US Army is Considering Hollow-Point Bullets to Go with New Pistol

Army-M9-1200x800The U.S. Army‘s plan to replace the M9 9mm pistol could result in the large-scale adoption of hollow-point pistol ammunition — a move the U.S. military has refused to even consider for more than 100 years.

The Pentagon’s devotion to full-metal jacket, or ball ammunition, is the result of a 116-year-old guideline in the 1899 Hague Convention that prohibits combat units from using bullets that “expand or flatten easily” inside the human body.

The declaration was ratified by all major powers, except the United States, but the Pentagon has used it as the legal standard to rule out any ammunition other than ball for use in sidearms.

This mindset is changing, however, since the recent release of the Army’s draft solicitation for the Modular Handgun System cites a new Defense Department policy that allows for the use of “special purpose ammunition.”

“Federal, state, local and military law enforcement elements routinely use expanding and fragmenting ammunition in their handguns due to the increased capability it provides against threats,” Program Executive Office Soldier spokeswoman Debi Dawson told

The policy was discussed at the fourth MHS industry day held recently at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., according to Dawson in a news release.

“Expanding the XM-17 Modular Handgun competition to include special purpose ammunition will provide the warfighter with a more accurate and lethal handgun,” Richard Jackson, Special Assistant to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General for Law of War, told attendees according to the release.

In the past, specialized ammunition approval has been granted only if the requirement passes a legal review. This means that the military has had to get creative at times when it describes what it needs.

Tier-1, special-mission units under U.S. Special Operations Command are authorized to use jacketed hollow-point bullets instead of standard ball. To do this, these elite units had to be classified as counterterrorism forces, a legal distinction that allows them to use the same hollow-point ammo used by all law enforcement agencies.

Army weapons officials plan to open the official competition next year with the goal of awarding a contract to a single gun maker for nearly 300,000 new pistols by 2018.

One of the major goals of the MHS effort is to adopt a pistol chambered for a more potent round than the current 9mm, weapons officials said. The U.S. military replaced the .45 caliber 1911 pistol with the M9 in 1985 and began using the 9mm NATO round at that time.

Soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have complained that the 9mm round is not powerful enough to be effective in combat, Army officials said.

But experts from the law-enforcement and competitive shooting worlds have argued that tactical pistol ammunition – no matter the caliber — depends on proper shot placement to be effective at stopping a determined adversary.

The Army began working with the small arms industry on MHS in early 2013, but the effort has been in the works for more than five years. If successful, it would result in the Defense Department buying more than 400,000 new pistols during a period of significant defense-spending reductions.

MHS is set to cost at least $350 million and potentially millions more if it results in the selection of a more potent pistol caliber, sources said.

Current plans call for the Army to purchase more than 280,000 handguns from a single vendor, with full rate production scheduled for 2018. The Army also plans to buy approximately 7,000 compact versions of the handgun. The other military services participating in the XM17 program may order an additional 212,000 systems.

— Matthew Cox can be reached at

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Matthew Cox
Matthew Cox is a reporter at He can be reached at
  • mka

    A tumbling bullet that leaves both entrance and exit wounds would be superior.A hollow point bullet that
    penetrates through clothing and gear is not only iffy but a foolish endeavor for pistol speed bullets.
    Not much will change anybodies mind on this subject,however.

    • guest

      HP Bullets that penetrate clothing and gear and still expand have been developed and are in daily use with police.

  • guest

    Sounds like a good idea whose time has come. Something we should have done at the same time we adopted the 9mm. The 9mmP is a great round, as long as you don’t shoot round nose FMJ bullets out of it. Given a good HP bullet it has been proven to have the same take down power as a 45acp.

  • IAC

    They also make bullets now that expand/open like HPs but don’t have the Hague banned cavity.
    Just a thought.

    • guest

      The Hague did not ban HP bullets it banned over distructive bullets, that expand, deform or fragment. One reason militaries cannot use solid lead bullets. Soft lead deforms expands and causes worse wounds.

  • Larry

    The advances in hollow point ammunition was the basis for the FBI saying that the 9mm is as effective as other rounds. Any caliber with HP ammunition will be more effective at stopping an adversary than the same caliber in FMJ/ball ammunition.

  • Joshua

    Now if they would just let the military start using ammunition with a ballistic tip in the M16/M4 family and the 249/MK46. A ballistic tip 62 grain or heavier bullet out of that platform would be damn lethal.

  • ReconMan

    Shot placement is the key to success. The lawyer for the Army states hollow points will be more accurate…not sure how that works. Be prepared for two things, pistol shots failing to penetrate enemy body armor, if they are fortunate enough to have it , and use of hollow points on our troops. This sword cuts both ways.

    • seans

      Dude, body armor is going to stop a 9mm ball or a 9mm hollowpoint. Modern body armor is stopping AP rifle rounds these days.

      • ReconMan

        OK- so as stated, shot placement is the key to success. If as you say body armor will protect from all shots from all firearms, the type of round doesn’t matter. A shot to whatever is left exposed would be effective whether it were ball or hollow point.

        • seans

          If one round has better terminal ballistics than the other does, one is going to be more effective, a hollowpoint to the arm or leg is going to do more damage than ball ammo is. So its going to have more of a effect on the guy shot? Whats hard about understanding that. There is no current negative of going to hollowpoint ammo currently. Its why Socom has been using it for years, its effective.

    • Mike in Fort Worth

      Of course shot placement if the key to success but in a dynamic encounter your opponent will likely be moving or partially behind cover. Hollow point rounds will be more effective on any hits on the enemy regardless of placement. As far as body armor goes there is no question that pistol shots will fail to penetrate them…that’s why you wear armor in the first place. Any military issued body armor will reliably stop pistol rounds whether it’s FMJ or hollow point, this policy will not make that more likely to happen. The enemy could very well adopt hollow points…so what, they are free to do that now. They don’t because of the overwhelming number of FMJ rounds already in existence. Regarding accuracy of hollow points vs FMJ, the theory is based upon the fact that hollow point rounds have a jacketed base making the base a more smooth surface which distributes propellant gases more evenly across the base of the bullet. This, in theory, makes it more accurate than an FMJ round which has a un-jacketed, lead base which is rough.

      • ReconMan

        Interesting. Not sure why we have had a base on our rounds all these years generating a lack of accuracy. The air flow over a smooth FMJ would seem to generate better aerodynamics than that air grabbing HP. I hope someone factors the Docs into the conversation at some point. If we go to this, so will the enemy. The Docs are going to have a lot more challenging wounds to deal with. At the end of the day, if you are using a pistol in combat in the U.S. Military something has gone wrong…and if you are forced to use a pistol the ammo won’t be what decides the issue, shot placement will.

        • Mike in Fort Worth

          As you pointed out, pistols are rarely used in combat so even if the enemy goes to them it’s not going to be that big of a factor in wounds. Most soldiers/combatants are still going to use rifles which create much more devastating wounds that pistol rounds…even hollow points.
          Again, shot placement is always important but against a moving enemy that is trying his best not to get shot I would like to have the most effective ammo available just in case I can’t put that shot exactly where I want it.

        • guest

          Civilian docs deal with wounds from HP bullets every day. It would only be new to military docs.

        • seans

          Really the enemy we face is going to switch ammo after seeing us use hollowpoints? After using IEDs and such, they are going to say, hmm look at the Americans they are using hollowpoints, we should too, screw the Hague Convention? Or is the enemy just going to use what ever rounds they can get their hands on?

        • Joshua

          I tend to disagree that if you are using a pistol in combat something has gone wrong. I firmly believe that all front line combat forces should be issued a side arm in addition to their primary weapon system. In the modern battlefield it your primary runs dry or you have a mechanical stoppage it is faster to transition to sidearm than to perform a reload or correct a malfunction. Once you move to a covered and concealed position then get you primary back into the fight. When fighting with an assault/battle rifle a pistol is a backup weapon system and should be utilized as such. We all remember SPORTS or Tap-Rack-Bang or whatever you want to call it but those are only going to fix the most basic malfunctions. If you have a bolt override or a case head separation you weapon is going to be out of operation until you correct those issues and both of them are time intensive issues. I for one would much rather be sling lead down range with a pistol than be caught in a firefight with a weapon that is only effective as a club.

          • seans

            While I agree that everyone should have a pistol these days, I definitely fall into the camp of if you are using your pistol (unless climbing or tunnel ratting) something has gone majorly wrong. M4s are about as reliable as you can ask, and if you run out of ammo and don’t have time for a reload, and no one else can shoot the guy, you got yourself in a really bad spot.

      • Stormcharger

        Er, no. The base of the bullet has almost no effect on terminal performance except at very long ranges due to the bullet being gyroscopicaly stabilized in flight.

        The accuracy difference between FMJ and defensive jacketed hollow point ammunition, is due to the loading standards of the respective ammunition. Typical FMJ ammunition is of lower quality, has more variation in tolerance and is cheaply produced. Defensive JHP ammunition on the other hand is more expensive, and manufactured to a higher quality standard. Thus JHP’s in general are more accurate and better performing due to better materials and more consistent loads.

  • lance

    First remember how early in ICC The Army said it be open to all new calibers than half way threw it they ended that delusion with making any company that made a rifle in new calibers provide there own ammo for it. So don’t get your hopes up on a new super pistol round to be adopted. Face it as long we with the losers in NATO we are stuck in 9mm. If we stay with 9mm NATO than it makes no sense to goto a new pistol. Hence we may end up with a newer version of the M-9 in the end any way.

    As for HP ammo, it only really makes sense if we stay with 9mm. face it I always said a Federal HST 147gr JHP 9mm would be awesome for the Army when 9mm vs .45 came up years ago. .45 has good knock down power with FMJ ask WW2 GIs so going to a .45 HP would not make much sense when getting similar results with a FMJ bullet. I do not think Obama would allow his Army to goto a HP ammo since his PC party would go nuts over deadlier ammo being used by the Army any way.

    Over this is ICC 2.0 with pistols every one getting up and riled over there pic and in the end in this era of Sequestration who knows if it will be adopted or….. go the way ICC did.

    • Mike in Fort Worth

      .45 ACP doesn’t have any “knock down power.” It’s a pistol round not a rifle. Basic physics will tell it’s not possible for a 230 grain bullet to knock down a 180 pound man. I’ve been to plenty of autopsies and there is a big difference between a wound made by a FMJ round and a hollow point in the same caliber. The FMJ round drills a hole in the body and tends to come out the other end. Because of the elasticity of tissue the wound track is often smaller than the diameter of the bullet. Hollow points expand and tear tissue and tend to stay in the body. Regardless of caliber a hollow point pistol round is always more effective than an FMJ round.

      • guest

        This is all very true. Thats why police depts don’t use FMJ.

  • Zspoiler

    Ife what you ever seen what a .45 will do?The reason why the military went to .45 is because the .38 couldn`t stop the guerrillas in the Philippines. The 9mm does it velocity . the .45 with mass.Just imagine what a .45 hollow point would do.

    • HunterGuy

      Accurate follow up shots are a lot easier with a 9mm than a 45ACP, which in turn solidifies the “shot placement trumps all” statement.

      Also, you can hold a lot more 9mm in a magazine of the same size/weight than you can with 45ACP.

      Not to mention the fact that due to the 9mm being a faster round by design, you add a HP to the caliber and it’s ballistics change much more dramatically.

      I do believe 9mm is a fine caliber when coupled with modern ammunition just as 5.56 NATO is when using the right ammo.

  • guest

    JHP rounds = about time.
    1) Hague conventions don’t apply to insurgents, guerrillas, and terrorists — they are not considered uniformed soldiers, which is the only thing the Hauge convention protects against.
    2) The US never signed the convention anyways, and even if we did,
    3) the United States would only be bound to follow the rules of the convention against other signatory states.

    Here’s the real question though: what in the world is up with that guy’s grip in the photo? The trigger guard isn’t a handle…

    • larry

      guest…He isn’t holding onto the trigger guard. The shooter is pressing the trigger guard into the palm/fingers of his support hand to steady his shot.

  • Derrick

    The Halo video game series had a .50cal sidearm with exploding tip rounds, and a magazine of 8 shots. When you need your pistol, you need a one shot stop. Strong kick tells you its doing its job… getting you another man’s rifle. Its not like you use a sidearm in combat that often – 8 shots is plenty especially with spare mags.