Tag Archives: S&W

A Brief History of FBI Semiauto Pistols

After the Miami/Dade Shootout of April 11, 1986, the FBI was not completely satisfied with the commercially available pistols in 9x19mm and .45. Until a suitable semi-auto service pistol could be selected for general issue, individual agents were would still be issued S&W Model 13 revolvers.

In August 1987, the FBI formed its Weapons Evaluation and Selection Advisory Group, composed of 13 firearms instructors and a gunsmith from the FBI Academy and eight Field Division. Their task was to evaluate samples of nine different pistols in 9x19mm and .45 Auto. These included the S&W 645 and SIG-Sauer P220 in .45, as well the Beretta 92F, Glock 17 and 19, ITM AT84 (a Swiss CZ75 clone), Ruger P85, S&W 459, and SIG-Sauer P226. The ITM AT84 was quickly rejected as it lacked a decocker for its conventional DA/SA lockwork. On a scale of 750 points, the evaluators rated the S&W 645 as the best overall (730), followed by the SIG-Sauer P226 (710). The remainder of the field scored as follows: S&W 459 (705), Beretta 92F (690), SIG-Sauer P220 (665), Glock 17 (620), Glock 19 (620), and Ruger P85 (575).

This was followed up in September 1987 by the FBI Firearms Training Unit’s (FTU) Wound Ballistics Seminar, which included Dr. Martin Fackler and other outside experts on wound ballistics. The workshop’s report established the importance of adequate penetration and the size of the permanent “crush” cavity in determining handgun cartridge effectiveness. This would ultimately kick-start the development of the FTU’s famous series of gelatin tests using various barrier media (light/heavy clothing, auto glass, sheet metal, wallboard, and plywood.) The seminar’s general recommendation was that there would be no significant difference between 9mm subsonic JHP loads like the 147gr Olin Super Match (OSM) and commercial .45 Auto JHP. However, the .45 Auto would be preferred over any lightweight/high velocity 9mm JHP load. In .45 Auto, preference was given to the Remington 185gr JHP load.

In May 1988, another weapons forum was held by the FBI to establish the ideal characteristics for a general issue semiauto pistol. This forum was not limited to the FBI, but also included representatives from Federal, state, and local agencies, as well as the US military.  Around August 1988, agents were authorized to carry personally-owned semi-auto pistols in 9x19mm, which was expanded later that year to .45 Auto pistols. In both calibers, these choices were limited primarily to models from S&W and SIG-Sauer. Even with personally-owned pistols, only FTU-approved ammunition could be carried.

The FTU’s unit chief John C. Hall introduced the 10mm cartridge into the FTU’s gelatin testing trials using his own Colt Delta Elite. However, the full power 10mm loads like the Norma 170gr JHP were quickly dismissed from consideration for adoption. The FTU had reportedly developed its mid-velocity 10mm load by December 1988. On the basis of the early testing of the mid-velocity 10mm load, FBI Director William Sessions approved the 10mm’s adoption for use in the Bureau’s future issue pistol in February 1989. Basically, the FBI and FTU had advocates for both the 9x19mm and .45 ACP, and the choice of 10mm had the political advantage of splitting the difference. It could potentially satisfy agents who blamed the failure in Miami on the 9mm cartridge, and would never trust it even with different ammunition. The mid-velocity 10mm’s ballistics were close enough to the .45 ACP, yet it was not burdened with the negative connotations of the .45’s mythology. There was talk that the Director Sessions and other FBI leaders feared that Congress would balk on funding new .45 Auto pistols for the FBI when the US Army had just dumped the .45 for new 9mm pistols. Again, the FBI never adopted the full power 10mm as general issue. I’m not even certain it was ever authorized for individual agents with their SAC’s sign-off. (Previously, a SAC could authorize an individual agent’s use of a FTU-approved .357 Magnum load instead of their general issue .38 Special load.)

The FBI’s solicitation for 10mm pistols was issued in May 1989, with the Request for Proposals released in June 1989. While 21 manufacturers had indicated interest, only two of these manufacturers actually submitted test pistols: Colt and S&W. Glock filed a GAO protest in August 1989, claiming that S&W already had an inside track on the contract, given their close relationship with the FTU. Indeed, S&W had begun fabricating prototype 10mm pistols in late 1988 at the FTU’s request, delivering them in February 1989 for the FTU’s gelatin testing. Glock also pointed to the short time between the release of the RFP and the deadline for submissions, which was originally one month. While the FTU pushed back the deadline by roughly 3 weeks, it was done at S&W’s request. In addition, Glock claimed that the requirements for a steel-frame DA/SA pistol were arbitrary. However, the GAO dismissed Glock’s protest on December 26, 1989.

With the GAO protest out of the way, the S&W 1076 was formally selected in January 1990. Field testing of production 1076 began in May 1990. The FBI Academy began issuing the 1076 to new agents n July 1990. However, general issue to field agents did not occur until December 1990. Alas, the issue was short lived. Due to serious malfunctions in the field and during range training, the S&W 1076 were recalled from service on May 31, 1991. The incident in the field had happened in all places, Miami FL. After an arrest, an agent attempted to unload his 1076, and could not rack the slide. Further examination noted that the trigger could not be pulled, nor could the hammer be cocked. As a result, the pistol would not have been able to fire if needed.

The issue tracked back to the FTU’s previous request that S&W to reduce the 1076’s initial takeup to suit the FTU “trigger-prepping” technique. (Ironically, Glock had pointed out in their 1989 GAO protest that this technique was flawed and unsafe.) S&W had modified the trigger hooks where they engaged the drawbar; however, the modified hooks could reportedly lock up the drawbar in such a way that would disable the pistol.

The FBI’s 1076 pistols were not returned from S&W until October 1992, as they required significant rework by the custom gunsmiths of the S&W Performance Center. However, by this point all official interest was lost in the 10mm pistol. While individual agents could keep their refurbished 1076 if they so desired, no additional purchases of the 1076 were ever made. In the interim, the FTU had already begun issuing 9mm SIG-Sauer P226 (2,000 in total) as a replacement, and later standardized the P228.

It is a myth that the FBI dropped the 10mm for the .40 S&W. For years, the FTU resisted approving a .40 S&W load for privately owned weapons.  Until a .40 load was approved, there would be no pistols allowed in that caliber.  The FTU ultimately selected a mid-velocity load using a 165gr JHP, instead of a clone of their mid-velocity 180gr 10mm load.   The earliest known gelatin tests of these mid-velocity loads were completed in August 1993.  However, it is unclear when it was actually approved for use.    The FBI finally issued a solicitation for .40 caliber Double-Action Only pistols in February 1996.  It would take until May 1997 for the FBI to announce the adoption of the Glock 22 and 23. The first Glocks would not be issued to new agents until October 1997.

As covered here at LooseRounds before, the FBI started justifying a return to 9x19mm as early as May 2014.  In July 2014, the FBI followed up with a presolicitation notice for 9x19mm semi-auto pistols.   The FBI issued the actual solicitation on October 7, 2015.   Glock was announced as the winner on June 29, 2016.

Going back to the 1986 and the Miami/Dade Shootout, the FBI’s HRT and SWAT had already been issued 9mm semi-auto pistols for several years. HRT kept their Wayne Novak-customized 9mm Browning Hi-Powers until  they were replaced by the .45 Les Baer SRP.  Awarded the contract in September 1994, Baer’s gunsmiths custom built the pistols using high capacity Para-Ordnance P14.45 frames.

In 1988, FBI SWAT switched from the S&W Model 459 to the SIG-Sauer P226.  With the HRT’s switch to .45 in the mid-1990s, SWAT expressed  interest in procuring a similar pistol, yet not a double-stack like the SRP.  The FBI released a solicitation for a single-stack, single-action .45 semi-auto pistol in July 1996, with the RFP issued a few months later in October.   Early in 1998, SWAT selected the Springfield Armory Bureau Model, now commercially known as the Professional Model.  Sources indicate that the HRT ultimately transitioned to the Professional Model as well as their limited supply of the Baer SRP began to wear out. There is word that even the Professional Model is on the way out as the Bureau transitions back to 9mm.