The National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, which oversees America's nuclear weapons stockpile, recently announced that it plans to arm security personnel who guard convoys carrying hydrogen bombs and other sensitive cargoes with new and very high-end 9mm pistols. If all goes to plan, individuals working for NNSA's Office of Secure Transportation, or OST, are set to get ZEV Technologies' OZ9 Combat pistols, a design that evolved from the iconic Glock series and that looks like it was ripped straight out of a John Wick movie.
OST, which was originally established in 1975 as the Transportation Safeguards Division of the Energy Research and Development Administration, is responsible for ensuring the safe and secure movement of nuclear weapons, nuclear weapon components, and "special nuclear materials." The office's workforce includes heavily armed federal agents who accompany convoys, which include highly-specialized tractor trailers with James Bond-esque defensive suites, or are otherwise poised to react to attacks or other contingencies. You can read more about OST, its mission, its vehicles, and its checkered safety record over the past few decades in this past War Zone feature.
"OST has an operational need to replace its current secondary duty weapon with a 9mm handgun that is not only concealable but provides OST FAs [Federal Agents] with short-range day and night defensive capabilities when their primary weapon is not being utilized," an NNSA contracting notice posted online on June 24, 2022, explains. The announcement said that the plan is to acquire the OZ9 pistols "by means of other than full and open competition," language that typically refers to a sole-source contract.
It is not immediately clear what the standard sidearm for OST agents is at present. A picture, seen below, posted on NNSA's official Facebook account on Sept. 16, 2020, does show then-NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty as she "demonstrates her skill with a Smith & Wesson M&P .45-caliber pistol during a visit to the [OST] Agent Operations Eastern Command at Y-12 National Security Complex."
Regardless, "based on the testing criteria, the ZEV OZ-9 Handgun not only score the highest overall technical score among six (6) 9mm gun manufacturers, but the ZEV OZ-9 handgun received the highest individual scores when it came to weight, damage resistance, low light operations, point ability, ergonomics, malfunctions, recoil management, and overall impression," the contracting notice adds. "Field testing occurred between January 25-27, 2022."
The OZ9s that NNSA plans to buy for OST will be in the X Combat configuration. This is a version of the OZ9C Compact pistol fitted with a full-size grip "to create a pistol that is easier to control and handle" but "without added weight or length," according to ZEV Technologies.
The OZ9 itself, which made its public debut in 2019, has an interesting story behind it. It's very much a heavily customized Glock – except it's not.
See, before introducing the OZ9, ZEV Technologies had already established itself as a purveyor of high-end customized components for Glocks, which can transform one of the popular polymer-framed pistols into a so-called 'Gucci Glock.' These components included the company's own line of slides, triggers, and other parts for those pistols. The company expanded offerings to other types of firearms, as well.
ZEV is just one of a number of companies in this space. Civilian interest in the United States in custom Glocks has been further buoyed in recent years thanks in no small part to Keanu Reeves wielding tricked-out examples from Taran Tactical Innovations (TTI) as the titular character in John Wick sequels.
Long before John Wick was a household name, custom Glocks gained a significant following among military and law enforcement users in the United States, including the elite operators assigned to the Army's legendary Delta Force, as you can read more about here. These less ornate custom Glocks, including one configuration known as a 'Roland Special,' helped pave the way to the extreme customization we see today. The popularity of controversial 80% unfinished pistol frames, where a gun based on the Glock platform would need to be essentially built by an individual from scratch, also helped accelerate the concept and the industry that supported it.
The OZ9 effectively combines many of ZEV's custom Glock parts, as well as a grip design also inspired by custom ZEV 1911-type pistols, with a new center "receiver" or "chassis" that also acts as the serialized part. This allows for the relatively rapid swapping out of different slide assemblies and barrels, as well as entire grip frames, and offers a high degree of modularity that is increasingly common in new handgun designs. The OZ9's slide is designed to allow for the relatively rapid addition of small red dot optics, while the chassis has a built-in accessory rail for attaching lights and lasers. A custom match barrel is also fitted.
Other features include an elaborately milled slide with a ton of serrations and a custom frame with index finger trigger guard cutout — both popular custom Glock modifications. Flared mag wells, compensators, and various sights can also be easily fitted. At the heart of the weapon is the ZEV trigger that also uses a form of Glock's 'safe action' safety system.
So, ZEV's pistol isn't a Glock although it is certainly heavily Glock-inspired. The weights of a standard full-size OZ9 and of a current-generation 9mm Glock 17 are within a few ounces of each other, with ZEV's offering being slightly heavier because of the additional metal used in the central chassis.
"This solid steel frame runs the length of the entire pistol allowing the locking block to be fully integrated," according to ZEV's website. "The extended rails in the steel receiver help provide more than double the surface area of contact to the slide. Additional benefits include channels that clear out debris while also acting as lubricating reservoirs for high friction areas."
The OZ9 "was designed and created for balance," the website adds. "It’s one of the first things you notice when holding this pistol. Balance equates to what every shooter is looking for; a more controllable pistol with less felt recoil, less muzzle flip, and faster, more accurate follow-up shots."
At its core, ZEV's offering certainly still very much evokes the general look of the famed Austrian gun, or at least a heavily customized example. When it comes to residual commonality, the OZ9 still uses Glock magazines. OST's contracting announcement says that it wants to buy 17-round Glock magazines from another company, Magpul, to go with its OZ9s.
Exactly how many OZ9s in total NNSA is looking to purchase for OST and how much the guns might cost are unclear. The pistol's custom Glock pedigree is somewhat reflected in its cost, with the compact X Combat type having a suggested price of $1,499 on ZEV's website. This is not the most expensive handgun out there on the commercial market in the United States, by any means, but is still nearly triple the average price of new Glock 17s or Smith and Wesson M&Ps.
When OST agents may actually begin receiving OZ9s is not clear, either. Any sole-source contract has to be justified and approved, something NNSA seems to hope it has done, at least in part, through the comparative testing it did with the five other unspecified pistol types back in January. The June 24 contracting notice says that any company that believes it has a competitive alternative is welcome to submit a proposal before a deadline of July 9.
So, unless NNSA gets a better offer, the personnel charged with guarding the movement of America's most powerful weapons, among other highly sensitive cargoes, could soon be carrying the high-end OZ9s on their hips.
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