Weapons: Updating Pistols


October 31, 2022: The Canadian Army has finally found a new pistol to replace the Browning High Power pistol they had been using since World War II. The new pistol is the Sig-Sauer P320, which is similar to the pistol the Americans adopted in 2018 to replace the Beretta M9 pistols that in 1984 replaced the now century old Browning .45 caliber pistol. The .45 is still used by special operations troops in many nations. Canada is buying 7,000 Sig-Sauers for the army with the potential purchase of 9,500 more for the air force, navy and military police.

Britain, another major user of the Browning High power pistol, replaced the Browning nearly a decade ago with the Glock 17, a modern design similar to the Sig-Sauer P226.

Many Canadians followed the British search for a Browning replacement and noted that it only took Britain three years to find what they needed. It was also noted that some British special operations troops were already using the Sig-Sauer. As in Canada, the British search for a new pistol came after years of complaints from troops in Afghanistan. The British government quickly (compared to Canada) agreed to replace their elderly Browning L9A7 9mm pistols with the Glock 17. The army placed an order for 25,000 Glock 17s, at a cost of $538 each. The procurement process took two years. Some British special operations troops had already adopted the similar Sig Sauer P320.

The Glock 17 was designed by Gaston Glock in the 1960s and soon became enormously popular with policemen. Some armed forces (like Austria and Norway) also adopted it early on. There are over twenty variants, usually having to do with caliber. The American FBI, for instance, uses the 10.2mm .40 caliber). The Glock has a plastic (polymer) frame and can be safely carried in the holster loaded and ready to fire. All one has to do is aim and pull the trigger. The Glock magazine carries 17 rounds, compared to 13 in the Browning (which was a big jump over six rounds revolvers held). These characteristics have proved enormously popular with police, who are often called on to use their pistol with no warning. Troops in Afghanistan have encountered similar situations. For British troops another advantage is weight. A loaded Glock weighs 860 gr (1.88 pounds), which is 20 percent less than the Browning.

The Glock is a simple pistol and very reliable. The manufacturer has subjected the pistols to very extreme environmental tests and tweaked the pistol design to ensure that a Glock would always fire. Over 2.5 million Glocks have been manufactured in the last three decades, meaning that spare parts and servicing are easy to find.

The Glock 17 is replacing the 9mm Browning Hi-Power automatic, whose British military designation is the L9A1 and has been the standard issue sidearm since 1954. Back then it replaced the .38 caliber (9.1mm) Enfield revolver. Even this elderly pistol can still be found in service, as a personal (not army issue) weapon. However, British World War II commandos pioneered the use of the 9mm Hi-Power, and that played a major role in that weapon replacing the Enfield revolver throughout the army. The Hi-Power was designed by John Browning, who also created the M1911 .45 caliber pistol. The two pistols share many design features and characteristics.

For several decades the Hi-Power continued to perform well for both commandos and the rest of the army. But by the 1980s the Hi-Power was a dated design, something that was made very clear with the appearance of the Glock. The Hi-Power is still produced, by Browning in the U.S. and Fabrique Nationale in Europe. Despite being over 70 years old it is not considered obsolete, just not as evolved as weapons like the Glock. Then neither is the century old American 1911A1 .45 caliber pistol. The problem for the British Army was that most of the Hi-Powers in service were older than the men who were using them. These pistols were often 20 or 30 years old and the army leadership never gave much thought to updating them or bringing in more modern design. This led to many combat officers buying a pistol (often a Glock) with their own money.

British commandos took matters into their own hands and adopted the 964 gr (2.13 pounds) Sig-Sauer P226 9mm as their standard pistol, as well as a smaller pistol for undercover operations. The U.S. Navy SEALs also chose this pistol, as did many other special operations forces. While the Glock is a favorite for regular army troops, the P226 is a bit more compatible with commando type operations.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close