Why the U.S. Military Rejected the FN Herstal FN 509: The Belgian-made FN 509 was an interesting and competitive entry to the U.S. military’s XM17 Modular Handgun System competition.
It was already compact, but the winner of the bid, SIG Sauer, entered the competition with both a full-size and compact-size model. SIG Sauer also had an ammunition-providing partnership with Winchester which the service branches viewed positively – something that FN Herstal lacked.
Let’s take a deeper dive into what makes the FN 509 unique because it fired more than a million rounds of ammunition during original development and testing.
The XM17 Competition
12 gun makers showed interest in competing for the XM17 Modular Handgun System award in 2015. The competition eventually whittled down to eight formal entries. The Request for Proposals (RFP) was intended to replace the Beretta M9 that had been in service with the military since 1985.
FN 509 Is a Solid, Compact Handgun Based on an Existing Model
Belgium’s Fabrique National Herstal submitted its FNS-9 Compact that they renamed the FN 509. The 9mm FNS-Compact is a striker-fired double-action autoloader. Its barrel is 3.6-inches with an overall length of 6.7-inches.
The FN 509 is manufactured at the FN America subsidiary in Columbus, South Carolina. The barrel is made of cold hammer-forged stainless steel. There is no manual safety, but it has four different safety mechanisms.
Specifications Are Competitive
The FN 509 has a trigger pull of 5.5 to 7.7-pounds. At nearly 27 ounces, it is lighter than the CZ P-09 – a competing model in the XM17 trials. There are three-dot luminous sights. A suppressor can be equipped. The polymer offers changeable backstraps. The grip texture prevents slips. There are Picatinny rails for lights and optics. The FN 509 has ambidextrous magazine releases and slide locks.
The FN 509 design has a slide cap, which is a removable slide expansion with sight wings that keep the rear sights from misalignment if there is an accidental drop. Plus, the thick wings are raised, and this enables one-handed slide racking.
The FN model comes with a 10-round magazines standard, but it could also be outfitted with 17-round magazines or even 24-round magazines. The pistol’s backstops are interchangeable to fit a variety of hand sizes. The pistol also featured ambidextrous controls.
Tough to Compete with SIG Sauer
Even though the gun was a solid entry, the tough competition did it in. The winner, SIG Sauer, had that afore-mentioned partnership with Winchester to supply two types of ammunition. This would have been a bridge too far for FN Herstal. FN Herstal also did not come up with a brand new design for the competition – something the RFP called for.
Good Enough for LAPD
During the time of the competition, it was not clear whether FN would enter a full-size piece. The FN 509 comes in a mid-size model that the gun maker claims can be used by law enforcement and the military. In fact, last year the Los Angeles Police Department decided to go with the FN 509 as their standard sidearm for officers. The FN 509 beat out six other pistols and fired 20,000 rounds with no malfunctions.
FN 509 Tactical
You can also buy the same FN 509 model that was entered into the military competition. It’s called the FN 509 Tactical and it has a new “Low-Profile Optics Mounting System,” in which ten different kinds of miniature red-dot optics can be used. It also accepts suppressors.
The pistol retails for a pricey $1,069, and sometimes more, depending on regional pricing shifts that seem to dictate costs these days due to the pandemic.
Not All Was Lost
The FN 509 may have been considered a finalist for the XM17 program before faltering at the end.
It’s reliable and good enough for LAPD. In 2021, FN America also announced that it won a U.S. Army contract for making the M240 machine gun future variants. This shows that FN is taken seriously by both law enforcement and military users.
It just came up a bit shy on the XM17 competition.
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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 officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.