When the Beretta M9 was adopted as the US military pistol in 1985 (though it didn’t officially enter service until 1990), it was intended to replace not just the 1911 pistol but various other pistols and revolvers then in service.
These included compact pistols such as the snub-nosed revolvers carried by various military investigators and intelligence agents as well as pistols carried by aviators. Even during the trials which resulted in the adoption of the Beretta, there was the intent to also adopt a more compact pistol for limited issue. At least some consideration was given to a more compact version of the M9, but instead the SIG Sauer M11 was adopted.
The first of these pistols were acquired by the Navy for the then Naval Investigative Service in 1989. In 1992, after fallout related to the NIS investigation of the Tail Hook scandal, the agency became the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). The first pistols acquired by the Navy were actually SIG P-228 pistols. Once the pistol was adopted for use by the Army and Air Force in the 1990s it was designated the M11. SIG pistols had already been in use by the SEALs, who preferred them to the M9 and had proven the pistols reliable and accurate. The controversy over the choice of the Beretta 92 over the SIG Sauer P-226 may have also influenced the choice of the M11. But for whatever reason, it became the US military’s “compact” pistol.
IDEAL FOR DAILY CARRY
The M11 has also been issued to some aircrews and some female Military Police (MPs) with smaller hands—when the pistols are available. M11s are sometimes issued to Military Police Investigators (MPIs) as well. Friends in the armed forces who do pistol qualifications for officers have told me that for some officers being issued an M11 is a status symbol. On the other hand, officers in combat branches usually want to carry an M9 as the troops do, to show they are a “fighting officer.”
The argument that the M11 fits the hands of female soldiers with small hands better than does the M9 doesn’t really seem especially valid to me. I measured an M9’s grip circumference just below the trigger guard and found it was 5.6 inches, while the M11 measures at the same point as 5.5 inches. That doesn’t seem to be enough of a difference to matter. I also measured the thicknesses of the grips on both guns and found them both to be just over 1 inch. However, I will admit that subjectively the M11 feels slimmer in my hand than the M9, most likely due to grip design.
When I last trained US Army general officer protective personnel, the female agents were armed with S&W Model 10 revolvers with 2 inch barrels. I later trained some female personnel with the M9 and found that they handled it quite well. I have not trained CID agents or MPI personnel with the M11 for comparison, though.
Speaking of general officer protection, my experience in close protection assignments and the training I have given protective teams emphasizes the ability to sustain fire during an AOP (Attack on Principal) to allow the Principal to be evacuated. The M11’s 13-round magazine capacity offers quite a bit of sustained fire capability. For carrying concealed on long shifts, size can matter, too. A full loaded M11 is quite a bit lighter and also almost 1.5 inches shorter overall than an M9. All in all, it’s a good choice for the close protection mission.
It’s also a good choice for aviators who can carry the M11 and a pair of spare magazines, as then they have at least 39 rounds available should they go down in enemy controlled territory. Weight is important for equipment carried on aircrew survival vests, so the fact that a fully loaded M9 is about 13 ounces heavier than a fully loaded M11 is a consideration.
Story & Photos by Leroy Thompson