In the words of Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell of the 101st Airborne Division, “Christmas came early for the 101st.” And it came in the form of the U.S. XM17 and XM18 pistols under the tree. Santa, in the form of the Army’s Program Executive Office Solider, came down the chimney with more than 2,000 XM17s. On Nov. 28, the first 2,000 or so of the Army’s new pistols were issued to the 101st at Fort Campbell, Ky. And Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley was there, and reportedly smiling. General Milley, of course, wears the 101st’s “Screaming Eagle” patch on his right sleeve. (U.S. Army photo)
Subsequent to that fielding, I attended a media roundtable held by Program Executive Office Soldier, which included soldiers and civilians involved in the acquisition of the XM17, as well as representatives from SIG Sauer, the lead on the contract and maker of the pistol. Winchester Ammunition, which developed and makes the XM1152 115-gr. ball load and the 147-gr. XM1153 Special Purpose (JHP) load that will be issued with the new guns, was also present, represented by Glenn Weeks, who said that the new loads are 25 percent more effective than standard M882 ball, and the ammunition is nearly as big a story as the gun itself. But that is a story for another time.
U.S. Army photo
Chairing the roundtable was Project Manager Soldier Weapons Lt. Col. Steven Power, and on the civilian side was Daryl A. Easlick, Deputy, Lethality Branch, Maneuver Center of Excellence (how’s that for a title of a very serious man with a very serious job?). And on the conference call were soldiers from the 101st Airborne who have actually been issued the gun. As discussed previously, soldiers like the gun. Not just because it is new, but because the Army knows what virtually every law enforcement agency and a lot of civilians have known for a while. With only a single trigger pull length and weight to train, you get better results more quickly than with a traditional double-action/single-action pistol. For soldiers, that means increased capability and increased lethality when they close with and destroy the enemy.
Image copyright American Rifleman
The Master Gunner of the 101st Airborne Division SFC Andrew Flynn, who was part of the Lethality Working Group (again, great name) and has a few months experience with XM17, said, “This is an excellent weapons system for soldiers … we will be providing to the team leader and above. Soldiers who have never had one will be able to have this weapons system in their hands prior to this fielding will be able to and be more lethal with it with minimal training requirements.” There’s another story there about who in the infantry will be armed with the XM17 and why. But that will have to wait, too.
Soldiers at Fort Campbell are already taking advantage of one of the principal design features of the XM17, and that is that the “gun” is a chassis, and the grip frame itself is easily replaceable. There are three different grip sizes specified as part of the XM17, small, medium and large. According to the soldiers themselves, the “large” results in a grip that’s just a little larger than the M9 pistol, the medium is a little smaller and the small is, well, a lot smaller. Based on the number of gloves and their sizes issued by the army, Lt. Col. Power estimated probably 90 percent of soldiers will stick with the medium grip. In talking to 1st Lt. Andrew Borer, a platoon leader with Charlie Co., 506th Infantry Regt., 101st Airborne, he said “I shot my personal weapon with the medium grip. I found the smaller fit better, allowed more control.” His personal-issue XM17 is now wearing a frame with an “S” on it. As SIG Sauer’s Tom Taylor said, “Grip size may not just be about hand size,” as some shooters prefer a smaller or larger grip than their glove sizes would indicate. (U.S. Army photo)
Images copyright American Rifleman
There are some significant differences between the guns delivered to the Army, which still wear the XM17/XM18 designations until type classification, and the commercial SIG Sauer P320. The trigger components, as discussed in previous posts, are different. Long before the P320 Sharknado, SIG had delivered a trigger group to the Army that improved the pull weight and was drop safe not only in SIG’s testing but also in the Army’s testing.
The XM17 has an ambidextrous thumb safety (more on that later), different coatings, different trigger components, and it has an anti-tamper plate on the back of the slide.
This prevents those without a special tool from monkeying with the striker components. The sample I saw had one for the take-down lever, too, which will not be on the XM17 going forward.
The thing to remember about the adoption of the XM17 is the contract award was only made in January. In 10 months Army acquisitions has done something that it has never done before. And that is go from awarding the contract, to preliminary testing, to materials testing and then to the actual field—issuing the guns to soldiers in 10 months. Operational testing occurred at Fort Bragg in September. Those familiar with Department of Defense bureaucracy should find this nothing short of astounding.
Judging from the first photos to emerge from Fort Campbell, though, it looks like Master Gunner Flynn and his training cadre will have some work to do with the troops on the XM17. If you look closely, you will see more than one soldier with his thumb bent and tucked up against the left side of the frame with his strong hand. (u.S. Army photos)
That’s probably because these soldiers have been issued nothing but the M9—a pistol that has its manual safety and decocker on the slide, not a feature the Army was looking for in its next handgun.
The XM17 has an ambidextrous manual safety mounted to the frame at the junction between the frame and slide. The soldiers need to know you can just put your thumb on top of it. It’s OK. John Moses Browning told us it was all right back in 1911.
Image copyright American Rifleman
Not to knock the M9, it has a sterling reputation for the reliability, and it's probably the most tested handgun ever used by American troops, but the location of its safety and decocker would not lend itself to placing one’s thumb over it. After listening to formidable SFC Flynn on the conference call, there is no doubt he has already addressed it with his troopers.
U.S. Army photo
Again, these were the first soldiers to shoot the XM17 for the public affairs cameras. They can be forgiven, and they, no doubt, will be well trained. Seriously, we don’t’ always expect those opening their presents early to read the manual before pulling the bows off and ripping open the Christmas wrap.