U.K. troops in Afghanistan will be issued with side-arms from Glock GmbH, the provider of handguns to two-thirds of U.S. police departments, after the Austrian company displaced a Browning Arms Co. model used for 46 years.
A first batch of 2,000 Glock 17 Gen 4 pistols was delivered last month by the Deutsch-Wagram-based manufacturer following a 9 million-pound ($15 million) contest to provide a total of 25,000 guns, the U.K. Ministry of Defence said today.
Troops including 9,500 stationed in Afghanistan will get the Glock for personal protection and as a second armament in case their SA80 rifle fails. A replacement for the Browning L9A1 was sought after the cost of servicing the aging weapon escalated to the point where buying a new pistol was cheaper, the ministry said.
“The Glock is a more effective, reliable, durable and lighter-weight pistol,” Colonel Peter Warden, head of the light weapons team, said in an interview at the Royal Artillery barracks in Greenwich, where the model was demonstrated. “Every soldier in Afghanistan will have the ability to have a pistol.”
The need for a personal side-arm in close-combat situations was highlighted to U.K. forces on Jan. 7 when a soldier from the 28 Engineering Regiment was killed by a suspected insurgent wearing Afghan National Army uniform.
Britain selected the Glock 17 ahead of the P30 and P226 from German manufacturer Heckler & Koch GmbH and Sig Sauer, even after the latter model was used on an emergency basis in Afghanistan. The Austrian gun also beat out the M&P9 from Springfield, Massachusetts-based Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. and the PX4 Storm made by Brescia, Italy-based Berretta Holding.
The Glock 17 weighs 905 grams (2 pounds) when loaded, 30 percent less than the Browning, and uses a magazine with 17 bullets rather than 13. It also comes with a new holster and grip options to suit people of varying sizes.
Tests were carried out in Britain, Norway, Brunei and at the Pentagon’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona to evaluate performance in all climates. Accuracy was gauged over a distance of 25 meters, though the gun’s range is determined by a decision to stick with 9mm, copper-jacketed and lead-filled bullets.
“Glock was the clear winner,” said Warrant Officer Mark Anderson, a Royal Marine and the project’s requirements officer. “Within two seconds you can put five rounds on a target.”
Browning, based in Morgan, Utah, wasn’t on the shortlist and the MoD wouldn’t say if it was among 10 original bidders. The British Army’s L9A1s will be fully phased out next year.
The Glock 17, which is being bought via Harrogate, England-based Viking Arms Ltd., is already used by the Swedish and Norwegian militaries and by Swiss Army special forces, according to the manufacturer. In the U.K. the gun will be issued to Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel, as well as the army.
In the U.S., Glock had a 65 percent market share in law enforcement as of 2011, including the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, according to company estimates. Officers often have a choice, with the New York City Police Department authorizing weapons including the Glock 19 for on-duty use and the Glock 26 when off duty, according to spokesman Paul Browne.
The U.S. army uses the Beretta 92FS model after a contract award in 1985, topped up with a $64 million-order last year.
The British contract comes as the Glock family is embroiled in an Austrian legal dispute over control of the business.
A hearing in Klagenfurt last year rejected a lawsuit from founder Gaston Glock’s ex-wife Helga, who had claimed her stake in the weapons maker was improperly shifted to him by advisers following their divorce. An appeal is pending before a regional judge in Graz, according to court spokesman Thomas Hofmann.