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Sig Sauer M17 and M18: The US Military’s Big Gun Mistakes?

Sig Sauer M17
Sig Sauer M17. Image: Creative Commons.

Sig Sauer M17 and M18, the wrong choice for the US military? There were numerous players, but Sig Sauer was the last man standing. The military versions of the Sig Sauer P320, the M17/18, won the US Military’s XM17 Modular Handgun System competition to replace the Beretta M9 and Sig Sauer M11 a few years back. The Sig was truly modular, filed a cheaper bid, and had devised a better ammunition manufacturing plan than the Glock 19X. But was the Sig Sauer the right choice?

After Glock filed a protest with the government after losing the competition, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report that ran down the ratings on the various criteria for the trials.

The Trial Grades Were Close

At first, based on performance, GAO had the Glock 19X and Sig Sauer M17/18 almost neck and neck in comparison trials. They scored identical ratings on general accuracy, characteristics of the projectile, and accuracy on user isolation. The Sig was rated moderately better on ergonomics. Finally, the Sig was rated “good” on the entire performance test, while Glock was rated “acceptable.”

Early warfighter acceptance was going to be “good” for the Glock and only “acceptable” for Sig Sauer. But for license rights and manufacturing of the gun and ammunition, the Sig really shined. It scored “outstanding” on six categories with two “good ratings.” Glock had only two “outstanding” ratings in these criteria. Then there was the price, as Glock had the more expensive bid at $272 million compared to $169 million for the Sig.

Did the Army Pick the Right Winner?

Like any large government competition for defense products, people play a parlor game and argue the merits of both winners and losers. This is often about brand loyalty. Not everyone agreed that Sig Sauer should have won. One reason is that the baseline model of the Sig Sauer model, the P320, has some safety issues according to many firearms experts. The manufacturer of the base P320 is facing three lawsuits for unexplained discharges that have seriously injured users. Two of the unintended discharges happened with law enforcement members. They allege that they never pulled the trigger, and the gun went off anyway.

Pentagon Report Has Bad News for Sig Sauer

From here things get a little more challenging for Sig. The Pentagon released a 2018 report criticizing the Sig Sauer M17/M18. The Pentagon testing of the M17 and M18 handguns showed some problems, including accidental discharges if the pistol was dropped on to the dovetail of the gun, ejecting live bullets, and unfavorable performance with 9mm “ball” cartridges. The Army and representatives from Sig Sauer told Task and Purpose in 2018, that the gun was “safe to operate,” and that the issues outlined by DoD had since been mitigated.

Sig Sauer M17 & M18

Sig Sauer M17 Image: Creative Commons.

Sig Sauer M17 and M18

Sig Sauer M17. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Could the Glock 19X have won if the Army testers would have used some different testing methods? The performance ratings mentioned earlier are subjective and done by humans who could have made mistakes. It’s too late to re-compete the original contract, so the U.S. military will have to live with their choice.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry office.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. John Davis

    December 2, 2021 at 7:56 am

    You really should choose your images more carefully. Selecting an obvious airsoft copy of the M17 (orange painted muzzle) demonstrates a lack of familiarity with the topic and undermines credibility.

  2. Ray

    December 2, 2021 at 11:19 am

    You beat me to it

  3. Andy

    December 2, 2021 at 6:51 pm

    I was not a Glock or a Sig fan until I had to get a P320. But the people complaining that Glock didn’t get the contract must not be able to read the name. It is supposed to be a modular handgun. The 320 is. The Glocks are not. They submitted 2 different pistols. They wanted a firearm that could be changed by just changing some parts. Why can people not understand

  4. Mark Higginson

    February 28, 2022 at 12:53 pm

    Visually, I think Glocks are very unattractive. It looks like they belong on the end of a garden hose. While the Sigs to me, are very handsome in my eyes. That’s why I own three of them. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with a Glock. I know that several Federal agencies use them. I just think they’re blah! looking and I’ll never own one.

  5. David

    April 22, 2022 at 12:44 am

    This whole thing is about “modularity.” The Glock (I own two) has fewer parts, are known for reliabiity, are inexpensive to build and maintain.

    However…they are not modular. One cannot change the internal guts of a Glock as a unit fire control system. The P320 has this and this became the determining factor. The 320 might even have a higher parts count but it does not matter.

    Glocks are not perfect either. There were lots of reports of MIM strikers breaking, chipped extractors. Back in 2003, a number of new LE candidates had the striker break with NEW pistols. The new Gen 5 pistols no longer have the V-shaped angled wedge striker but have moved back to a more traditional round tip…which is stronger while remaining cheap to produce MIM.

    The Glock has been widely criticized for the trigger pull, the large diameter chamber compared to the OD of the cartridge case, plus feed ramp incursions that compromise case head support. Most of these were solved with the Gen 4 pistols however.

    I hope that the 320 will prove to be another legendary US martial and LE sidearm. Surely after two full years the bugs have been worked out.

    I guess that’s what “Limited Lifetime Warranty” cards are for.

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