What Pistol Does the US Military Use? Do all military branches use the same pistol?
The United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Space Force currently use the SIG Sauer M17 and M18 as official service pistols.
Derived from SIG Sauer’s P320, the pistol won the XM17 Modular Handgun System competition hosted by the U.S. Army in September 2015.
Read more about this handgun, its specifications, and why the US military picked this model.
Table of Contents
Current Standard-issued Pistol
The M17/M18 pistol is a lightweight but lethal pistol that military personnel can rely on when engaging targets in the field.
M17/M18 pistol’s ergonomics, capability of increased lethality and terminal effects, durability, and reliability are just some of the reasons why SIG Sauer won the US military contract, beating other big-named competitors like Glock, Beretta, FN, CZ, Smith & Wesson, and KRISS USA.
1. Sig Sauer M17/M18 Features, Specifications & Performance
Tim Butler designed M17 and M18 striker-fired pistols in 2017. They both come in coyote-tan colors with PVD-coated steel slides and black controls. The M17 with a full-sized slide replaced the M9, while the M18 with a compact slide replaced the M11.
|Specifications||M17 MHS||M18 MHS|
|Magazine Capacity:||17 rounds (standard) or 21 rounds extended||17 rounds (standard) or 21 rounds extended|
|Pistol Length:||8.05 inches||7.25 inches|
|Pistol Weight (without magazine):||26.90 ounces||24.54 ounces|
|Barrel length||4.7 inches||3.9 inches|
|Range:||50 meters||50 meters|
The M17/M18 9mm pistol features glow-in-the-dark Tritium sights (green upfront and orange at the back). It has a removable night sight rear plate, so you can add red-dot optics if you wish to.
Both 17 and M18 are lightweight and operator-friendly. While the M18 is comparably smaller than the M19, these pistols work the same in allowing you to quickly and accurately pull and fire. Thanks to the pistol’s ergonomic design and exceptional features, both handguns fire short-to-medium range effortlessly.
2. Modifications of the M17/M18
SIG Sauer M17 and M18 both came from the P320 design, but before the company won the heart of the US Army, the P320 went through numerous modifications, including
- Barrel length adjusted to two sizes: full-size (for M17) and carry-size (for M18)
- Has to be designed in 9mm NATO cartridge with “loaded chamber” indicator
- Stainless steel components were coated in a special, corrosion-resistant, physical vapor deposition (PVD) finish
- Added reflex sight by redesigning with a slide cut out
- Incorporated ambidextrous thumb safety
- Accommodates 17-round standard magazine with an option to extend to 21-round magazine
- Replaced regular screws with spanner screws
- Trigger mud flap improvement to prevent potential debris and dirt from entering the pistol action
- Slide sub-assembly improvement for capturing smaller components during disassembly
- Addition of self-illuminating tritium sights ideal for low lighting conditions
- Addition of integrated rail (used for attaching enablers)
- Addition of Army standard suppressor conversion kit (used for incorporating flash or acoustic suppressor)
Each M17 or M18 pistol is test-fired multiple times using 13 rounds – the first 3 for breaking in and the last ten for accuracy.
3. M17/M18 Variants
Aside from the M17 and M18 military standard releases, SIG Sauer also designed four ceremonial M17s and presented them to the Sentinels guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery.
These pistols were exceptionally designed. They feature meaningful engravings (XXI to reference the 21-gun salute and 21 steps the guards take to guard the tomb) and two-toned colors (one with brown wooden hand grips for the morning shift and black wood hand grips for night duty).
SIG Sauer also released the commercial variant P320-M17 in 2018. It is similar to the official army release M17, except the civilian version had no tamper-resistant screws. Gun enthusiasts were given a chance to choose their P320-M17s with or without an external manual safety.
5,000 units of limited edition M17 Commemorative, which was the exact specification of the army version, were also released.
In 2020, SIG Sauer released their P320-M18 for civilians.
4. History of Military’s Pistol Usage and Why the US Army Chose M17 and M18 Pistols
It is quite surprising that the US military has only had a handful of Army standard issue pistol models in the last century. Here’s a quick summary:
- Colt revolvers: Throughout the 19th century, the US military has used multiple revolvers designed by Samuel Colt. These include the Colt 1847 or “Walker”, Colt M1848 Dragoon, and Colt Single Action Army.
- Civil War revolver (the Colt Army Model 1860): This .44-caliber revolver was used extensively by both the Union and Confederacy throughout the four-year American Civil War.
- M1917: Made by Colt and Smith & Wesson, this 6-shot pistol was the last revolver used by the US service.
- M1911: Firearms icon John Browning designed this .45-caliber, semi-automatic pistol. It was the US military’s standard-issue sidearm for 70+ years from 1911 to 1985.
- M9: The US military picked the Italian Beretta 92FS and designated it as M9. In 1986, M9 served as a replacement for the M1911 sidearm for all branches. It was used for over 30 years in the Gulf Wars.
- M17/M18: Sig Sauer’s P320 won the XM17 Modular Handgun System competition in 2017 and became the new army pistol. The Pentagon has committed to buying over 400,000 full-length M17s and compact M18s between 2017 and 2027.
The US military knew about the reliability issues of the M9 pistol as early as 1988 (three years after making it the official pistol).
Aside from the heavy trigger pull and lack of suppressor attachment, accessory rail, and safety selector, the M9 also had an ergonomically disappointing grip and open slide that allowed dirt to come into the handgun and cause it to malfunction.
From the beginning of the 2010s, it was apparent that the M9 pistols were at the end of their service life, and a replacement had to be chosen.
Frequently Asked Questions
What pistols do different branches of the US military use?
The current military pistol varies between military branches.
- US Army – The Department of Defense (DoD) distributed the first batch of Sig Sauer M17s and M18s (derived from the Sig Sauer P320 pistol) to the US Army.
- Marine Corps – The M18 USMC service pistol also replaced the Beretta M9 in 2019. This military branch also uses the Colt M19 as another Marine’s sidearm.
- US Navy – The U.S. Navy uses both the Sig Sauer M17 and M18 along with the Colt M1911A1.
- Air Force – Since 2019, the Air Force has also officially designated the M17 & M18 as its standard-issue military pistol.
- US Coast Guard – Since the USCG is under Homeland Security (and not DoD), this military branch currently uses the Glock Gen5 MOS pistol (instead of M17s/M18s).
What are the requirements for US military pistols?
When the US Army and Air Force hosted a competition in search of a new handgun in 2015, they wanted a non-caliber weapon to be more accurate, more reliable, and more effective than the M9.
More specifically, the US military was looking for a pistol:
- with neutral, non-reflective color
- that accommodates most hand sizes
- with modular features for alternating magazine or pistol grip options
- that is durable in all kinds of environments
- with ergonomic design.
Can civilians buy the current military pistol?
SIG Sauer actually sells a commercial or “civilian” version of the m17 pistol and m18 compact.
Now that you know what pistol does the US military use and are aware that there are M17 or M18 civilian versions produced, you can now purchase these pistols if you want to.
Note that in the next several years, another pistol will likely replace the current official pistol.
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