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What Pistol Does the US Military Use? – Military Pistols Through the Years

Written by Everett Bledsoe / Fact checked by Brain Bartell

what pistol does the us military use

It should not be a surprise that the US military uses pistols. You might have seen some in films and have read about it in books. But do you know the exact answer to, “What pistol does the US military use?”

Currently, the Sig Sauer M17 is the sidearm of choice, although it has not always been the M17 pistol. Keep reading to find more information about pistols the military used in the past, as well as why they are selected for the important task of safeguarding the nation. Go ahead! What are you waiting for?


What Pistol Does the Army Use?


The Sig Sauer M17

This is known as the US Army pistol since it was contracted after winning the Army’s Modular Handgun System contest in 2017. However, it has actually been adopted by all US Armed branches, including the Space Force.

The Story Behind Sig Sauer’s M17

Sig Sauer designs and manufactures firearms. It took part in the Army XM17 Modular Handgun System contest by modifying its existing P320 model handgun to fulfill the requirements of the XM17 Procurement. The modifications were as follows:

  • A reflect sight was added and a slide had to be cut out for it
  • An ambidextrous thumb safety feature was added
  • A safety catch (or loaded chamber indicator) was added
  • A physical vapor deposition (PVD) corrosion-resistant finish was added to all of the steel components
  • Normal screws were replaced with spanner screws so disassembly by non-armorer users would be limited
  • The sub-assembly slide was improved so small components would be seized when it was disassembled
  • The mud-flap trigger was improved so foreign debris would not be able to get in and halt the pistol action

Sig Sauer submitted a full-size design: M17 and a shorter-length carry model: M18, wherein the barrel length is 120 mm and 98 mm, respectively.

It replaced the Beretta M9 pistol, which was believed to be “not punchy and powerful enough” for close-quarters combat. But there is a lot more to why the military picked this pistol. We will elaborate on the details in the next section. So, continue to read!

The Reason for the Military’s Selection of Sig Sauer’s M17

It is produced in brown (as pictured) and black, but many sources have claimed that the brown variant is more popular.

They each have a distinct set of serial numbers but share:

  • “LS” to symbolize the Sentinels’ Creed line 6
  • “02JUL37″ to represent the Tomb of the Unknown’s first posted 24 hour guard
  • “21″ to denote the steps the Tomb Sentinels take to walk by the Tomb of the Unknown
  • and to honor the 21 gun salute

Compared to the Beretta M9, the M17 & M18 also had better ergonomics, accuracy, and tighter dispersion. Plus, it is equipped with self-illuminating sights, which eases target acquisition in low-light settings. There is an integrated rail system on top of the pistol’s barrel for soldiers to attach accessories. In addition, thanks to the removable plates, soldiers can set a red dot optic on the gun.

Given all these amazing features, the military quickly issued the M17 down to fireteam and squad leaders. Apart from the special operations forces, junior leaders in regular infantry units are now able to arm themselves with the M17 as well.

US Military Pistols Through the Years


1. The Flintlocks

The 2,000 flintlock pistol (Model 1760) was chosen as the standard sidearm for the Continental Army. Later, the flintlock Model 1805 “took over” and became the Army’s standard pistol for 50 years.

2. The Colt Revolvers

This new weapon was invented in 1836 and revolutionized warfare. With it, a soldier can fire six bullets without reloading. It had percussion caps so soldiers could shoot well even in wet weather, as well. Hence, colt revolvers served well for much of the 19th century.

The Colt 1947 (also dubbed the Walker) was the first mass-produced Colt Revolver in service. In the Mexican-American War and the Civil war, the Walker and Dragoon (a 0.44-cailber revolver), was used by cavalry and infantry units. However, the most popular was the Colt 1860, which was produced until 1873.

Later, when metallic cartridges came about, the Colt Single Action Army took the reigns. It had a 0.45-caliber centerfire cartridge and served as the standard sidearm for over 20 years.

3. The M1911

In 1911, the military adopted the M1911, a semi-automatic, single-action, and recoil-operated 0.45 ACP pistol designed by John Browning. This monster of a pistol could fire 7 rounds from a magazine in the gun’s grip.

It was issued to all US branches and remained so for more than 70 years. It was present in the First & Second World War, Korean War, Vietnam War, and even the Grenada Invasion 1983.

It was replaced in 1985, but a few special forces continued to carry them until the 21st century. In 2012, it was even revived for limited service in the Marine Corps as the M45A1 CQBP.

4. The M9

The military picked the Italian Beretta 92 up in 1986 for all branches. It was a small, lightweight pistol with a 9 x 19 mm round carrying 15 rounds in a magazine, which was a bit more than 2x the M1911’S capability.

The M9 remained the military standard pistol for 30 years, seeing action in the Yugoslavia War, the Gulf Wars, Afghanistan conflict, and operations in the War on Terror. By the 2010s, however, the M9s gained a bad reputation for being unreliable, and in 2015, the military began looking for a substitute.

5. The M17 & M18

The military zeroed in on this pistol in 2017 (as described in the sections earlier). The Army was the first to use them in 2017. The Air Force followed in 2019, and the Marine Corps 3 months later. As of now, the Pentagon intends to stock up on a 10-years supply of 420,000 M17s & M18s worth $580 million.


As you have read, the answer to, “What pistol does the US military use?” is the Sig Sauer M17 & 18, which was chosen through the Army competition: XM17 Modular Handgun System in 2017. The M17 and 18 replaced the Beretta M9; it is punchier, more powerful, has better ergonomics, accuracy, and tighter dispersion. Moreover, it has self-illuminating sights, an integrated rail system for accessories, and removable plates.

Hopefully, you have found this article helpful. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments down below along without your thoughts. Thank you for reading! Also, do help us by sharing this article with other readers, such as your friends and family!

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