Smith & Wesson M&P45 (Rob Curtis / Staff)
Heckler and Koch HK45 (Rob Curtis / Staff)
For a while — a very, very brief while — the M9 pistol finally looked like a goner. In August 2005, the Army and Special Operations Command announced their aim of buying as many as 650,000 .45-caliber Joint Combat Pistols designed specifically for military use, plus potentially hundreds of thousands of magazines, suppressors and holsters.
It looked like a good opportunity for handgun manufacturers, stuck in line behind Beretta's 9mm for 20 years, so designers hit the drawing boards.
Then the projected request dropped to 50,000 pistols. Then it fell off altogether.
Thirteen months later, the project had been postponed indefinitely. Bad news for the gun companies; all that money and time spent building the perfect beast seemingly wasted.
What else could they do but put them on the open market?
New for 2007, a variety of .45s built to those proposed military specs are available for military and law enforcement agencies looking to get more bang for the buck.
Although we haven't had any range time with them, we have wrapped our itchy trigger fingers around a handful of the mud-colored monsters, all incredibly similar because of the tight development guidelines. Until we fire them, the jury is still out on which model we like best.
But our early favorite — after holding them all, racking the slides, ejecting the magazines and hearing the company pitches — is the Smith & Wesson M&P45.
A new addition to the company's Military & Police line, the M&P45 looks like the rest of the pack. The magazine holds 10 rounds, the pistol comes in a dark earth brown and there's a standard rail system under the barrel.
The pistol also features ambidextrous slide stops and optional thumb safeties, as well as an easily reversible magazine ejection button. Interchangeable handgrips in three sizes make the weapon comfortable for most hand sizes.
With an overall length of 8.05 inches and weighing in at 29.6 ounces (without the magazine), the pistol just begs to be fired. Company officials expect it to begin hitting the streets in March, with a suggested retail price of $600 to $650. Catch an early glimpse at http://www.smith-wesson.com">http://www.smith-wesson.com.
Heckler and Koch's HK45 also looks like it has a shot at the prize. Similar to the others in features and styling, the HK45 is smaller than Smith & Wesson's pistol, coming in at 7.52 inches overall, and weighs about 2 ounces less. Company officials added that the HK45 has a unique mechanical recoil reduction system inside that cuts recoil by as much as 30 percent, making it easier to control during rapid firing.
Unwilling to go down without a fight, Beretta also created a challenger for the contract, the Px4 Storm .45 SD. The most noticeable feature of the "special duty" pistol is the extended barrel, designed for use with an optional suppressor.
Will you ever see any of them in the field? Hard to say. After all, the venerable M1911 was the workhorse of the military for 70 years before it was replaced.
Change comes slow.