SOF Prefers 9mm Over .45 Caliber?

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 8 months ago

Many readers are under the impression that U.S. special operations forces have returned to using .45 caliber pistols since the adoption of the M9 9mm in 1985.

This has some truth to it, but in most cases SOF units use 9mm, experts maintain.

The Army’s Delta Force adopted .40 caliber, but the elite unit is having the same problems as the FBI – the heavier caliber is causing excessive wear problems in guns that were originally designed to be 9mm. Delta is now using 9mm Glock 17s, 19s and 34s.

DEVGRU, or SEAL Team 6, does use Heckler & Koch .45 for special occasions when they need a suppressed capability.

Now about two years ago, Marine Corps Special Operations Command awarded a $22.5 million contract to Colt Defense LLC for new .45-caliber Close Quarter Battle Pistols for the service’s elite special operations troops.The Colt 1911-style pistol replaced the fleet of worn-out Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, or MARSOC, M45 pistols.

The Corps began issuing custom 1911 .45 pistols to its elite Force Reconnaissance units in the 1990s. Gunsmiths at the Quantico Weapons Training Battalion Precision Weapons Section hand built them from old 1911s that had been replaced by the M9 in the mid-1980s.

The creation of the first MARSOC units in 2006 caused the requirement to grow from 400 pistols to 4,000 pistols. Finding enough surplus 1911s for the Precision Weapons Section’s custom rebuilds became impractical, Marine officials maintain.

Most MARSOC operators, however, are not carrying their nifty new .45s because units are having a problem getting .45-caliber ammo in theater for some reason, sources maintain.

The rest of the Marine Corps uses the M9A1, an upgraded M9 the service adopted in 2006. It features a rail for attaching lights or lasers, checkering on the front and back of the grip and a beveled magazine well for smoother magazine changes.

It’s a fact that larger .40 caliber and .45 caliber rounds are very accurate in the hands of a well-trained shooter and create a larger wound cavity in the body when compared to the 9mm.

But that doesn’t mean they make a better choice for a military pistol caliber than the 9mm round – especially when you consider that the majority of the military’s most elite units continue to use the 9mm NATO round.

First of all, I find the notion that use of .40 in frames allegedly built for 9mm causing additional wear extremely unlikely.  Readers may want to weigh in themselves.  The springs (and spring constants) are almost identical.

Other than larger magazine capacity I cannot think of a single reason to select 9mm over .45.  Of course, I shoot .45 simply because I shoot it better than either 9mm or .40.  The chamber pressure for .45 is lower than for the 9mm or .40 (about 25,000 psi for the .45, about 35,000 psi for both the 9mm and .40).  The increased chamber pressure for the 9mm and .40 makes their barrels “snappy” compared to the .45.  Readers know what I’m talking about.

I would take my trusty Springfield Armory XDm .45 with me anywhere and under any circumstances.  I could probably beat it with a sledgehammer and would still put rounds down range.  If not the XDm, I would carry my Smith & Wesson E Series 1911 .45.

As for H&K, my reaction is much the same as correia45 regarding their attitude towards customers.

At HK, we stuck a piston on an AR15, just like a bunch of other companies have done, dating back to about 1969. However ours is better, because we refuse to sell it to civilians. Because you suck, and we hate you.

Our XM8 is the greatest rifle ever developed. It may melt, and it doesn’t fit any accessories known to man, but that is your fault. If you were a real operator, you would love it. Once again, look at Rainbow Six, that G36 sure is cool isn’t it? Yeah, you know you want one.And by the way, check out our new HK45. We decided that humans don’t need to release the magazine with their thumbs. If you were a really manly teutonic operator, you would be able to reach the controls. Plus we’ve fired 100,000,000 rounds through one with zero malfunctions, and that was while it was buried in a lake of molten lava, on the moon. If you don’t believe us, it is because you aren’t a real operator.

By the way, our cheap, mass-produced, stamped sheet metal guns like the G3 and MP5 are the bestest things ever, and totally worth asinine scalpers prices, but note that cheap, mass-produced, stamped sheet metal guns from other countries are commie garbage. Not that it matters, because you’re civilians, so we won’t sell them to you anyway. Because you suck, and we hate you, but we know you’ll be back. We can beat you down like a trailer park wife, but you’ll come back, you always do.

Buy our stuff.


HK Marketing Department.  Because you suck.  And we hate you.

I see H&Ks and slide right past them without even a second glance at the gun store.

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  1. On July 23, 2014 at 12:16 am, said:

    Hi. A couple of technical comments, if I may. I want to preface this by saying I am not a gunsmith, nor an armorer, just a guy who shoots a lot and talks to some people in gun stores about the guns on the rental racks and how they hold up.

    The .40 caliber cartridge, as originally designed, has around 40%, very approximately, more recoil than 9mm, shot per shot. This is inescapable due to Newton’s Laws. Momentum is mass times velocity. 180 grain bullets at 1000 feet per second means the slide’s going to be coming back with a LOT more force on every shot than it would with 124 grain bullets at 1100 feet per second.

    Now it’s not so commonplace, but once upon a time, back around 1992, when the .40 was the new hotness that everyone was excited about, lots of companies tried to shoehorn the .40 caliber cartridge into existing 9mm platforms, because S&W and Winchester announced to the world that this was what they’d created it for. You can get 11-12 rounds of .40 into a magazine tube that will hold 15-16 rounds of 9mm, and 6 rounds of .40 into a compact singlestack mag that would hold 7 or 8 rounds of 9mm.

    And all was well, for a bit. You know as well as I do that 98% of people who buy guns never shoot them. They load them, if they can figure out how, otherwise they leave the gun unloaded, and they put it in the sock drawer where it stays until the estate sale, at which point the grandkids sell Grandpa’s icky old guns to a pawn shop for pennies on the dollar and use the money to buy dope, video games, and gold-plated spinner rims for the car. But some people actually practice. Some people actually shoot. A lot. And problems began to appear.

    Do you recall a Spanish firearms maker called Star? They made one of the very first nice little singlestack 9mm pistols intended for CCW. It was called the “Firestar.” As usual with Spanish guns, the design was okay, but the metallurgy and QC were somewhere between dubious and dismal (though I still say Star products were a cut above Astra and Llama). And the .40 caliber version of the Firestar became known for fracturing its slide before the 500 round mark. Star made some full-size all-steel service pistols in 9mm, including the Model 31. In .40 caliber they self-destructed in short order. And so did Star, a few years later.

    There were lots of problems with S&W’s .40 caliber service pistol, the 4006, and they were the ones who’d designed them, by shoehorning the .40 caliber cartridge into the 9mm 5906. The .40 cartridge beat the very bejesus out of the guns, causing parts breakage, until S&W made some subtle design changes; I believe there were several recalls, and now the 4006 is no longer issued by any police department, and is out of production anyway. US police departments trade in their Beretta 96s at 10K rounds, because the frames crack. SIG P226s in .40 generally don’t last anywhere near that long, but then even hot NATO-spec 9mm SMG ammo destroys P226 frames. When Fabrique National wanted to make the Browning Hi-Power available in .40, they noticed that the frames and slides cracked at less than a thousand rounds; they had to redesign both parts and use a completely different steel alloy and heat treatment process to get a .40 Hi-Power that won’t self-destruct (and the .40 version gun has a taller, thicker, fatter slide that’s four ounces heavier, making the previously graceful, naturally-pointing BHP rather top-heavy and muzzle-heavy, and a recoil spring that’s so heavy it makes cycling the slide feel like setting a bear trap) .40 caliber Glocks have always been known for a wide array of problems, though admittedly they mostly seem to have more to do with chamber geometry and case head support. CZ pistols are great in 9mm, mediocre in .40 or .45, with numerous reports of severe reliability problems, though these seem to have more to do with magazine height and feed ramp angle. Ruger P-series service pistols in .40 seem to work okay, but then they were ridiculously overbuilt in 9mm. Not that this is a bad thing.

    And something else almost everyone notices when shooting handguns that were designed in 9mm, into which the .40 caliber cartridge was shoehorned by swapping barrels and extractors: the muzzle rise is significantly greater, and recoil seems to have a snappy, stinging quality that is absent with either the 9mm or the .45. The Glock 23 shows this especially drastically, compared to the Glock 19, but any compact/CCW type single-stack pistol design that is available in both .40 and 9mm will show the same difference. Oh. And if we are talking about milspec ammo, the chamber pressure for .45 ACP runs around 18,000 PSI max, for standard pressure 230 grain ball. It’s .40 that’s up in the 33,000+ range and NATO spec 9mm SMG ammo hits 42,000. For those who are curious, military 5.56mm rifle ammo goes up to around 60K.

    The first .40 pistol that didn’t exhibit problems like this was the HK USP, which was (according to rumor) designed in .40 first, then adapted to other calibers later. The S&W M&P was designed the same way–.40 first, then 9mm.

    In any event, my opinion on the more cogent issue is this: if we’re talking about 9mm vs. .40 vs. .45 for military issue, I submit that, of the three, 9mm is the most cost-effective and weight-efficient round for submachineguns. If I’m fighting for my life with a pistol caliber round I want to launch a lot of them in a hurry, from a two-hand platform with a better sight radius than any handgun, one that I can brace against my shoulder. And if I’m fighting for my life using a pistol caliber round in an actual pistol, I’ve already screwed the pooch and I’m almost certainly going to die, regardless of the caliber or how many beans are in the box. And, more to the point, the terminal ballistics of these three cartridges are all but indistinguishable from one another, particularly if we are speaking of the ammunition American soldiers are restricted to carrying due to the Hague Convention on the Laws of War: full metal jacket ball.

    As for suppressed capability, 147gr and 158gr subsonic 9mm ammo has been around at least since the 1980s. It’s not a rare or exotic technology, though I will admit I don’t know whether the US military has a current DODIC number for subsonic 9mm ammo.

  2. On July 23, 2014 at 11:27 am, Herschel Smith said:

    This is all well and good, except the story you’ve told isn’t the full story. It’s only a partial explanation, using Newtonian physics as if this is a block being pushed up an incline with a coefficient of friction and a given mass, with a given amount of work to be calculated that it requires.

    There is an explosion happening. The physics of explosions is very, very, very complex, occupying the thoughts of geniuses like John Von Neumann in the early years, and many geniuses at LLNL today as we speak.

    Let me put it this way. The reason that the chamber pressure for the .45ACP is so much lower compared to the 9mm or .40 (25,000 psi vs. 35,000 psi), is because there is a much larger diameter of chamber/barrel for the exposion to occur and pressure to decrease as gases escape. This is why shooting a .45 shows that it doesn’t have as “snappy” a response to the barrel as shooting the 9mm or .40. The explosion imparts momentum of various parts of the system, including the hand, the slide, the bullet. Theoretically, if the bullet stays stationary, the gun will have maximum recoil, so that using the velocity and mass of the projectile as if it’s being shot in a vacuum doesn’t do the job for you – there is force of friction in the barrel.

    Modeling explosions is much more compatible with something like CFD (computations fluid dynamics) than it is the classical laws of Newtonian mass and momentum.
    That said, I appreciate the studied comment.

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You are currently reading "SOF Prefers 9mm Over .45 Caliber?", entry #12472 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Firearms,Guns and was published July 13th, 2014 by Herschel Smith.

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