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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense, National Security and More

How the U.S. Military Came to Love SIG Sauer Guns

SIG Sauer P226. Image: Creative Commons.

SIG’s latest success is the widespread adoption of their P320 pistol by the U.S. military. But it didn’t begin just there.

SIG Sauer is arguably one of the more well-known firearm brands and enjoys commercial success and brand recognition in Europe and the United States, as well as in many other parts of the world.

Currently, SIG supplies the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force with their service pistol. But the company’s success in the United States began nearly 40 years ago.

P226

SIG Sauer’s P226 gained traction within the United States Navy in the 1980s. Interest in the Naval community was piqued by German Kampfschwimmer, or Combat Divers, roughly analogous to U.S. Navy SEALs. In U.S. Navy service, the P226 was adopted as the P226 MK25.

Though chambered in 9x19mm in Kampfschwimmer service, the full-size P226 could also be chambered in a variety of other calibers, including .22 LR. .40 S&W, and .357 SIG and benefited from double-stacked (as opposed to single stacked) magazines, affording a higher overall magazine capacity at the cost of wider grips which could adversely affect shooting for shooters with small or medium-sized hands.

SIG Sauer P226. Image: Creative Commons.

Several derivatives of the P226 exist, including the P228, alternatively known as the M11 in U.S. military service. The P228/M11 is essentially a smaller, compact variant of the full-size P226. It is chambered in 9x19mm Parabellum, and has smaller, 13-round magazines, though it can also feed larger P226 magazines as well.

A Coup for SIG

More recently, SIG Sauer scooped up a lucrative military contract, winning the joint U.S. Army-U.S. Air Force XM17 Modular Handgun System competition (MHS) in 2017. The MHS competition pitted some of the world’s oldest and most prestigious firearm manufacturers against each other, each vying to replace the venerable Beretta M9.

Though the Beretta pistol proved to be a solid choice as the standard-issue American service pistol, it had since grown long in the tooth necessitating an upgrade. Interestingly, Navy SEALs rejected the M9, and opted to carry the SIG P226 instead, eventually supplementing the P226 with the compact, smaller capacity P228.

SIG’s MHS entrant, based on their P320 pistol, swept the competition. Chambered in the ubiquitous 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge, SIG offered a full-size and compact version, the M17 and M18 respectively. The pistols offered several advantages over the somewhat aged M9, including under barrel accessory rails and 17- or 21-round magazines. 

What Next

Ever contrarian, the Navy SEAL community is again opting for a sidearm that the rest of the United States military passed on. Though SIG Sauer’s P226 Mk25 remains in service, it is gradually being phased out in favor of the Glock 19.

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.

Caleb Larson
Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

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