Former Defense Secretary Blasts Army’s Handgun Program



Say what you will about him, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is candid.

In his first testimony on Capitol Hill since he retired in 2011 as the top civilian at the Defense Department, Gates singled out the Army’s Modular Handgun System acquisition program for criticism.

Here’s what he had to say, as my colleague Richard Sisk reported:

“In her questioning of Gates, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, complained about the 350-page request for proposals the Army came up with for a new handgun for soldiers and asked, ‘What should Congress do to fix this mess?’

Gates said that lawmakers should become ‘disruptors’ of the process. They should call the Army secretary and the Army chief of staff before them and ‘ask why is it taking you guys 10 years? It’s a handgun for God’s sake.’

Congress should also look in the mirror when trying to assign blame for the shortcomings of the acquisition process while trying to score political points off that same process, Gates said.”

Gun-makers plan to submit their proposed pistols to the service in January, the Associated Press reported last week.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • BuylocalBill

    What a refreshing approach! I wonder how Mr Gates would feel about running for the highest office? He makes more sense than anyone currently running and he has a sound record of public service to back his claim

    • MiniBus

      Have nothing but the highest respect for Gates, even when I have disagreed with him on certain policies (slowing the deployment of missile defense, favoring bombing the bin Laden compound instead of a Spec Ops raid) I have had nothing but the highest respect for his dedication, to service, the common good and US National Security. My read is unfortunately he would have less than no interest in the Presidency and I think he has already done fine service to his country.

      • Guest

        I could not have said it better myself. I have the utmost respect for BOb Gates, and if he was HANDED the Presidency, without having to run, well…….I bet he would give a little smile/smirk, and say……NO THANKS :-). In my humble opinion, the best people for the job of President, DO NOT WANT IT!! hahahaha

        • Guest

          It may be refreshing approach but he was part of the problem, even as he stated why does it take TEN years to come up with a new pistol. He was secretary for a good portion of those ten years.

    • Charlie

      You are a “DA” and need new glasses.

  • Snow

    The soldier in the photo appears to be facing the photographer and his pistol is pointed at or near the photographer. So, why is his finger on the trigger? Don’t they teach gun safety in the military? Is he going to shot the photographer?

    • MiniBus

      Could be a remotely manned camera or camera on a timer.

    • Doesn’t look like it is on the trigger to me. The glove has no bend in the finger line, can see bend in finger lines from off hand. Would expect even sharper bend if finger on trigger. I believe it just looks odd with angle and module blocking.

    • TangoDown

      Can’t believe this is a serious question. In this day and age when technology allows CAMERAS AND PEOPLE to be ‘situated’ ANYWHERE around a firearm and at ALL angles, even looking down the bore. AND ALL OF IT done (usually) safely. Just have to be SMARTER than the weapon/firearm.

    • Old MP

      This was your takeaway from the article?

    • Whacker15

      It`s a Beretta promo shot

    • msgingram

      Most of the media needs a little cleansing once in while.

  • LIAM

    Gates for Prez…me thinks!!

  • Jim Schatz

    Would be great to see him run against Hillary.
    Some additional recent information on this topic.

  • JohnD

    Pistols do not win wars, training and soldiers do. The tools provided are important but a pistol? $530 mil to develop a pistol so it can hang on a soldiers hip and be fired twice a year? Replace the M113/577 junk! Stop wasting money on boondoggles and give troops a viable weapon off the shelf that works! Spend the money on training and marksmanship instead of pork barrel projects!

    • big daddy

      People have been saying that since the Civil War maybe before that. And does anyone in Congress or the Military listen? Nope.

    • msgingram

      very correct. while we are wasting all this money on pistols how about a couple more uniform changes. What a waste. Either change the pistol, the shooters or better yet the people that make these proposals. There can be more than one pistol in inventory, if need be the same cal. but smaller grip, additional cal. can and have been in inventory for centuries. There is no way possible to make a handgun that will please everyone but we can train anyone, that has a desire, to handle any weapon. Just change to another uniform that will fix everything. What a bunch of b/s just buy the weapons and learn to use them, just like in the past. I can guarantee you that not everyone could properly use the Garand or the 1911 but it was what was issued and we learned to adapt. So quit complaining and use what they give you.

  • Snow

    The M113/577 is not junk. These vehicles have been helping us fight wars for over 50 years, and they still work fine. Heck the 1911 fan boys want us to adopt a pistol over 100 years old.

    • Robbie

      You’re kidding right? The M113 won’t keep out anything heavier than a 7.65 round. It has aluminum construction, not steel, and has never been a satisfactory APC for the modern battlefield.

    • say NO to PUTIN

      AND the 1911’s 100 year old pistol design is still one of the most superior designs.

      • “AND the 1911’s 100 year old pistol design is still one of the most superior designs.”

        No it isn’t. It was a world leader in 1911, pretty good in 1939 and completely obsolete now.

      • 45k20e4

        Um…no….and I love the 1911. But it’s NOT what I would want to carry in combat.



        Negative, Ghostrider……

  • Lance

    Well face it its ICC all over again some General is a plastic pistol fan and is having a temper tantrum over the M-9. In reality the M-9 is not that outdated and the fact most NATO allies still use older pistol designs for there handguns. It be just as cheap to just update the M-9 to M-9A3 and make tacti cooler more calm. If we would goto a new caliber it be worth a new pistol but face it NATO wont let us. And the fact Obama making wimpy women take over the Army will make going to heavier recoil pistol impossible. Face it it was one of the reasons in the 80s why we went to 9mm was Females in the USAF particular hated the M-1911s recoil. So since we will stay with 9mm it makes no sense to goto a new pistol and this is all another Pentagon waste in millions for a failing project which we have too much of. I applaud Mr. gates at this but the real problem is Obama’s lackeys in charge lettng politics and pet project take too much money from what we rally need in the military.

    • Mike

      You’re making this an Obama thing? Seriously? Defense procurement has been screwed up since Eisenhower called out the military industrial complex (and of course since time immemorial). The M2 Bradley was started under the Nixon Administration, finished under Carter, entered service under Reagan. The F35 started under Clinton in 1997; after two two-term presidents (one Republican, one Democratic) it still hasn’t reached IOC.

      And if you read the article, you would see that Gates himself assigned Congress as much blame as the executive branch.

      Why should procurement of a pistol be any better managed?

      • BuylocalBill

        I am left to ask why, with all the advances in technology, education, communications and systems, is it that procurement programs seem to undergo such problems? Yes, political pork-barreling creates difficulties, as do party politics. But in the end, things have to change. No nation can afford to hav program after program undergo mismanagement. One of the objectives of competitive tendering is to get th best for the best for th best. That is, the best equipment for the best price for th best soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. But what is the point of getting th best terms, if any advantages gained are flushed down the drain by poor management?

        You are dead right Mike. This isn’t an Obama thing, a Bush thing, a Republican thing or a Democrat thing. There is a problem with getting th procurement system to work effctive, no matter who is in charge at the time. Perhaps the legislative branch needs to lift its sights a bit higher than looking at pistol procurement (no pun intended) to look at the process overall. They owe it to the taxpayers, but most of all, they owe it to those who serve in uniform.

      • Lance

        Yep he been interfering in the military since he took power in 2009. And its his appointments in the Pentagon who keep wasting billions on crap like this.

  • Robbie

    They should pull up the government RFPs for classic success stories of the past (e.g. M1911, P-51, F-15, SR-71, Nimitz class, etc) and ask themselves how we’ve gotten from there to here. I bet most of the major RFPs of all three Services ran from a handful of pages to just a few dozen pages thru about 1960. We’ve gone from just giving industry the essential cost and mission requirements they must meet and then stepping back and letting their design imaginations run wild, to specifying in incredible detail the minutia of every piece of equipment up-front. Crazy.

    • The P51 was designed for the Royal Air Force, so the US government wasn’t involved at all. The 1911 was privately developed by Colt.

  • say NO to PUTIN

    Why in the world has it taken this long to decide on a pistol, and why does this much stuff have to be in the pistol program? If I were in charge I would have tested 10 pistols (all .45ACP) and decided by now, and the pistol would have been a 1911 or M45A1.

    • “I would have tested 10 pistols (all .45ACP)”

      Why? You do know that .45ACP is much less powerful than 9mm NATO, right?

      • big daddy

        But it makes a bigger hole says the person who does not know anything about terminal ballistics and the wound/trauma of gunshots.

    • BuylocalBill

      So why you would bother doing any testing if you already know the answer? At the risk of stating the obvious, testing is supposed to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the firearms under test and come out with some order of merit based upon a know set of criteria. Those criteria may change, depending upon the function for which you are testing the firearms. But if you have already decided what to buy, why bother putting everyone through the expense and the bother of running a sham test? Didn’t the Army just do that with Multicam/Scorpion? That was a joke not worth repeating.

  • Chuck

    For the love of Christ, just look at what DEVGRU and Delta are issuing their operators and just give that to the entire force. This isn’t that difficult. Do an objective reliability and accuracy test between like the Glock 17, HK45, and Sig P226, and give the contract to the winner. Boom, done in a month or two.

  • big daddy

    So far from what I have shot and owned I prefer Glocks but the new SIG 320 is probably what the DOD should buy and call it a day. 9mm bonded JHP ammo will work, one ammo type will not fit all jobs and trying to do so will not work. The FBI tried it with the Gold Dot G2, it was a disaster and recalled. It’s called barrier blind, bullets that have good expansion have poor penetration so you need a bonded JHP and a similar type bullet but with a plug like the Hornady Critical duty. ATK makes both the Federal HST and the Speer Gold dot, they are the best self defense rounds out there. But the Hornady beats them with penetration through harder targets. Issue the SIG 320 and 2 types of ammo for different jobs and ball/FMJ that has similar ballistics for training. There is already plenty of aftermarket stuff for the SIG320. This whole thing of micromanaging is costly and it’s not effective or efficient.

  • Eric B.

    I never liked the “open top” slide on the Beretta M9. It invites crap to fall into it and get jammed between the slide and the barrel the during recoil.

    ** BTW, the South Koreans have developed a new steel alloy that is as strong AND as light as titanium and FAR less expensive. Thought should be given to using it in all US small arms once production scalability is proven.

    Just think, that new steel alloy in the new General Dynamics medium machine gun with their recoil reduction system using the Lapua .300 mag. cartridge (as G. D. has demonstrated in prototypes) that weighs less than the current medium machine gun shooting 7.62 NATO rounds. A true LONG RANGE medium machine gun whose light weight totally offsets the additional ammo weight, with low recoil to help it stay on target.

    I’ll bet the Marines would acquire it YEARS before the Big Army gets around to “approving” it.

  • Christopher

    I’d advocate CZ 75 SP-01… Time and battle tested, accurate as all get out, high capacity, tolerant, can take a threaded barrel / suppression and will eat virtually any ammo w/o issue.

    • 45k20e4

      I wouldn’t mind that. I have an SP-01 and it runs like a champ after several thousand rounds in my first year with it. Only catch is that it’s not made in the USA, and CZ would need to build a factory to be compliant in a contract.

      I’m not a huge Glock fan (personal thing) but it’s a good gun, and I’d carry one if it were issued to me. My only concern is the lack of a manual safety. These things need to be grunt proof, although all the money saved on this stupid procurement COULD simply be re-routed to improved training (what a novel concept).

  • BMark

    Love how we’re paying for Mr. Gates short sided decision to cancel the F-22… Russians are acting up, and we can only send 4 Raptors to Europe