The news about Sig’s P320 winning the military handgun contract has distracted us from some very interesting details in the Modular Handgun Program. Spoiler alert: It calls for hollow point ammunition .
According to Jane’s “The US Army has confirmed that its new XM17 handgun is to be a 9 mm Sig Sauer model P320 and the contract allows the government to buy Sig Sauer’s proposed XM1152 Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) and XM1153 Special Purpose (SP) ammunition and training rounds.”
Sig has been very careful in what they say about the contract. In their official press release, they did not mention the caliber of the XM-17, except to mention it could change.
The P320 is the first modular pistol with interchangeable grip modules that can also be adjusted in frame size and caliber by the operator. All pistols will be produced at the SIG SAUER facilities in New Hampshire. The MHS Program provides for the delivery of both full size and compact P320’s, over a period of ten (10) years. All pistols will be configurable to receive silencers and will also include both standard and extended capacity magazines.
After a deadly 1986 shootout in Miami, the FBI switched from 9 mm to .40 caliber. Since then, there has been continuing discussion and technological improvements of handgun ammunition. The FBI is currently switching back to 9 mm as is the Department of Homeland Security. All federal law enforcement agency use hollow point bullets in various calibers.
When the Army wants to buy something, they put out a RFP (Request For Proposal). It describes in detail what the Army wants. The standard in the RFP is that the MHS must perform 10% better than currently issued 9mm NATO, 124-grain full metal jacket (FMJ). Even without a caliber change, 9mm hollow point ammunition can do that.
Back in 2015, the a Defense Department legal review allowed the Army to consider expanding and fragmenting ammunition, such as hollow-point bullets, for the XM17. I have been lectured many times about how the Army can never use hollow points because of the 1899 Hague Convention. This agreement barred bullets with exposed lead tips, or expanding rounds on the battlefield.
The U.S. ratified the first three articles of the 1899 Hague Convention but never signed Article IV. Additionally, Article IV, Section 3 states that the prohibition on the use of hollow points applies only in a conflict between two signatories. Even if the U.S.A. had signed Article IV, the provisions wouldn’t apply to the United States unless fighting another signatory state.
A grey area of international law has always been the treatment of irregular fighters. The Great Powers did not appreciate participation by non-nation state actors in their conflicts. At the 1899 Hague Conference, the Martens Clause determined that non-uniformed insurgents were unlawful combatants subject to execution on capture. This means that according to Hague, the laws of warfare do not apply to guerrillas. pirates and terrorists.
The Army has long reserved the right to use hollow points “where it saw a need.” Specified Army commands, Military Police, and Special Mission Units, have been issued hollow points in the past.
With XM-17 pistol, the Army has quietly expanded use of hollow point ammunition to regular troops. This is justified by Army lawyers who argue that asymmetric warfare has changed conventional legal standards. Citing the international law principles of preventing excessive collateral effects and protection of non-combatants, they claim that expanding bullets transfer most of their energy into a target and usually do not over penetrate.
Sig Sauer is well positioned to fulfill the contract for the modular handgun system. While the P-320 is a great choice for the M-17, we may find that hallow point ammunition makes a much more significant contribution to U.S. defense than their gun.
Photos courtesy of Sig