The U.S. Army's Big Mistake: No Heckler and Koch HK45
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By Kyle Mizokami,The National Interest
In the early 2000s, the U.S. Army pondered replacing stocks of Beretta M9 service handguns with a new, more powerful handgun. The Pentagon cancelled the program but one of the contenders, Heckler and Koch, eventually released its entry into the civilian market. Designed with the assistance of U.S. special operations veterans, the HK45 is one of the most advanced .45 ACP pistols available today.
(This first appeared several months ago.)
In 2005, the U.S. Army merged two parallel pistol programs, the Army Future Handgun and Special Operations Forces Combat Handgun program, into a single effort to field a new pistol. Soldiers had long grumbled about the then-current duty handgun, the 1980s-era M9. This was born out by a 2006 CNA field report on U.S. Army small arms (PDF), which reported soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan lacked confidence in and satisfaction with the Beretta-made pistol.
The new effort, the Joint Combat Pistol Program (JCPP), reversed the decision to move from .45 ACP to 9mm Luger, calling for a .45 pistol with a M1913 STD Picatinny rail, day and night sights and a threaded barrel for attaching a suppressor. The Army potentially involved a purchase of 600,000 pistols for all the armed services. Like several high-profile Army programs in the mid-2000s the JCPP was also cancelled, the victim of belt-tightening. A new pistol wouldn’t enter service until 2018.
Heckler and Koch’s entry into the JCPP, the HK45 pistol, was introduced to the U.S. civilian market in 2006. The HK45 was designed with significant input from two Army special operations veterans, Larry Vickers (Delta Force) and Ken Hackathorn (Special Forces). The pistol was a chimera, a blending of the best features of HK’s Universal Service Pistol (USP) and P2000 handguns.
The HK45, like virtually all of today’s handguns, features a short recoil, tilting barrel action operating system invented by John Moses Browning and popularized in the 1911 handgun. Another nod to the 1911 is the grip angle, which is nearly identical to the 107-year-old handgun design. The pistol is both a single action and double action firing mode weapon, and is available in or can be converted to single action only or double action only operation. A control lever also functions as a safety and decocking lever for lowering the hammer without pulling the trigger.
The full sized version of the HK45 has a 4.5-inch barrel, weighs thirty-one ounces unloaded, and takes a ten-round magazine. The pistol is eight inches long, 1.4 inches wide and 5.7 inches high. The frame is made from polymer while the slide is made from forged steel. The HK45 is available from the factory in black, olive drab, and tan, and the slide is finished in a ferritic-nitrocarburizing finish to resist wear, tear and corrosion.
In addition to the full sized model, the HK45 is sold in compact and tactical versions. The primary difference between the three models is overall length and barrel length, with the tactical version having the longest (5.1-inch) barrel and the compact version a shorter 3.89-inch barrel.
The tactical version also has a threaded barrel for attaching a suppressor. The tactical and full sized versions both take the same ten-round magazine, while the compact version takes a smaller eight-round magazine.
The pistol comes stock with a three-dot Super LumiNova day/night fixed sighting system. A M1913 Picatinny rail—part of the original JCPP requirement and now a fixture on modern handguns—allows the user to attach a flashlight for operation at night, a laser sight for rapid target acquisition day or night, or both in a single module.
Ergonomics are another strong spot with the HK45. The pistol was one of the first available with multiple back straps—a smaller backstrap is shipped fitted to the pistol with a second larger one included in the package. A paddle on both sides of the trigger guard acts as a magazine release equally friendly to left and right handed shooters alike, and the pistol also has slide stops for holding the slide in the open position on both sides of the frame. The HK45 is fully ambidextrous.
The HK45 is reportedly one of the easier .45 pistols to shoot, and the company claims its patented recoil reduction system will “increase accuracy and service life,” a welcome addition although the .45 ACP cartridge’s recoil is generally exaggerated. Like most handguns produced these days it has a generally high level of reliability, with more than one HK45 put through a 50,000 round shooting test. Two tests experienced only two stoppages each, and in one test the pistol went through 32,000 rounds before experiencing its first mishap.
There are many choices for shooters in the 9mm Luger category, but fewer in the .45 ACP category. The HK45 is one of the best of the non-1911 .45 handguns. Designed for special operations—with an emphasis on lethality, durability and reliability—pistols like the HK45 could help the big-bore cartridge keep a place at the table of popular pistol calibers for decades to come.
Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in theDiplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter:@KyleMizokami.
Image: Creative Commons.