Jay Chambers: My Top Military Handguns from Around the World

by: Jay Chambers

HK USP45 Jim Grant
HK pistols like this USP 45 are renowned for their durability, accuracy, and reliability. IMG Jim Grant

U.S.A. -(AmmoLand.com)- While the semi-automatic rifles used by the world’s various armed forces tend to get the most attention and intrigue, the world of handguns offers just as much interest and variety. Different countries have taken to a variety of handguns and handgun styles. In order to better appreciate them, here are some of the best used in militaries today.

Heckler & Koch USP – Various Calibers

We’ll start off the list with one of the slickest handguns in the world. The USP is made
by German firearms manufacturer Heckler & Koch. While the gun definitely looks sleek,
its sleek firing is its best quality. It largely owes its sleek shooting to its mechanical recoil
system that is designed to significantly lower the recoil.

It has been chambered in a handful of rounds, notably .45, .40, 9mm, and .357 Sig. It features a double action/single action firing mechanism. This simply means that when first loaded, the hammer is uncocked and is cocked with the first trigger pull. This makes the initial trigger pull longer which makes the gun safer while not in use. After the first shot, it acts as a single action with the smooth and short trigger pull that entails.

It was a somewhat early entry in the polymer handgun field and is still carried by Germany, Greece, Spain, and Ireland as their main service handguns. It’s notable that many German forces use the HK P8, which is a modified version of the USP. It offers changes to the decocking mechanism as well as to the rifling. Neither handgun is universally considered superior to the other, and they both serve well.

Glock 17 9mm Gen 3 Jim Grant
Glock’s line of semi-automatic handguns set the gold standard for handgun reliability. IMG Jim Grant

Glock 17 – 9x19mm

Glock pistols are a staple of handguns among civilians and police forces in the US. In other parts of the world, they make for official service handguns. The most common Glock models used are the Glock 17 and Glock 19 which fire 9mm. You can view this handy write up to educate yourself on the benefits of the caliber, but essentially 9mm is a versatile round that offers a balance of stopping power, magazine capacity, and recoil. Of course, other models are used as well.

Glock manufactures a version of their handguns for almost every common handgun round, but the 17 and 19 are the most commonly used. They are used by many countries including Sweden, Mexico, the UK, and New Zealand, just to name a few.

Glocks are striker-fired handguns. This means they do not use a hammer and firing pin, but a striker with a pin. The striker is cocked halfway when the slide is racked, then cocked fully, and released when the trigger is pulled. Along with being a well-designed firing mechanism, it also serves as a drop safety. If the gun is dropped or jarred in some way when loaded, it won’t go off because the striker is not fully cocked. Glocks are the quintessential “you can’t go wrong with it” handgun.

SIG P320 9mm Streamlight TLR8
The SIG M17 and18 are based on this 9mm SIG P320. IMG Jim Grant

Sig Sauer M17/18 – 9x19mm

The Beretta M9 has been the US military’s main sidearm since 1985. The Italian design served the US well, but recently the US military hosted trials to find a new service handgun. A number of companies submitted proposals, including Glock and an updated Beretta, but Sig Sauer’s p320 won out. The firearm is chambered in 9×19 parabellum and comes in two varieties. The M17 is the standard, full-sized version and the M18 is a compact version. It brings a number of modern innovations to the US armed forces.

For one, the pistol has a railing system that allows attachments to be used. Simple features like painted iron sights and a loaded chamber indicator up the bells and whistles. One sticking point for many skeptics of the gun is its manual safety system which many think of as more of a nuisance than a necessary feature, but otherwise, the Sig’s sidearm has been well-received so far by those who have gotten their hands on them.

FN FiveseveN Pistol Jim Grant
The FN FiveseveN holds a whopping 20 rounds of ammo in a flush-fitting magazine! IMG Jim Grant

FN Five-seveN – 5.7x28mm

This is one of the more unique handguns used officially by military forces in the world. It was developed by the Belgian manufacturer FN Herstal and is used by Belgium’s military today. Its name comes from the 5.7x28mm round it fires. The round is thinner and longer than traditional handgun rounds. For one, this allows them to fit 20 rounds in a standard magazine. Perhaps more important are the benefits to armor penetration and range that the bullets help the FN Five-seveN achieve.

Along with its unique round, the polymer-framed handgun grips nicely and includes modern features like a railing system. The handgun and its ammo are a bit pricey, but Belgium is committed to the interesting design.

IJ-70 Commercial Makarov PM Jim Grant
The Makarov pistol proved so popular, Russia exported civilian-modified version to the US like this IJ-70. IMG Jim Grant

Makarov PM – 9x18mm

The Makarov is a classic handgun to anyone interested in history. It is engrained in Cold War imagery, traveled with USSR cosmonauts, and is almost the pistol’s equivalent of the AK design in regards to simplicity and ruggedness. As historical as it is, it is still used today. It fires the 9x18mm round Makarov round. The pistol is small and easily concealable, making it a great choice for groups like the Spetsnaz and the KGB. Russia does intend to phase out the Makarov in favor of the newly designed PLK by 2021, but for the time being, this piece of history remains relevant.

There are a lot of worthy handguns in the world, but these are some of the best and most interesting. Are there any you think would have been more worthy contenders?

About Jay Chambers:

Jay Chambers is a pro free speech business owner based in Austin, Texas. Having lived through several natural disasters and more than a few man-made ones (hello 2008), he believes that resilience and self-sufficiency are essential in this increasingly unpredictable world. That’s why he started a business! Jay writes over at Minute Man Review.

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Deplorable Bill

Sir, IMHO the 1911 is, by far, THE primo military sidearm ever made. Once you learn how to shoot it, it’s unbeatable as a combat sidearm. Some 4 decades ago I was on the fort Lewis pistol team. A few years after that I compeated with the type in IDPA — combat pistol for several decades. Sure there are other firearms, like the glock, that has higher capacity but, there are high capacity 1911’s like Para Ord etc. These can also be had in lesser calibers like 9mm, 38 Super, 40 and 10mm. I understand that the 1911 is still… Read more »


I’m amazed he does mention the Berreta, but not the 1911. And the Berreta has had less service life than the 1911. I trained with the Berreta at FT Knox. We were told we were the first (1987). I was still issued 1911 when I got stationed in Germany (1988). Even in the early 90s I was still issuing out 1911 to troops. Not sure when & if they ever transitioned to the Berreta. Seeing how he even mentions the FN 5.7X28 makes me wonder if the author was prior Air Force ? And on the younger side. lol