April 23, 2004
The U.S. Marine Corps is looking for a new .45 caliber (11.4mm) pistol. While the American military retired the M1911 .45 caliber in 1985, some commando units still prefer, and use, it. This is because the 11.4mm (.45 caliber) bullet weighs twice as much as the 9mm one that replaced it and still has an edge in "stopping" someone hit with it. But the 9mm M9 pistol magazine carries 15 rounds, versus seven in the M1911. The commandos (Special Forces, SEALs, marine Force Recon) counter that their operations are the type where every round counts, and the fewer you have to fire the better. For the regular troops, the M9 has been popular, and successful. The 9mm weapon is lighter, has less recoil and has the extra ammo for users who are not sharpshooters.
The marines want to buy 1,100 new .45 caliber pistols and are having a competition to determine which of several models available will get the $1.9 million contract. The marines have been using M1911s rebuilt from the many old ones turned in when everyone switched to the M9. But even this supply is running out, and it is known that there are newer .45 caliber designs out there that are more reliable, lighter, easier to repair and more accurate. Some marines (and other troops) buy these newer .45 caliber weapons with their own money. Most American combat units tolerate troops bringing in some additional weapons, especially pistols. Some troops have been buying 10mm pistols, seeing this as a nice cross between the lighter weight of the M9 (2.55 pounds versus three for the .45) and the greater stopping power of the 11.4mm M1911 bullet. But there are new .45 models that weigh as much as the M9, carry more bullets (10) and are easier to repair than the M1911.
Afghanistan also raised the issue of stopping power once more, when individual troops went into caves or other tight places, where only a pistol could be used. In these cases, every shot counted, and the guy firing larger (like 11.4mm instead of 9mm) bullets was more likely to win. But most troops agree that any arguments over pistols is minor compared to issues involving all the other more frequently used weapons and bits of equipment. Nevertheless, there's something about pistols