.
Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0
Smith & Wesson’s entrant was their M&P M2.0 pistol. Like most of the XM17 contenders, the M2.0 had ambidextrous controls, several grip sizes, and a high 17+1 magazine capacity, and was seemingly in line with what the Army was looking for.
Though the caliber of ammunition was not specified by the Army, the .45 ACP was thought to be a nonstarter due to concerns about magazine capacity and overpower, especially for smaller shooters. Most XM17 entrants opted for the 9x19mm cartridge which would offer high magazine capacity and would also be compatible with preexisting 9x19mm ammunition stocks in the United States and abroad.
Interestingly, Smith & Wesson partnered with General Dynamics, the American defense corporation heavyweight for the Modular Handgun System competition. Although General Dynamics typically competes for larger, more complex defense contracts such as the GD-designed F-16 Fighting Falcon, the company brought defense contract expertise to the table, an area that S&W had less experience in.
Speaking about the partnership, Smith & Wesson CEO James Debney explained that General Dynamics “brings us a wealth of experience and resource in federal government contracting and that capability is an ideal match with our knowledge in handgun manufacturing technology.” In addition to playing a contractual expertise role, GD also manufactured the M2.0 barrels.
Hopes for the defense duo’s success were high, hopes that would ultimately be dashed.
Out of the Running
Despite a promising start, Smith & Wesson’s M&P9 M2.0 pistol was not selected, for reasons that remain unclear. In a report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Smith & Wesson simply stated that their “proposal was not selected to advance to the next phase of the competition.”
Ultimately SIG Sauer beat all the other contenders, winning the Modular Handgun System competition. Though their entrant did have a couple of advantages over Smith & Wesson’s M2.0 design, including greater magazine capacity and both full-size and compact models, what pushed their bid over the finish line was their partnership with Winchester in offering both a great pistol as well as powerful new ammunition to go with it. Put simply, it was a combination that just couldn’t be beaten.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.