Army Chief wants to select next pistol, sounds good but…

Posted on: March 29th, 2016 by Will Rodriguez 24 Comments
Gen Milley CSA Photo Johnny Bivera

There’s been a rash of articles about Gen Mark Milley wanting authority to select the Army’s next pistol.  This isn’t new.  Gen Milley has been broaching the issue since October not even two months into his tour as the current U.S. Army chief of staff.  On the surface, the argument makes a lot of sense but the issue of branch chiefs making these types of decisions is much larger and more complicated than most articles represent in their rush to approve selecting Glock as the Army’s next pistol.  There are some real possible dangers and demonstrated “cons” to consolidating power too much.

It’s no secret acquisition has had issues for a very long time.  Increased technological complexity has added time to the decision chain.  The P-51 took less than four months to go from concept to prototype.  It had nowhere near the complexity of today’s front line fighters but technological complexity alone doesn’t explain why current development timelines can span decades.  WWII era acquisition was frankly much simpler but also had some significant failures.  The Sherman tank was known to be outclassed for years before it was replaced with significant human costs.

Over time an admittedly ponderous acquisition system has been stood up that covers from what the soldier needs to the material solution for a force numbering in the hundreds of thousands.  That system took a hit when branch chiefs largely lost the ability to influence acquisitions with the Goldwater-Nichols Act (GNA) of 1986. Davis’ article does a good job of summarizing it.  Returning influence in the acquisition process to branch chiefs is long overdue.

While change is needed, consolidating decision authority has its risks.  There are plenty of examples of service chiefs making poor decisions or obstructing good ones.  General Shinseki was singlehandedly responsible for making the black beret the soldier’s headgear in an effort to increase pride and performance in the soldier.  There is little evidence that occurred but there was much ill will sown with the Ranger Regiment and at times the opposite result as too many soldiers wore the newly issued beret comically.  (I begged a LTC to let me take his beret home for a night so I could shave and form it properly as the “Pizza Top” moniker wasn’t doing the unit any good.)

Under General Schoomaker, ACU’s were issued.  In 2010 Marine Commandant General Conway said, “We are never going to be a carbine Marine Corps, OK. We’re never going to go completely to the M4. We’re a rifle Marine Corps. We believe in long-range shooting skills, and those skills are just not as resident in a carbine as they are in a service rifle”.  The Marines adopted the M4 for its frontline infantry last year, 15 years after the Army.  Service chiefs are not infallible.

Milley says all the right things though about what the CSA’s systematic role in acquisition and his accountability should be.  He’s got some great ideas including making program managers have longer tenure over the programs they manage.  Branch chief’s increased acquisition influence changed in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act but about the next Army pistol specifically, Milley may be guilty of making some of the very mistakes I’ve alluded to.  Milley argues the Army’s over 300 page requirements document is too much but which Army requirements don’t make good sense?  Are looking for more effective calibers for conventional forces that are largely prohibited from using hollow point or modularity bad things?  The conventional military has clung to external safeties for a force not as well trained to handle firearms without them.  The General and Glock enthusiasts embrace the Glock but will the average American soldier be given the training (and the additional funding) his special ops brethren receive?  I think not and it hasn’t been discussed.  Simplifying issues doesn’t make problems go away.

Putting Army acquisition in the hands of Gen Milley may be exactly what is needed and maybe he’s riding the Modular Handgun System to get the powers he wants but is that a permanent fix?  Long ago it was drilled into my head that good leaders create organizations that can perform and execute without them.  That’s especially important in combat organizations whose ability to achieve the mission shouldn’t rest on any one person.  Shouldn’t larger organizations charged with the nation’s defense heed those same dictums that create initiative at lower levels that ultimately lead to success?

Organizations that want long term success shouldn’t rely on one person coming up with the right answer to complicated problems.  Eventually you are going to have the wrong person making a bad or wrong decision.  Making the person the chief of a certain branch alone really raises risk.  When’s the last time one was relieved for a bad decision?

Be Respectful, Candid and Pertinent. No Posers, No Trolls…
  • YankeePapa

    “…When’s the last time one was relieved for a bad decision…?”

    …A Marine 2nd Lt in peacetime got confused on the headcount and the platoon accidentally left a man behind… who died in the desert in a very short period of time.  The Lt.’s career was over.  
    …Top brass in this country almost impossible to hold accountable (unless one should piss off POTUS) and usually not subject to the same rigorous standards of accountability and justice that are applied to officers not of flag rank.  What would George Marshall have done with some of the more egregious examples?
    …Hopefully handgun training has improved since back in the day.  Marines in boot camp “fam-fired” the .45 and (unless machine gunner or mortars or something other than infantry) unlikely to handle another one at ITR or BITS.  Many of the .45s were old, and so long as they did not explode, fly apart when fired, or kill the Marine next to you they were labeled as “serviceable…” 
    …In Africa vastly more training time spent on the handgun… 9mm P-1, (German military version of the P-38…)  Far handier, vastly more accurate… safer… and many issued fresh out of the box.   Going into a hostile room, the .45 would be superior… if newer… if in good condition… if in the hands of a soldier properly trained with it.     -YP-

  • Luddite4Change

    While I think the service Chiefs need more power over acquisition and requirements, there are some dangers here that the pistol program brings all to well into focus.  I fear that GEN Miley’s comments concerning the Glock were awkward at best, and at worst will have significant negative 2nd and 3rd order effects if Glock is selected.  The other participants can pretty clearly show that there was a preference for one manufacturer over another at the highest levels of the Army.
    FWIW, I think Beretta has a pretty good argument to make to Congress, if the caliber doesn’t change, that the Army didn’t negotiate in good faith concerning proposals to provide product improvements to the M9; The fact that the Army never went back to the manufacturer with product feedback over thirty plus years boggles the mind.

  • Camo_Steve

    Well, moderation and balance seems to be key here, and from I can tell. The Acquisition process is currently too far on the side of regulations. Reforms like the General has mention will help bring the process back to a balance. The only danger is that these reforms have the potential of going too far. If that happens then we are stuck again with being on the extreme ends of approaches.

    Perhaps if the service chiefs are more accountable now with multi-million/billion dollar acquisition programs, they will be more likely to be relieved for failures. Also, in a organization that wants long term success, shouldn’t good leaders also develop and maintain a system that ensures that the leaders of tomorrow are molded and developed to be excellent leaders? That way the organization will always be in good hands? If that is the case, then the service chiefs will most likely make the right decisions, because the system molded them into great leaders they are

    Now of course some mistakes may happen. However, that always going to happen, we are all human.  At least these mistakes can be fixed quickly, programs will not be as bloated anymore, and people are more likely to be held accountable. Also, who says he will be the only one in charge? I do not think that is what the General wants. He wants to be that Shepard that guides them and provides direction. Isn’t that what good leaders are supposed to do anyways?

  • YankeePapa 
    The training is there and much better than decades ago.  I’ve seen the manual and the POI’s.  The question is if it’s given.
    If a pistol is your assigned weapon by the TOE (e.g. a machine gunner is assigned a pistol for close defense also by the book) you’ll be required to qualify and have a good chance of getting some minimal training.  Unfortunately though pistols are assigned more commonly now.  (Last I checked a couple of years ago pistols are assigned down to team leader.) Officers (Major and above as well as most staff weenies) typically are asigned pistols but typically won’t get the best training unless they seek it.
    Besides special ops units and MP’s though the training isn’t offered except for the conscientious chain of command.

    I need to ask some active duty troops though and see what the current pulse is.

  • Luddite4Change 
    I agree about your comment on 2nd & 3rd order effects but don’t think they are where one may think.

    The other manufacturers don’t have a legal leg to stand on if the selection happens separate from the MHS program. If the Glock submission is selected (which has an external safety) they can file suit but just like the ICC and the Camo trials the Army can just refuse to select a winner.

    Beretta knew the Army had issues. They’ve been pretty well known since we started GWOT.  The “M92A3” though that Berreta offered still didn’t address the MHS requirements.  It’s not modular.

    The effects that Milley isn’t addressing though is issuing conventional troops a pistol without a conventional safety and not getting them the training that those that are being issued the pistol get.  It also totally fails to address one MHS significant objective, looking at other calibers. Modularity is also not the greatest with the Glock as fine a pistol as it is.

  • Camo_Steve 
    Gen Milley will not always be chief of staff.
    Accountability?  Milley has been chief for almost eight months.  See any movement on Bergdahl?  What about SFC Martland?  You know the SF NCO being kicked out of the service for kicking a child molester in the butt?  They just decided to not decide last month.  Like I said, the General talks a great game.  I’ve heard that before.
    Easily change bad decisions?  We are still wearing the Beret and it took the Marines 5 years to decide on doing what the Army did 15 years ago.  Then we can always discuss women in the Infantry…
    Don’t get me wrong.  I really like his ideas on maintaining program managers in their positions longer and firing folks but it’s H A R D to fire an officer that sometimes has two decades of superior service because he/she can’t execute the latest task.  One should be fired.  It’s the nature of the beast but I highly doubt it will happen especially as that officer has multiple commanders between him and Milley.
    Here’s my biggest problem though.  General Milley is lambasting requirements that define things like reliability, capability and looking at new technology.  Trying to make those things sound dumb is dumb.

  • YankeePapa

    majrod YankeePapa  In the Marine Corps, aside from secondary weapon (machine gunner, mortars, etc) issue at SNCO and officer level… plus all kinds of support troops who had to be hands free.  

    Once Marines returned from RVN (or in peacetime) they all pretty much got a chance to fire pistol for qualification.

  • Camo_Steve

    Yes, General Milley will not always be the CSA… I think you
    missed one of the points I was trying to get across. The Army, and the military
    in general is supposed to have a system in place that develop and promotes
    excellent leaders who will take command in the future. If that is the case, it
    does not matter who replaces the current CSA; because the new CSA will an
    excellent leader as well. So technically, these new reforms can be a permanent
    solution, as long as it corresponds with a system that develop and promote good
    leaders. Now, you can argue that the promotion system is broken, which I would
    agree as well. However, I think these reforms have some good, and is not necessarily as bad you say.
    Well, I’m disappointed those situations haven’t been settled
    either. However, I think multi-million/billion dollar programs that fail, is
    more likely to motivate Congress to hold the General accountable rather than his
    decisions on political/policy stuff (Unfortunately…)
    Well, having some power to independently decide and acquire now;
    will allow the CSA to more easily change/fix things. However, it does not mean
    he will. I guess what I’m saying is that there is the potential to change
    things more quickly. Btw, no matter how much the black beret is despised; The senior
    leadership of the Army, Congress, SecDef, and POTUS don’t care. If they don’t
    care, I’m not surprised it hasn’t been fixed yet. 🙁
    Well it may be hard to fire someone, however It shouldn’t
    be. If the person in question has otherwise a history of good service, and he did
    not fuck up that bad, then he should just be assign somewhere else that
    best suits him and or demoted. Its kinda unfair and perhaps a waste of talent if a onetime minor failure is considered  a career
    You may be right about the requirement dissing, but with the
    MHS program specifically. You have to admit that two years JUST to test pistols
    seem a tad ridiculous don’t you agree?

  • Luddite4Change

    majrod Luddite4Change 
    “Modularity” is just this decade’s popular B-school buz word.  Do we really need a single expensive pistol that can be used for everything, by everyone?  Or, is “good enough” sometimes good enough?  Remember, the F-35 is “modular”.

  • Luddite4Change majrod 
    I used to think the same thing and while some can go WAY overboard on modularity (e.g. a pistol that is multi-caliber capable with all the costs in over engineering and acquiring different barrels/magazines) the concept has validity.  My initial entry to a pistols was the beloved slab sided near indestructible 1911.  Room clearing back then also consisted of a hand grenade and then spraying the room with auto fire.  We’ve evolved a bit.

    Adjustable pistol grips, ambidextorous controls and a rail for accessories is pretty much a must for a pistol to arm combat troops.  They just don’t seem to make as many meat handed, recoil impervious, square peg-round hole pounders like they used to.

  • Camo_Steve majrod 
    Two years to test a pistol is excessive.
    The historical record just doesn’t support your perception on how things are or should be.

    No system should rely on having the right person ion the right job unless it’s a dictatorship and those organizations just don’t seem to survive the dictator and be successful.  The founding fathers realized this and is why the created the system of checks and balances.  Having been part of our leader development system I can tell you it is definitely broken.  The service has the same kind of cancer we had during/post Vietnam and it was only because of the revamping we had afterwards that we saved ourselves back then.  If we don’t do it now we’ll have bigger problems as the crops mature.  The service should always be in the business of creating good leaders but also systemically design self cleaning systems.  It doesn’t.

    Relieving should be a simple process.  It simply isn’t and we don’t hold leaders especially more senior ones responsible.  GruntsandCo is full of examples, Petreaus & Swenson’s Medal of Honor, the Air Force Academy’s informant scandal, Marine Gen Amos etc.
    Congress does not hold the military responsible after the fact when it comes to leadership or spending.  FCS, Benghazi,  military administered civil programs in Iraq/Afghanistan. Congress DOES get involved though in promoting and initial funding.
    The military is not a jobs program.  My whole career I knew if I didn’t accomplish the mission I wasn’t going to get reassigned and become someone else’s problem. That thought process though seems to have disappeared. It was considered unacceptable to send poor performing soldiers except in extreme cases to another unit to fix.  Today it is done all the time.  It’s why wounded warrior battalions are rife with soldiers with discipline problems burdening that chain of command with getting rid of those troops instead of giving compassionate care to those that need it.  Too much compassion often creates more problems than it solves.

  • Luddite4Change

    majrod Luddite4Change 

    pistol grips, ambidextorous controls and a rail for accessories is
    pretty much a must for a pistol to arm combat troops” 
    Hmm.  Sounds a lot like an M9A3 there.
    There is only so much you can do with the grip size, as those rounds have to go somewhere.
    The new 1911’s are sweet!  I shot several at a S&W event at my local gun range about a year ago.  The 1911 was (over) engineered based on the tooling and metal quality of the day.  Now that we can use lasers instead of presses and augers, much of the extraneous metal can be removed making a lighter firearm with closer tolerances.

  • Camo_Steve

    majrod Camo_Steve
    Who said anything about the military being a jobs program? If someone consistently under-performs, they should of course get kicked out, not reassign somewhere. The same applies if someone makes a MAJOR mistake.

    Here is a video somewhat related to our discussion.

  • YankeePapa

    …COS seems to feel that 8 minutes is good response time to an active shooter incident…

    “…When seconds count, the police can be there in minutes…”
    -Yankee Papa-

  • Camo_Steve


    Alot of things can happen in 8 minutes.

  • YankeePapa Camo_Steve Luddite4Change 

    Thought you might be interested in some updates.
    An example of the potential downside of giving one person too much acquisition authority.

    The Army is still moving forward with the MHS despite the Chief of Staff’s comments.

  • Camo_Steve majrod 
    Yes, I’ve debated Ricks on Foreign Policy about the issue.  
    It’s a bit different.  Ricks seems to be promoting relief for cause for leaders that don’t achieve military goals quickly.  Not sure that can be applied to acquisition.  Again, technology has become a little more complicated since WWII.  I do agree with his position on continuity of command.

    My biggest problem though is he doesn’t address the 2nd and 3rd order effects of relieving leaders quickly and applying that culture across the board.  First, relieving leaders quickly creates a zero defects mentality minimizing leader’s ability to be innovative and risk averse (look how we are handling sexual harassment and the integration of women into the military).  Second, Machiavellian leaders (and they do exist) will do ANYTHING to be successful.  The potential damage in moral and the physical realms could be devastating.

  • Luddite4Change

    majrod Camo_Steve 
    There is nothing wrong in relieving leaders if its done in a equitable and transparent way for failing to achieve the set standard of performance.  IMHO, the Army has failed in this area across the board.  I’m certain that we can all point to situations where one officer was relieved (or given the kiss of death OER) but another officer was given a pass, all depending on what the higher level commanders thought more important.

    I agree that it is much more difficult to hold individuals feet to the fire in the acquisition game, just because of the long timelines, diffuse decision responsibility, and relatively short time frame of actionable responsibility.  Its almost like the system was designed to not have folks accountable.

  • Luddite4Change majrod Camo_Steve 
    I don’t disagree with relief for cause as a leadership and quality control tool.  We are likely more in agreement than disagree. I just think it’s the last option and there are many other things more pressing in addressing current shortcomings e.g. selfless service, moral courage etc.
    I have not seen many officers hold positions of command that shouldn’t have (I can really only think of a BN CDR that was protected by stars).

  • YankeePapa 
    From the article.

    “In the 2009 Fort Hood incident, where 13 people were killed and 32
    others injured, he noted that “police responded in eight minutes, and
    that guy was dead. So that was pretty quick.
    “And a lot of people
    died in the process of that, but that was a very fast-moving event. And
    I am not convinced from what I know that carrying privately owned
    weapons would have stopped that individual.”
    Nidal Hasan, the
    gunman in the Nov. 5, 2009 attack at Ford Hood, Texas, did not die in
    the attack. He was shot by military police and paralyzed from the waist
    down. He is now on death row at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.”
    and Jesus wept…

  • YankeePapa

    majrod YankeePapa He either believes what he is saying (which is scary…) or he is simply attempting to please his political masters… (which is even more scary…)

  • olsarge

    I would really like for the military to  develop a new infantry rifle rather than spending so much time and effort
    on a side arm .

  • YankeePapa

    Understood… but with the politicos in uniform right now, I’m afraid to see what we might get…  Within my lifetime some real losers have been trotted out as candidates… including…

  • YankeePapa

    Understood, but with some of the politicos in uniform near the top these days, I fear what might result.  Lot of losers have been trotted out as candidates during my lifetime, including: