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The U.S. Army took about 10 years to decide upon Sig Sauer's P320 as the replacement to its standard sidearm. (Courtesy)

Sig Sauer: New Army sidearm will be NH-made


NEWINGTON - All the pistols made for the U.S. Army by Sig Sauer under its newly minted $580 million contract will be made in New Hampshire.

On Friday, the company said its Model P320 handgun will replace the M9 Service Pistol made by Beretta USA. The M9 has been in use since the mid-1980s, and the P320 is the first modular pistol with interchangeable grips that can be adjusted in frame size and caliber by the operator, according to a company statement.

Securing the 10-year contract was humbling for President and CEO Ron Cohen, who said, "this contract is a testimony to Sig Sauer employees and their commitment to innovation, quality and manufacturing the most reliable firearms in the world."

The decision caps a process that's been roundly criticized by members of Congress from both political parties who hammered new Defense Secretary James Mattis on the topic at his Senate confirmation hearing last week.

Lawmakers said the Beretta had long since outlived its usefulness and should have been replaced years ago.

"The joke that we had in the military was that sometimes the most effective use of an M9 is to simply throw it at your adversary," said Sen. Joni Erst, R-IA, a former officer in the Iowa Army National Guard.

A 2015 report from the Senate Armed Services Committee had condemned the Army's 350-page review that it said was guilty of "micromanaging extremely small unimportant details."

"A decade for a pistol?" asked Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, at Mattis' hearing. "They're relatively simple devices...This is a great testament to what's wrong with defense acquisition."

The Army announced its decision Thursday at SHOT Show, the world's largest gun show, which was taking place in Las Vegas.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, serves on the Senate Armed Services panel.

"I congratulate SIG Sauer on receiving this well-deserved contract," Shaheen said in a statement. "Granite Staters can take great pride in knowing that our men and women in uniform will be carrying a locally made side arm as they defend our nation. This new contract builds on our state's many proud contributions to our national security."

Army acquisition executive Steffanie Easter said she is "tremendously proud" of the Modular Handgun System team.

"By maximizing full and open competition across our industry partners, we have optimized private sector advancements in handguns, ammunition and magazines and the end result will ensure a decidedly superior weapon system for our warfighters," Easter told the Army Times.

The National Rifle Association gave the P320 pistol of Sig Sauer high marks in its latest review last week.

"The P320's controls are simple, minimal and ambidextrous," adding that for the military and law enforcement it's a snap to take apart and put back together.

"Disassembly of the P320 could win a prize for easiest on the market."

The only complaint from the NRA reviewers was this pistol like other past Sig versions had a tendency for the muzzle or the front end to rise up after firing "more than necessary."

But the NRA said this new design is a marked step by Sig Sauer to move from among the pack in the handgun field to the top of the line in the world.

"This Sig breaks away from the company's long tradition in favor of the simplicity enthusiastically adopted by both police agencies and the general shooting public," the NRA review concluded.

Although the Army and Sig declined to say which caliber weapon was chosen, media reports said it was the 9mm version. Sig Sauer in its bidding had proposed both .40 and 9mm options.

New Hampshire state representatives attending a breakfast at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth on Friday learned about the Army contract from Renet Dion, the senior manager of human resources at Sig Sauer. She said there are currently dozens of open positions at the firearms manufacturer.

According to sigsauerjobs.com, there are 25 jobs that need to be filled in Newington, 23 in Exeter and five in Dover. These positions are in machining, engineering, quality control, information technology and marketing. It is not yet clear if more jobs will be added to help Sig Sauer produce the 500,000 new pistols that may be ordered by the Department of Defense under the terms of the new agreement.

Dave Mullen, who is the executive director of the Pease Development Authority, said news of the contract is exciting, but New Hampshire needs more skilled labor to fully capture the opportunity being presented to them.

"More high-paying skilled jobs are always good news, but with an unemployment rate below 3 percent and falling, employers are looking at others states where the needed labor is available," Mullen warned.

Sig Sauer has partnered with Great Bay Community College to train employees so they can take on the quality jobs the firearm manufacturer has available, Dion said.

Portsmouth city councilor and U.S. Army veteran Josh Denton said he knows firsthand how important sidearm weapons are to soldiers. He said he slept with a loaded M9 under his pillow every night he spent on Iraqi bases. Denton hopes this contract will allow Sig Sauer to focus on producing the P320, and discontinue their MCX civilian assault rifle, which he said cannot plausibly be used for hunting or self defense.

As a city leader, Denton said Sig Sauer's contract will benefit everyone in the surrounding communities.

"Contracts like this often create employment opportunities that have wide-ranging trickle-down effects across broad spectrums of the local economy, ranging from the houses employees buy to the restaurants they take their lunch breaks at," Denton said.

Sig Sauer competed against Smith & Wesson, Beretta USA and Glock, Inc. to win the contract, which includes firearms, accessories and ammunition.


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