Beretta M9 How It Became The Military’s 30+ Year Service Pistol

Beretta M9 Review: How It Became The Military’s 30+ Year Service Pistol

The Beretta 92 has always been a pistol that people seem to be wildly passionate about, whether in its favor or against. I happen to fall in the latter camp. The 92 has always been one of my favorite pistols, ranking up there for me with the 1911.

Beyond its graceful yet rugged appearance, I’ve always been drawn to the 92 because of its buttery smooth action, soft recoil, and the grip has always filled up my hand just right. I’ve just always shot a Beretta 92 better than most guns. 

And while some people have discounted the Beretta 92 for its size and weight, I’ve actually liked the pistol exactly for this reason. When you hold a Beretta 92, you feel like you’re holding a gun and not a toy. 

My 92 is a Beretta M9, the designation given to the variant of the Beretta 92FS selected by the United States military. The M9 beat out quite the slew of competitors to earn its position as the military’s standard sidearm for three decades, and it’s still in limited use today even as it’s being phased out in favor of the SIG Sauer XM17/XM18. 

In this Beretta M9 review, we’ll take a step back into history to explore how this pistal came to be.

Why Did The Military Host New Trials? 

In the 1970s, the United States military had no less than twenty-five different handguns in its inventory. The overwhelming majority of those handguns were M1911A1 .45 ACP pistols for the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps and Smith & Wesson Model 15 .38 Special revolvers for the Air Force. 

Why Did The Military Host New Trials 
The Colt M1911A1 (similar to the Government Series 70 shown here) was the official standard sidearm of most military branches up until the 1980s, but in reality 25+ sidearms were in the military’s inventory.

But there were many other sidearms in use too in more limited numbers, either with select units or ‘leftovers’ from prior times. These included the Colt M1917 and Smith & Wesson M1917 .45 ACP revolvers, Browning Hi-Power, Smith & Wesson Model 39 9mm, the Colt M15 General Officer’s Pistol, Ruger Service Six .38 Special revolvers, and the Colt M1903 .32 ACP pistol. 

The list goes on. In short, the military just had a lot of guns, and most of those guns were wearing out. 

This problem was recognized not only by military leaders but also by several politicians as well. The calls grew for the military to phase out all of their current pistols in their inventory with a modernized standard pistol, culminating in an official Congressional investigation that 

resulted in the Air Force being assigned the new JSSAP (Joint Service Small Arms Program). 

The primary task of the JSSAP was simple: to find a new pistol to replace the current 25+ pistols in use. 

The Criteria

There were no less than 85 criteria that the new handgun would have to meet, of which 72 were mandatory, and 13 were optional. 

But the most important requirements as determined by the JSAAP were as follows:

  • The new handgun would have to be chambered in 9mm NATO
  • The capacity of the new handgun would have be 10+1 rounds at the bare minimum (later updated to 13+1 rounds for the XM9 trials) 
  • The new handgun was to be a double action/single action (DA/SA) design
  • The new handgun was to have a push button magazine release to facilitate fast reloading (no heel magazine releases would be permitted)
  • The slide of the new pistol had to lock open on the last round fired 
  • The pistol was to have an ambidextrous manual safety that could be easily manipulated via the user’s thumb (however, not all pistols entered into the trials had a manual safety, so this was optional)
  • The pistol was to have a firing pin block that would be engaged when the hammer was lowered for safety reasons 

In addition, the new pistol was to be submitted to a firing test of 5,000 consecutive rounds, and a maximum of 8 failures would be permitted. 

The Contestants

When news broke out that the M1911A1 pistol and other pistols in the military’s stock were to be replaced, numerous handgun manufacturers submitted their most modern handgun designs that met the JSSAP’s criteria. 

The motivation of these gun companies to win the upcoming tests was straightforward: not only would the contract be worth tens of millions of dollars, but the prestige of making the US military’s standard service pistol was perhaps invaluable. 

The following handguns were entered:

  • Beretta 92S
  • Colt SSP
  • FN Double-Action Hi-Power
  • Heckler & Koch P9S and Heckler & Koch VP70
  • Smith & Wesson 459
  • Star Model 28
  • Steyr GB
  • Walther P88

The Testing Begins

Testing officially started in the late 1970s in Florida. The pistols were subjected to endurance testing (in which they were shot repeatedly until experiencing failures), extreme hot and cold tests, and accuracy and environmental testing.

The Colt M1911A1 pistol also took part in the test to compare with the new applicants; the pistol fared poorly due to old M1911A1s with worn magazines being selected randomly out of inventory, and it came to be believed that brand new M1911A1s would have fared better (as they originally had in the testing in the early 1900s).

The Testing Begins
The Beretta 92F – later re-badged as the M9 – won each round of the trials in which a winner was declared.

Initially, it appeared as if Heckler & Koch would carry the day. While The VP70 was quickly eliminated from the competition due to failing the accuracy and reliability portions of the test, the P9S won the accuracy test. 

However, the P9S was eventually eliminated because it only carried 9 rounds in the magazine (1 short of the minimum 10 required). Additionally, the P9S started to experience more failures as the endurance testing went on, suffering 360 failures in 18,000+ rounds fired in total, which was far higher than the 30 failures that were allotted for that part of the testing. The Star Model 28 and Walther P88 suffered the same fate.

Testing continued with the other applicants, with the top two most reliable pistols being the Beretta 92 and the Smith & Wesson 459. Out of the two, the Beretta recorded the least amount of overall failures, and although the Smith was not far behind, the Beretta 92 was declared the winner.

Round 2

The trials didn’t end there and the US military still didn’t have a new sidearm despite the Beretta 92 winning the JSSAP tests. In 1983, a name was given to start a new pistol program: the Army-run XM9 trials. This was because it was decided that the JSSAP testing was not thorough enough, with the Army claiming that the Air Force had used underpowered ammunition and the wrong kind of mud in its testing. 

The XM9 trials called for each gun manufacturer taking part in the trials to submit 30 different specimens for testing. Each of the gun manufacturers from before took part in the XM9 with the same models, but with a couple of changes. Heckler & Koch submitted a new pistol, the P7M13, as their prior entries had failed the JSSAP testing. Additionally, SIG Sauer entered a new pistol: the P226, which was built specifically to take part in the XM9 competition. 

What happened in the second round of testing is murky, but long story short, none of the handguns were selected as the military announced that none of the entrants had completed the basic requirements. Talk began to swirl that the military would stick with the M1911A1 pistol only by rechambering the guns for 9mm, and there were also rumors that politics were getting involved as some military leaders wanted to preserve the M1911A1 as the standard handgun. 

Round 3

A year later,however, the XM9 pistol trials finally opened up again once it was determined that a 9mm M1911A1 would not be satisfactory as the new sidearm. 

The Steyr GB and Walther P88 were eliminated fairly early, as both experienced failures after 7,000 rounds, with the P88 suffering cracked frames as well. The Colt SSP, FN Hi-Power double action, and HK P7M13 soon met the same fate.

Round 3
The M9 served as the standard U.S. military sidearm for 30+ years, a testament to its quality and durability.

Eventually, three pistols were left standing: the Beretta 92, SIG Sauer P226, and Smith & Wesson 459. The P226 performed slightly worse than the Beretta and Smith & Wesson in the mud tests, but equalled or exceeded them in the other areas of testing.

In the endurance testing, the 92 and P226 eventually managed to outpace the 459 by suffering fewer failures after repeat firing. 

When it was determined that neither the Beretta or the SIG were going to outclass the other, it was decided to make the decision on price. The 92 was slightly less expensive than the SIG, and was thus declared the victor again. 

Round 4: It Becomes Official 

There was to be yet a fourth round of testing conducted in 1988, called the XM10 trials. Long story short, Smith & Wesson was not fond of the results of the XM9 trials and lobbied Congress to open up new trials, in which Ruger also entered the P85 pistol.

Also long story short, the Beretta 92 and SIG Sauer P226 performed the best over the other entries, and yet again, the 92 was selected as it was slightly cheaper. 

At this point, it was official that the Beretta 92 was to be the US military’s new standard sidearm, and it was rebadged as the Beretta M9. It would remain the standard sidearm for over thirty years. 

Conclusion: Beretta M9 Review


It’s worth noting that even though the whole stated purpose of these trials was to find a single standard sidearm to replace the 25+ guns in the inventory at the time… that didn’t really change. The M9 replaced the M1911A1 as the standard pistol, but the US military adopted several other pistols as well. 

For instance, the SIG Sauer P226, P228 (designated the M11), SIG Sauer P229 DAK, Heckler & Koch MK23, Colt M45A1, and Glock 17 and 19 ended up finding military service in more limited numbers with select units. So, in reality, the military ended up replacing its whole slew of pistols in use with, well, a whole new slew of pistols. 

Still, there’s no denying that the Beretta 92 performed very well in the tests and went on to serve the military well for a good three decades after. 


Why Does the Military Use the Beretta M9?

The military opts for the Beretta M9 due to its reliability, durability, and performance. Adopted as the standard sidearm, it is renowned for its consistent performance under adverse conditions, ease of use, and maintenance, making it a favored choice for soldiers requiring a dependable firearm in various operational environments.

When Did the M9 Become the Service Pistol?

The M9 became the standard service pistol for the United States military in 1985. It replaced the M1911A1 .45 caliber pistol, shifting to a 9mm sidearm. The pistol’s performance influenced the transition, NATO’s standardization efforts, and the need for an updated, reliable, and versatile sidearm for service members.

When Did the Military Adopt the Beretta M9?

The United States military adopted the Beretta M9 in 1985. The adoption followed extensive testing and evaluation, wherein the M9 outperformed various contenders, showcasing its suitability for military use in terms of reliability, performance, and safety, meeting the rigorous criteria set by the armed forces.

What is the M9 Service Pistol?

The M9 is a semi-automatic, 9mm service pistol, characterized by its double-action mechanism, durability, and accuracy. Designed and manufactured by Beretta, a renowned Italian firearms producer, the M9 has been a staple in the U.S. military, providing soldiers with a reliable sidearm for self-defense and combat situations for decades.

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