WASHINGTON --- Come November, the XM17 handgun, also called the "Modular Handgun System," or MHS, will drop the "X," which designates it as "experimental" and will instead be called the M17.
At that time, the Army is expected to reach a conditional material release for the MHS, and will issue some 2,000 of the pistols to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
The "Screaming Eagles" will be the first in a long line of units to receive the new 9mm pistol, which is meant as a replacement for the existing M9, which is quickly approaching the end of its useful service life.
Also among the first to receive the new pistol will be the 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas, as well as one of the Army's new security force assistance brigades.
All three units will have the new M17 handgun issued to them by the end of the year, said Brig. Gen. Brian Cummings, who serves as Program Executive Officer Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
While the XM17 pistol is manufactured by Sig Sauer and is based on Sig Sauer's existing P320 pistol, Cummings brushed off comparisons between the two weapons.
"It's a different weapons system," Cummings said.
As the Program Executive Officer Soldier, Cummings is responsible for managing those Army programs that provide most of the things Soldiers carry or wear. That includes, among other things, individual and crew-served weapons, protective gear, weapons sights and sensors, and uniform items.
The general said that both the M17, which is a full-sized version of the pistol, and the M18, which is a compact version, include different safety features than the P320 pistol, as well as different requirements for accuracy and reliability.
Cummings also said that the new pistol may see more action than its predecessor, the M9, which was primarily issued as a personal protection weapon.
"We're looking at more than the traditional basis of issue, where we are doing a one-for-one replacement," he said. The M17 and M18, he said, have also proven good for close-quarters combat, and so might be issued to some units and Soldiers to fill that role as well.
STILL ON TARGET FOR NEW RIFLE
Despite some reports to the contrary, the Army is still looking for a new rifle that uses a 7.62mm cartridge.
"The chief [U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley] wanted an interim combat rifle, or he was only going to fulfill a requirement to have a squad-designated marksman in each squad, called a squad-designated marksman rifle," Cummings said. "So, there are two efforts going on to get a 7.62 inside the squad."
What are those two efforts? Cummings said that course of action No. 1 is to have one Soldier in a squad carrying the Squad-Designated Marksman Rifle, or SDMR. Course of action No. 2, he said, is to have multiple Soldiers in a squad with the Interim Combat Service Rifle, or ICSR. Both are 7.62mm weapons.
The SDMR is already a program of record for the Army, Cummings said, and there is a weapon already identified to fill that role: the M110A1 Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System, or CSASS. That weapon is undergoing testing now, Cumming said.
But the ICSR and the SDMR do not represent the future for what weapons will be issued to most Soldiers.
"Right now, many are focused on the ICSR or SDMR," Cummings said. "But that's not the long-term way ahead. The long-term way ahead is a brand new rifle for all of the Department of Defense called the Next Generation Squad Weapon."
The Next Generation Squad Weapon, or NGSW, is actually two weapons, he said. It'll include one rifle to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, and then a carbine that replaces the M4. Both the M249 and the M4 use the 5.56mm cartridge. The NGSW will likely use a different caliber cartridge than 5.56mm.
"For the next-generation, we wanted to make one end-all solution," Cummings said. "With the M4, when you look at it, it's got all these things hanging on top of it. We keep evolving by putting on things. The next-generation is going to be kind of like what we did with the pistol, with the modular handgun system. It'll be one complete system, with weapon, magazine, ammo and fire control on it and we will cut down on the load and integration issues associated with it."
The general said the U.S. Marine Corps is "on board" with development of the NGSW, and the British are interested as well.
Cummings said the Army can expect to start seeing the Next Generation Squad Weapon by 2022, in about five years. That'll include the weapon, magazine and bullet. Later, by 2025, he said, Soldiers can expect to see a fully-developed fire-control system.
Until then, Cummings said, the Army is working on an interim solution to get a larger-caliber rifle into the hands of at least some Soldiers. It'll either be the SDMR in the hands of one Soldier, or the ICSR in the hands of some Soldiers. But, he said, "the final decision has not been made."