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HK Mk 23: The Gun Special Forces Love in a Shootout?

Development of the Mk 23 began in 1991 as spokespersons from the special operations community identified the need for an “Offensive Handgun Weapons System—Special Operations Peculiar.”

HK MK23. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
HK MK23. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

In A World Of Compromise, Some Men Don’t.” This was the slogan of famed German gunmaker Heckler & Koch (HK) of the 1980s and 1990s, and the company’s willingness to back up that slogan via the quality of its products, such as the MP5 9mm SMG, and the PSG1 (Präzisionsschützengewehr, Deutsch for precision marksman rifle, which more than one expert has deemed to be the most accurate semi-auto rifle in the world), explains why that company has won so many government contracts around the world.

Conversely, those government contracts have led the company to treat its private citizen customers as second fiddle, thus leading to the long-running cynical joke that HK’s actual customer slogan is “Because You Suck And We Hate You.” 

When HK was awarded the contract in 1996 to supply a then-new handgun for U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), it was kind of a big deal. Say hello to the HK Kk 23 .45 ACP semiautomatic pistol. 

HK Mk 23 Early History & Specifications

Development of the Mk 23 actually began in 1991 as spokespersons from the special operations community identified the need for an “Offensive Handgun Weapons System—Special Operations Peculiar.” As noted by the manufacturer’s official info page:

“During testing, MK 23 pistols met the most stringent operational and accuracy requirements ever demanded of a combat handgun. Endurance testing demonstrated a service life of over 30,000 rounds of +P ammunition. 

“To meet the reliability requirement, the pistol had to demonstrate a minimum of 2,000 mean rounds between stoppages (MRBS) with both M1911 ball and +P ammunition. All pistols exceeded the 2000 MRBS with an average of 6000 MRBS. In more than 450 accuracy test firings from a precision firing fixture at 25 meters, MK 23 pistols far exceeded the government requirement, averaging 1.44 inches, with 65 groups of less than one inch. There were four groups of .5 inches, with 5 rounds going through the same hole!”

The pistol was also specifically designed for compatibility with sound suppressors (AKA “silencers”). It is a traditional double-action (DA) autopistol, but like certain other DA autopistols such as the CZ-75 and Taurus PT92, allows the option of cocked-and-locked carry just like a purely single-action semiauto pistol

Specifications included an empty weight of 2.43 pounds, a fully loaded weight of 5 pounds with a suppressor and laser sight included, a barrel length of 5.87 inches, an overall length of 9.65 inches (16.5 inches with a suppressor attached), an SA trigger pull of 4.85 pounds, and a DA pull weight of 12.13 lbs. 

Battlefield Performance

Alas, for all the hype that went into the announcement of SOCOM’s adoption of the Mk 23, actual field usage of the HK Mk 23 turned out to be much ado about relatively little. The Navy SEALs were perfectly content to stick with the 9mm SIG Sauer P226. Air Force Special Tactics Teams (STTs) such as Pararescue and Combat Control largely stuck with the Beretta M9 that was standard issue to the conventional U.S. Armed Forces.

And Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) (MEU[SOC]) teams are stayed with highly customized versions of the venerable M1911-A1 .45 auto. 

The Mk 23 has indeed performed optimally when used in combat. It was also adopted by Indonesia’s Komando Pasukan Katak (Kopaska) tactical diver group and Komando Pasukan Khusus (Kopassus) special forces group, the Pasukan Gerakan Khas Counter-terrorism Police Squad of the Royal Malaysia Police and Pasukan Khas Laut Maritime Counter-terrorism group of the Royal Malaysian Navy, the Polish GROM commandos, and Singaporean special forces units

The Mk 23 design influence can be seen in HK’s USP (Universal Self-loading Pistol), which is highly popular with American civilian shooters and in turn served as the basis for the HK P2000, which is the pistol I carried back when I was a U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Officer

Want Your Own?

Luckily for private citizen gun owners, HK does make a Mark 23 for the civilian market. True Gun Value states that “A HK MARK 23 pistol is currently worth an average price of $2,482.21 new and $2,354.85 used.

The 12-month average price is $2,476.46 new and $2,276.91 used.” Omaha Outdoors currently has several listed for sale, at a price range of $2,499.00 to $2,799.00. 

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Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).