Remembering How the Beretta M9 Became America’s Sidearm

Note: This article was originally posted on NRA Blog:

Remembering How the Beretta M9 Became America’s Sidearm
Remembering How the Beretta M9 Became America’s Sidearm

USA -( In late January, the U.S. Army announced a new service pistol, the Sig Sauer P320, replacing Beretta’s M9, ushering in a new era in the military’s firearm legacy. The changing of the guard presents the perfect opportunity to look back at the M9’s service history in our Armed Forces, which spanned more than three decades.

The M9 is a military-specification, or mil-spec, version of the Beretta 92 FS, a full-size 9mm pistol. The Beretta 92 FS is an upgraded model of the Beretta 92, which traces its beginnings to Italy, where designers Pier Carlo Beretta, Vittorio Valle and Giuseppe Mazzetti began initial design work on the pistol as part of Beretta’s “92 Project.” The 92’s overall design was a progressive development based on the Beretta Model 1951 Brigadier.

A U.S. Army major prepares to fire an M9 pistol during training. (Photo courtesy/Range365)

The 92 was officially presented as the Model 92 in 1975, initially adopted by Italy’s CONSUBIN, the nation’s equivalent to the U.S. Navy SEALs, and the Brazilian Army.

In 1978, the U.S. Department of Defense began the Joint Services Small Arms Program, tasked with trialing and selecting the new service handgun for the U.S. Armed Forces, aimed at replacing the aging workhorse M1911.

Managed by the U.S. Air Force, the first trials occurred at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where Beretta 92 went up against pistols from Heckler & Koch, Fabrique National (FN), Colt, Smith & Wesson, and others. The Beretta 92 FS outperformed all other pistols in the trials, but due to discrepancies in the testing protocols by the Air Force the results were invalidated, with JSSAP program managers deciding to run the tests again under Army management.

A U.S. Army soldier prepares to fire an M9 pistol during an Army Best Warrior Competition. (Photo courtesy/

Regardless of the Air Force and Army’s qualms, the U.S. Navy purchased Beretta’s 92 Series pistol, which featured an ambidextrous safety lever, reversible magazine button, checkered grips, and other features designed to meet the JSSAP specifications.

After the Army’s cancellation of the procurement and controversy following the second trials in 1983, the third trials, named the XM9 Program, in 1984 resulted in two competitors vying for the coveted U.S. military contract – Beretta’s 92 SB-F, an improved Model 92 with modifications derived from the demands and results of the U.S. military’s testing, and the Sig Sauer P226. The 92 SB-F featured a combat-style trigger guard, chromed bore, upgraded grips and Beretta’s enamel Bruniton coating.

On April 10, 1985, the U.S. Army announced the results, selecting the 92 SB-F as the new service pistol and designating it as the M9 pistol (technically, “Pistol, Semiautomatic, 9 mm, M9.) The DoD’s first order was for 315,930 pistols at a cost of about $75 million, and the M9 became the standard sidearm for all branches of the U.S. military.

U.S. Marines discussing how to field strip the M9 pistol during the Lance Corporal's Course at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. (Photo courtesy/U.S. Air Force)

This was particularly noteworthy, as it was thought improbable for a foreign company to usurp American manufacturing for the military contract. The reliability and ruggedness of Beretta’s design overcame political, legal and technical obstacles, however, and cemented its place in firearm history.

“The Beretta family, company, and Italian industry can take justifiable pride in doing what to many seemed the impossible: a foreign-based company winning the contract for the U.S. Armed Forces sidearm a historic first of major significance,” said famed firearms author R.L. Wilson in his book, The World of Beretta: An International Legend.

The service-ready M9 was a semi-automatic pistol chambered in 9×19 Parabellum, built on a short-recoil action. The M9’s muzzle velocity is 1,250 feet per second, with an effective firing range of 50 meters. The M9 feeds from a 15-round detachable box magazine, and feature onboard iron sights.

In 1987, Beretta issued a commercial version of the 92 SB-F, simply named the 92F. That same year, production of both the M9 and 92F began at Beretta’s U.S. manufacturing facility in Accoceek, Maryland. The M9 saw its first deployment in the hands of U.S. forces during 1989’s Operation Just Cause, wherein the U.S. invaded Panama to depose dictator Manuel Noriega.

The M9 went on to serve with the U.S. military in its various conflicts and operations around the globe, from Operation Desert Storm in 1990, missions in Africa and eastern Europe in the late 1990s, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars of the 2000s, and into today.

The Beretta M9A3 variant. (Photo courtesy/

The year 2006 saw the updated M9A1, which featured a one-slot Picatinny rail for attaching lasers, lights and other peripherals. A beveled magazine well allowed for easier reloading, and a physical vapor deposition (PVD) coating was developed by Beretta to make the pistol more impervious to the austere desert conditions of battlefronts in the Middle East. These improvements were made to meet the combat demands of the U.S. Marine Corps.

In 2009, U.S. Army contracted Beretta to supply as many as 450,000 Model 92 FS pistols to U.S. military customers worldwide, totaling $220 million – the largest U.S. military pistol contract awarded since World War II.

The M9 and 92 FS had now served for 25 years in the hands of millions of U.S. military members, law enforcement personnel and military partners around the world. However, just like the eventual replacement of the vaunted M1911, the M9’s days were numbered, with the DoD looking ahead for the next technological advancement in small arms to keep our military’s combat edge sharpened.

A U.S. Air Force senior airman services M9 pistols in the Security Forces armory at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. (Photo courtesy/U.S. Air Force)

In 2014, the U.S. Army announced new pistol trials, the U.S. Armed Forces Modular Handgun System competition, to determine the replacement for the M9, with 12 manufacturers – including Beretta with their APX pistol – entering the fray. Meanwhile, a 2015 update to the M9, the M9A3, improved the Picatinny rail from one to three slots, boosted magazine capacity by two rounds to 17, reengineered grips, slide and removable sights, and introduced new materials to make production more cost-efficient.

Despite the improvements to the M9 and the introduction of the APX in the Army competition, the legendary Italian arms maker failed to make the final round of the latest pistol competition. Sig Sauer, who narrowly lost the previous competition to Beretta, won the contract over Glock, and the U.S. Army announced the selection of the Sig Sauer P320 as the new service pistol at SHOT Show 2017 in Las Vegas.

While the military is moving forward with Sig Sauer, hundreds of thousands – potentially millions – of M9 and 92 FS pistol will continue to serve U.S. service members for years until adequate numbers of P320s can be fielded. Even after their government service tenure, the Berettas are likely to wind up in the surplus firearms market, continuing to see use amongst commercial customers.

(Photo courtesy/Washington Times)

Change isn’t easy. While many in the military community offered criticism of the M9’s accuracy, reliability, weight and other factors, the sidearm has been a mainstay of the U.S. military for more than 30 years, with entire generations of American warriors training with it and taking it into battle. Personally, when I joined the Air Force, I had never fired a gun in my life, and the first pistol I ever used was a Beretta M9 during Basic Military Training.

The upgrade may be what the U.S. military thinks is best for their future, but there’s no denying the place the M9 has secured in the annals of firearms history.

  • 12 thoughts on “Remembering How the Beretta M9 Became America’s Sidearm

    1. Y’all realize they built a factory in Maryland to build these, right? look at the competitors in the new search. Glock, Sig and Beretta along with S&w and Ruger. 2 American companies and 3 foreign countries. Glock has a factory in Georgia, and Sig in New Hampshire. 5 companies all manufacturing in the US. These were all us companies despite the name. Chevrolets are not made in France despite the French name. The 1911 needed to be retired. 45 acp is a great manstopper only when you hit your target. I have trained 12 year old girls with 9 mm and they can be accurate. 45 can have a wicked recoil and good shooting fundamentals are critical for accuracy. I’m sure in every combat situation we get a chance to get in the perfect isosceles stance and concentrate on pressing the trigger. If you miss with the m9, you have 10 more chances than the 1911. Not to mention the times that the 1911 has been holstered and then pulled with the hammer down. Press and nothing. Now you’re dead.

    2. The real deal was we were supplying some U.S. made jets to them. It looked good to do a little buying from them and the real move was to get more NATO ammo compliant regardless. So the 9mm was chosen for NATO compliance (they adopted our toy 5.56 over their 7.62x51s so we reciprocated). The only thing the Swiss have done with us military wise–is NOTHING so they were out of the mix regardless. And yes to great degree it was political–you bought a bunch of our stuff so we will buy some of your stuff.

      1. Thank goodness we have the ‘real’ story from Jim. Can you please share your sources and evidence to that effect? What jets did we supply to them? How many? Who oversaw this deal you are so intimately familiar with?
        Good God….

    3. I saw the article mentioned the Army Best Warrior competition. My youngest won the Army Reserve Best Warrior competition a couple of years ago. One of the benefits of winning was a new Blue label Glock 23. Though he did carry a M9 for nine months in Afghanistan.

    4. The back channel story in the previous two posts are interesting, if true, and suggest to me that once again the decision is not a gun decision, but a political one. Sig is also a foreign owned company, so don’t the same political considerations, foreign or domestic, come into play even if we don’t know what they might be. To grant a $220 million contract to a foreign owned company to produce weapons for the American military just seems wrong to me. The solution is to go back to the American companies and tell them – try again, and keep trying until you get it right. There can be no compelling reason to grant that contract today. The Beretta could soldier on for another month, or year, without compromising our forces. No, something is rotten in the state of military procurement. And what kinds of morons give a sidearm development program to the Air Force, rather than the Army or Marines. I thought the Air Force was still using wheel guns for their security forces. Kidding! But still who knows best what a grunt wants – AF, Army, or Marines?

    5. So! How many G.I.’s died because of this Stupid Idea? The 9mm has little stopping power about the same as a 38 special! The 45acp was developed for a reason! Killing Power! eg. The terrorist shot 5 times in Paris recently! He lived! One shot with a 45acp and he would be in the Ground like he is supposed to be!

    6. This article features one major omission.

      While both pistols more than passed the minimum standards, the Sig P226 actually outperformed the Beretta 92 during the pistol trials. What decisively tipped the scales in Beretta’s favor was a last-minute change in price that made it substantially cheaper than Sig’s bid once extras like spare parts and magazines were factored in. This led to suspicion that someone had leaked Sig’s sealed bid to Beretta, but a formal inquiry found no proof this had occurred.

      1. You may be correct on price but here’s a little more to the story because I happened to be there. Sig outperformed Beretta in every single phase of the testing BUT, the US wanted to keep the missile bases in Italy and had to renew the contract with the Govt. Getting Beretta the contract, even though they failed all the tests against the Sig 226 was the dirty little secret that was kept secret.

        1. Completely inaccurate in multiple respects.

          The Italian missile bases theory is old nonsense, but endlessly repeated by people who know nothing. The idea that something as consequential as missile bases would come down to something as monetarily insignificant as the contract for a sidearm is absurd on its face. You honestly have to be an idiot to believe something like that.

          And the Beretta outperformed the Sig in a number of tests. The documents are publicly accessible. Look them up yourself so you can have a chance of sounding like you know what you’re talking about.

      2. I’ve heard some variation of why beretta wasn’t meant to pass but did for years. For once, I’d love someone who backs his running mouth with a strip of evidence. I’ve never, ever have seen anyone post links that evidence these conspiracy theories.

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