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The Air Force wants to make its first new pistol in 35 years even smaller than it already is

Pocket-sized pistol popping
David Roza Avatar
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Michael Pritchard, left, 423rd Security Forces Squadron (SFS) patrolman, looks down the sight of an M18 handgun during a qualification course at RAF Molesworth, England, July 28, 2020 (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Eugene Oliver)

The Air Force would like to make its already-tiny M18 service pistol even smaller, according to a bid posted last month on the U.S. government’s contracting website.

The M18 — a compact version of the M17 that came out of the Army’s Modular Handgun System program — is the Air Force’s first new service pistol in 35 years. It replaces the M9, which airmen have wielded since 1985. 

The M18 is lighter than the M9, and its barrel is an inch shorter, which puts it on the small side when it comes to standard-issue sidearms. 

The Air Force wants to shrink the M18 even more through an order for 3,015 conversion kits, which would allow airmen to convert the M18 to a sub-compact design to meet concealed carry requirements, the service wrote on the bid, which was first posted June 16.

In the past, the Air Force has written about security forces airmen and law enforcement civilians being allowed to carry concealed weapons off-duty while on an Air Force base.

“The [Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act] authorization and policy for Ellsworth [Air Force Base] strengthens security by enhancing Security Forces’ response to threats, including active shooter threats,” wrote Ellsworth Air Force Base public affairs in 2017.

Neither the Air Force nor Sig Sauer, the manufacturer of the M17 and M18, responded to inquiries from Task & Purpose about what the sub-compact design would be used for or which airmen would get their hands on it. 

However, when the Air Force announced it was buying 125,000 M18 service pistols last June, the service announced that Security Forces airmen (the Air Force equivalent of military police) were among the first to field the weapon. 

The announcement follows a trend not just for the Air Force, but for all branches, which have made the switch from the tried and tested, but tired M9, to modular handguns like the M17 and M18.

“M9s are larger, heavier, all-metal pistols; whereas M18s are lighter polymer pistols with a more consistent trigger pull and adjustable grips for large and small hands,”  said Merrill Adkison, Small Arms Program Office senior logistics manager, at the time.

The newer weapons are also a third of the price of the aging M9, the Air Force said. The thinking seems to be that smaller and cheaper are better, as anyone who’s ever had to lug around a bunch of heavy gear can attest.