March 4 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force has begun issuing a new handgun, the M18, to replace the M9 Beretta, which has been in use for more than 30 years in all military branches.
The Air Force expects all members of security forces units to receive their weapons system by 2020, with the remainder in the branch to follow, according to an Air Force news release Monday.
The M18 handgun is a compact version of Sig Sauer's M-17 to be used by military police, investigators and troops on special duties. The Air Force approved the M17 Modular Handgun System in January 2017.
All of the other branches are switching over to the new handgun. In all, 421,000 weapons will be purchased, including 130,000 for the Air Force, 195,000 for the Army, 61,000 for the Navy and 35,000 for the Marines, according to Military.com.
"The M18 is a leap forward in the right direction for modernizing such a critical piece of personal defense and feels great in the hand," said Master Sgt. Casey Ouellette of the 341st Military Working Dog Flight Chief at JB San Antonio-Lackland. "It reinforces the muscle memory instilled through consistent shooting. It's more accurate and, with a great set of night sights and with their high profile, follow-up shots have become easier than ever before."
The San Antonio base's Gunsmith Shop, Air Education and Training Command Combat Arms Apprentice Course were supplied with the new weapon.
More than 2,000 M18s have been delivered, including to two regional training centers in Guam and Fort Bliss, Texas, as well as Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., and F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo.
This new weapons system also will replace the M11-A1 Compact used by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the U.S. Army M15 General Officer pistol for military working dog training.
The new weapon, which uses 9 mm ammunition like the Baretta M9, includes improved ergonomics, target acquisition, reliability and durability to increase shooter lethality, according to the Air Force. In addition, the grip can be customized to individual shooters.
"This is going to help shooters with smaller hands. It also has a much smoother trigger pull, leading to a more accurate, lethal shooter," said Staff Sgt. Richard Maner, 37th Training Support Squadron armory noncommissioned officer in charge at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. "The M18 is a smaller platform weapon, but it gives the shooter more capabilities over the bulkier, larger M9 pistol."
Last December, the Air Force issued an 88-page memorandum that formalizes the arrival of the M18 Modular Handgun System for base defenders. It added new chapters on guidance on security forces small arms sustainment training and small arms dry-fire training, as well as guidance on handling procedures of the pistol.
In January 2017, Sig Sauer Inc. was awarded a $580 million contract to replace the Beretta M9 with the new system in the Army. First supplied was the 101st Airborne Division.