M9 pistol
The M9 pistol is the official handgun of the US army and has been in service since 1985 REUTERS/Baz Ratner

The US Army will be replacing their ageing M9 pistols with the new M17, called the "Modular Handgun System", starting November and by December, at least three units in the army will have them.

M17 was the winner of the "XM17 Modular Handgun System (MHS) competition" which was held by the US Army and Air Force to identify a new handgun to replace the M9, a pistol that is reportedly nearing the end of its useful service life according to the US Army's official news outlet.

In a report filed in July this year, the Army said that testing by soldiers at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, bore an almost 100% positive feedback that the XM17 was an upgrade to the M9 with soldiers saying that it was more comfortable to shoot and that they are more confident wielding it.

The Army started to look for replacements in 2015 and now that they have found it, the "X" (which stands for experimental) from its name will be dropped and the new weapon will be known simply as M17.

The modular aspect of the M17 is what makes it stand out from the M9, reports the army. Apart from its improved durability, the new pistol also has a range of adjustable options. Soldiers will now be able to get a gun that fits them with swappable handgrips and has an external safety mechanism along with self-illuminating sights for low-light conditions.

"A big reason why the modular handgun system is such a leap ahead in ergonomics is because of the modular hand grips, instead of just making a one size fits all," Lt. Col. Steven Power, product manager of Soldier Weapons, said.

The M17 pistols will be manufactured by Sig Sauer and will be based on the P320 handgun, notes the report. However, it is a different weapons system when compared to each other, Brig. Gen. Brian Cummings, who serves as Program Executive Officer Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, said.

While the M17 is based on an existing weapon, they have different requirements for accuracy and reliability, said the general. There will be two variants of the gun- the M17 will be the full-sized weapon, while the M18 will be a compact version.

Small firearms are typically used only for personal protection, said the general, but the M17 is set to see more use and action in the field and that the M17 and M18 have been proven to be good for close-quarters combat.

"We're looking at more than the traditional basis of issue, where we are doing a one-for-one replacement," Cummings said. He also added that it might even be issued to some units and soldiers to fill in the role of using this weapon for close quarters combat as the gun has been proven to be good in such applications.

Typically use of small firearms like the outgoing M9, have so far been used primarily for personal protection.

A batch of 2,000 pistols will be issued to the 101st Airborne Division- Screaming Eagles at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in what the Army is calling a "conditional material release". Following them, 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas will receive their pistols and by the end of December, Army's new security force assistance brigades will get their M17s, according to Cummings.

The distribution of the M17 is reported to last over a period of 10 years by which time all soldiers in the entire armed forces will be covered.