It’s a time of transition for the U.S. military. Tens of thousands of troops at a time have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan for years, but that is giving way to reductions in the size of the Army and Marine Corps and tough fights over where dwindling defense dollars will be spent. As retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno suggested in a new piece for The Washington Post, the Army is “moving from 13 straight years of playing in the Super Bowl to an indefinite number of seasons scrimmaging with itself.”
That doesn’t mean the Army isn’t getting ready for the next war, though. In fact, it’s pushing through a variety of new acquisition projects, even as budgets get cut and Congress scrutinizes the numbers. And while it’s mostly multi-billion dollar contract competitions like the search for a new Armored Multi-purpose Vehicle that gets attention in Washington, the service is pursuing a number of cheaper efforts to upgrade the weapons soldiers carry with them on the battlefield.
Perhaps the most high-profile right now is the hunt for a new pistol to replace the 9mm M9, which is used by hundreds of thousands of troops across the military. Army officials say they want a new “Modular Handgun System” with more stopping power, accuracy and reliability than the M9 offers, but it isn’t clear they’ll swap to a larger handgun, either. Critics question whether swapping to a larger caliber, would make the weapon more difficult to use for the average soldier because of the increased recoil.
The program would eventually replace hundreds of thousands of M9s across the military, with the other services likely adopting whatever the Army adopts, since it has the largest budget for small-arms development. The M9 has been used widely through the services since the 1980s, when the military replaced the larger .45-caliber 1911 pistol used at the time with guns that fire the 9mm NATO round used now.
Plenty of other projects are also ongoing. In one lower-profile example, the Army is hosting an industry day on July 22-23 ahead of launching several contract competitions for more mortar systems and related parts, according to an announcement on the federal contracting website fbo.gov. They’re in the same caliber the military has used in combat for years — 60mm, 81mm and 120 mm mortars, but the service still decided to see the options that industry has for them.
The Army also is seeking information to buy a new 84mm anti-tank weapon known as the M136A1. A variant of the single-shot AT4 rocket system the military has used for years, it will allow soldiers to fire it from a confined space without harming themselves, according to a message on fbo.gov. Companies were required to submit information by May 27. Army officials said any weapon submitted for consideration had to be able to incapacitate a BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle, a Russian-designed armored troop carrier that is in use in a variety of countries.