Army Reboots Plans To Buy Concealable 9mm Submachine Gun For VIP Protection

The U.S. Army has restarted a program to evaluate various 9mm submachine guns just weeks after canceling it to reexamine the requirements. The service says it could end up ordering as many as 1,000 of these “Sub Compact Weapons,” or SCWs, to give personal security details extra firepower they can carry concealed when they guard senior officials in high-risk areas.

On July 26, 2018, the Army’s Product Manager for Individual Weapons office at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey re-announced the SCW project and stated it had plans to award contracts to up to six potential contractors. Any firm the Army selects will have to submit 15 examples of their weapon for evaluation, along with three suppressors, various magazines, any necessary special tools, and spare parts. The service had first gone looking for suitable weapons in May 2018, but scrapped those plans earlier in July 2018 to reassess its needs.

“The Secretary of the Army and/or the Chief of Staff approves senior commanders and key personnel as High Risk Personnel (HRP),” the contracting notice officials at Picatinny posted on FedBizOpps explained. “HRPs are authorized a Personal Security Detail (PSD), which are assigned to guard against outlined threats.”

The Army has determined that those personnel have a need for a weapon that is more capable than their standard sidearms, but that can still be concealed and otherwise more handy than a traditional rifle or carbine. It is unclear whether PSDs are typically equipped with the Beretta M9 or the compact Sig Sauer M11 pistols at present or if they’re in line to get either the newer full size M17 or smaller M18 Modular Handgun System pistols, also Sig products, in addition to the SCWs. The Army also has a number of Heckler and Koch MP5 and MP5K submachine guns in inventory, but is unclear whether these are worn out or are not readily available enough to troops in the field to meet present demands.

A US Army soldier carries an MP5K submachine gun while working a personal security detail in Iraq in 2008., US Army

The service did not cite any particular incidents or potential threats that have driven demand for such a gun, though an Afghan Army soldier did murder a member of the U.S. Army working a personal security detail, and wounded two others, on July 7, 2018. At the time of writing, the public affairs office at Picatinny Arsenal has not yet responded to a query for additional information on the SCW program.

The latest requirements call for a submachine gun firing the NATO standard 9x19mm round that has a barrel length of five and a half inches or shorter, weighs seven pounds or less, and is 15 inches long or less overall with a telescoping stock in its collapsed position and without a sound suppressor attached. With a clear eye to very close-quarters situations, an average operator has to be able to reliably put four out of every five rounds within a four-inch circle at a range of fewer than 40 yards and have relatively low recoil to help the shooter keep on target.

The bulk of the Army’s requirements for the SCW., US Army

The pistol-caliber submachine gun as a category of weapon has appeared increasingly obsolete in both military and law enforcement use. These weapons have had increasingly limited utility at even moderate ranges and against targets behind cover or wearing any kind of body armor. 

The concealability requirement that seems to have pushed the Army toward sticking with a gun firing the 9x19mm round rather than looking into a subcompact rifle and specialized cartridge, such as increasingly popular .300 Blackout, which you can read about in more detail here. Even Sig Sauer’s tiny MCX Rattler, which U.S. special operations forces are evaluating separately, is still almost 20 inches long in some configurations.

There are, however, other weapons that typically fall into a category referred to as personal defense weapons that use more specialized ammunition that is more capable of defeating targets wearing body armor or behind other barriers and would still fit the Army’s other SCW requirements. These guns are already in service in the U.S. military and elsewhere in U.S. military, with SEAL Team Six reportedly has a number of Heckler and Koch MP7s in 4.7mm, while the US Secret Service uses 5.7mm FN P90s.

A member of the US Army fires a German soldier’s MP7 personal defense weapon during an exchange event in Afghanistan., US Army

A 9x19mm weapon would ease any logistics strain of having to keep supplies of these more exotic rounds on hand and the service Army has stipulated that the guns be able to use existing standard 9mm ammunition. At the same time, though, this means the primary advantages of the SCW over existing pistols will be a higher rate of fire and greater ammunition capacity rather than improved terminal effectiveness.

With this in mind, they might be able to further increase the SCW’s lethality, at least to some degree, by issuing the new XM1153 hollow point cartridge it has adopted along with the Modular Handgun System pistols to troops receiving SCWs. Significant legal questions remain about how and when troops might be able to use those rounds in combat, though, which you can read about in more detail here. At the close ranges in question, even regular 9mm rounds may be sufficiently lethal for the Army’s needs.

Modular Handgun System pistol magazines loaded with XM1153 hollow point rounds during a test., US Army

Regardless, the Army’s demands are still relatively broad. When the service had first called for submissions in May 2018, it had subsequently handed out deals to more than a dozen companies, worth over $260,000 in total.

The Army has since canceled all of those contracts. The new requirement that the weapon has to have a collapsing stock rather than a side-folding one immediately boots at least 4 of the original competing designs – Beretta’s PMX, B&T’s MP9, CZ’s Scorpion EVO 3A1, and Heckler and Koch’s UMP9 – out of the running for the revised SCW program. The remaining contenders largely fall into two basic categories. 

The first is guns derived in full or in part from Heckler and Koch’s iconic MP5 submachine gun. Heckler and Koch’s own super compact MP5K version featured a side-folding stock, but the standard sliding collapsible stock for the full-size guns will work with an adapter. Third parties have since developed even shorter stock options that will work with various types of MP5s, too.

Full-size MP5s with the standard sliding stock.,

Another one of the previous entrants with MP5-based designs, Zenith Firearms, offers its a collapsible stock option similar to the one found on the Army’s standard M4 carbine. Unfortunately, it also produces these weapons in cooperation with Turkish firm MKEK, which could make that choice politically complicated given strained U.S.-Turkey relations.

Beyond buying more MP5s, there are 9x19mm derivatives of the AR-15/M16 rifle platform the Army could choose from. Any one of these designs that otherwise meets the Army’s demands might prove attractive depending on how many parts it shares with the service’s existing M4 carbines, which could help reduce any logistical complications from fielding the SCW. These weapons have been and may still be in limited service within the U.S. government, as well.

There are two other guns from the original group of contenders that are more unique, the CZ Scorpion EVO 3 Micro and the Sig Sauer MPX. The Czech EVO 3 Micro is a distinct design and has a collapsible stock unlike the folding type found on the larger EVO 3A1. Sig’s MPX series is derived from the AR-15/M16 pattern, but is not a straight conversion of a rifle-caliber version.

The Scorpion EVO series is already in service in various numbers with military and police services around the world, including with Afghan commandos, which the Army could see as a vote of confidence in the design. Afghanistan, where the threat of “insider attacks” on American troops in close quarters by insurgents posing as security forces personnel or government personnel upset at U.S.-backed coalition remains high, is almost certainly one of the theaters of operations where troops working personal security details were clamoring for something like the SCW in the first place.

A Scorpion EVO Micro with a collapsible “arm brace” that CZ could substitute for a true shoulder stock., CZ-USA

The MPX is also likely to be a front-runner due to the increasing popularity of both that weapon and its rifle-caliber cousin the MCX. Earlier in July 2018, the Army also hired the company to deliver a host of weapons, including the MPX, as part of a bulk purchase for American special operators, other unnamed U.S. government agencies, and unspecified foreign allies.

Of course, given that the Army was willing to consider 13 different designs initially suggests that it won’t hesitate to fully explore all of its options. If the service awards the maximum six deals for prototypes, this could still include the EVO Micro, MPX, and multiple examples of the MP5- or AR-15/M16-based types.

The Sig Sauer MPX K submachine gun would seem to be ideally suited to the Army’s requirements., Sig Sauer

Based on the schedule the Army has outlined now, the service could begin testing the guns within weeks and expects to have secured the full initial batch of 350 SCWs within five to seven months of picking a winning design. It could then decide to order up to 1,000 examples in subsequent batches of no more than 350.

So, as early as the spring of 2019, Army troops may be protecting VIPs in conflict zones and other high-risk areas with new submachine guns.

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Joseph Trevithick Avatar

Joseph Trevithick

Deputy Editor

Joseph has been a member of The War Zone team since early 2017. Prior to that, he was an Associate Editor at War Is Boring, and his byline has appeared in other publications, including Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defense Journal, Reuters, We Are the Mighty, and Task & Purpose.