The Department of Defense has recently been taking a hard look at the sidearms and sidearm calibers that are issued to today’s military personnel on the front lines. In July it was reported that the top candidates in the final running for the new $17 million dollar Modular Handgun System (MHS) contract to replace the current Beretta M9 included Glock’s G17, the Sig Sauer P320, Smith & Wesson’s M&P, and the new Beretta APX among others. Although it was just announced by Smith & Wesson last week that they are out of the running.
However, one thing has been settled according to the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC). After two decades where MARSOC operators were allowed to carry a custom-built Colt 1911 chambered in .45ACP, in early 2015 the door was cracked open allowing for them to choose Glock 19’s (chambered in 9mm) instead of their larger counterpart. Well that door has now been opened and shut, and it has been shut for good on John M. Browning’s classic 1911 design. This recent policy and operational change means the U.S. Marine Corps’ own special arm of SOCOM (U.S. Special Operations Command) have also come to terms with the age old debate of 9mm vs. .45ACP. According to the Marine Corps Times:
For Marine special operators, the never-ending debate over whether the 9mm or .45-caliber round is the more powerful bullet has been settled.
Previously, the classic .45-caliber Colt 1911 was one of three pistols that Raiders were allowed to carry, but now the 9mm Glock 19 is the only pistol that Marine special operators can take into battle, said Maj. Nick Mannweiler, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command.
“We put our money behind the 9mm round fired by an extremely well-trained marksman carrying a Glock 19,” Mannweiler told Marine Corps Times.
Wondering if these Marine special operators are not only allowed but required to carry exclusively the 15-round Glock 19, why not the slightly larger and higher capacity Glock 17? Apparently it has something to do with occasions where the sidearm might be carried concealed:
Since last year, MARSOC has purchased and fielded 1,654 Glock 19s because Raiders needed a reliable secondary weapon “that could be used for both a concealed carry profile and a low-visibility profile,” and having one approved pistol for all special operators saves money, he said.
I can buy that. But what I am struggling to understand is some of the ludicrous logic coming from various sides of the issue. Also quoting from the Marine Corps Times:
The arguments boil down to this: The .45-caliber round is the bigger bullet, so it has the “knock down power” to neutralize any adversary with one shot; while pistols that fire 9mm rounds are generally more accurate and can carry more bullets. Where a bullet hits the human body is also a major factor on whether it inflicts a mortal wound.Even though the .45-caliber cartridge has more propellant, the 9mm round usually has more penetrating power because the smaller round faces less air resistance on its nose as it files [sic] through the air, said Neil Clapperton, a firearms and forensic expert with the Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory.
I am at a loss for words as I read the above two paragraphs…like literally at a loss for words…
Okay, I’ve managed to catch my breath and collect my thoughts after feeling like my head was going to explode!
First of all, since when has it been decided that the .45-caliber round has SO MUCH more “knock down power” than the 9mm that it only requires one shot to incapacitate a threat? This story of a Chicago-suburb police officer should answer that one for you.
Secondly, are 9mm rounds substantially more accurate than their larger caliber brethren? I’d like to see the science on that one, but I think when we’re talking about pistol caliber handguns, it’s pretty hard to measure any substantial accuracy differences when we’re rarely shooting at distances greater than 15-25 yards, if that. I don’t know about you, but my .45’s seem to be plenty accurate, certainly as accurate as any of my 9mm pistols.
Third, the statement is made that a 9mm “can carry more bullets.” True. But we generally would refer to them as “cartridges” or “rounds” as a bullet is just the projectile portion that is encased in a cartridge and loaded into the firearm.
Fourth, it is mentioned that “where a bullet hits the human body is also a major factor on whether it inflicts a mortal wound.” Okay, I have to give them props on this part of the statement because this is absolutely 100% correct.
Finally, and this was the part I couldn’t wait to get to and dissect, it is argued that “the 9mm round has more penetrating power because the round faces less air resistance on its nose as it flies through the air.” What kind of insane reasoning is this? How does air resistance have ANYTHING to do with the terminal ballistics as they relate to penetration? Yes, I will agree that air resistance is constantly at work against a bullet thereby slowing it down as it travels toward it’s intended target. But are we to suggest that the difference in air resistance between a 9mm and a .45ACP is so great, and that a .45ACP is slowed down so much, that this has enough of an impact on its velocity as to affect its penetration making it less effective than a 9mm especially when it carries nearly double the mass with the bullet? [Pardon the run-on sentence–I’m trying to stay calm as I type this!]
I don’t think so.
I’ll tell you what DOES have an impact on penetration–it is the frontal area of the bullet and its relative friction and resistance as it impacts a body and attempts to travel through. A .45ACP will encounter greater resistance than a 9mm, but it also carries more weight albeit at a slower velocity. Most of the ballistic testing I have seen comparing the penetration of various bullets and calibers would suggest that generally a .45ACP and 9mm are both quite comparable as far as penetration is concerned.
I have got to wonder about this Neil Clapperton that is quoted above. Supposedly he is a firearms and forensic expert with the Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory. With a title like that you would think he would know a thing or two about firearms and ballistics. I checked him out, and he’s legit as far as that title is concerned and where he works. But I have some serious doubts about his understanding of external and terminal ballistics.
If you have need to revisit the basics of projectile ballistics, here is a decent place to start.
The point here is this: it is fine that the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command has made the determination to only issue and carry Glock 19’s. They are fine weapons and are certainly capable as a sidearm. And it is acceptable to me that at least some of that determination was made based on the need to accommodate smaller hands and smaller bodies especially when carried concealed. Not everyone can adequately conceal a full-sized Colt 1911. Not everyone is as capable or as comfortable at shooting a .45ACP as they are a 9mm. Plus this decision saves the military a substantial amount of money as Glocks are cheap and the 9mm ammo is also very cheap and, perhaps more importantly, readily available. That alone could be a convincing argument to switch platforms. But to suggest that the change was made due to the reasons quoted above–particularly because the 9mm supposedly has greater penetration due to less air resistance–is complete hogwash! Somebody needs to vet their sources of information and also use a little common sense.
On a side note, this is the recent trend…move away from larger calibers to smaller ones. The FBI just did the same thing. In the last 30 years, the FBI has moved from .38/.357 caliber revolvers to 9mm semi-automatics to 10mm (after the 1986 Miami shootout), then to .40S&W (once they realized how difficult it was for some agents to handle) and now they have announced they are moving back to the 9mm in the form of the new “Gen5” Glock 17M. Their explanation (other than increasing ammo capacity): bullet technology has come a long way since 1986, and their testing shows that the terminal ballistics of the modern 9mm is virtually the same as the .40S&W or the older .45ACP round. In case you didn’t get the memo, the FBI’s ballistic testing labs are the best in the world, and they’ve been doing it for a long time.
So it should not come as a surprise that while the DoD’s call for submissions for the new military Modular Handgun System XM17 contract doesn’t specify a particular caliber or size they will most likely settle on a new 9mm sidearm. And I suspect it could very well be the Sig P320 as it is the epitome of “modular.” The Glock 17/19 could be a possibility as well though as there are plenty of them already in the inventory, and the P320 also seemed destined for the FBI (which had similar requirements), but they suddenly settled on the Glock at the last minute.
Anyway, stay tuned…we shall wait and see.
Is the debate on 9mm vs. .45 (or .40) settled then? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Also…do you love this debate on the various handgun calibers? Head on over to the Concealed Carry Podcast for great audio content. Episode 10 is the perfect primer since we cover a lot of these same argument-triggering points!