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Italian Sidearm to Replace Colt in U.S. Military

January 15, 1985|JAMES GERSTENZANG | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Army, taking a tip from fictional British super spy James Bond, has decided to supply the officers of the U.S. military with Italian Beretta handguns, replacing the Colt .45-caliber automatic pistol that has been the Army officers' standard sidearm since 1911.

The choice of the Beretta 9-millimeter weapon, announced Monday by the Pentagon, ends an intense competition spurred by a 1978 survey by the House Appropriations Committee that found a proliferation of handguns and ammunition among the armed services, despite the Army's preference for the Colt.

When the Army chose the Italian firm of Fabrica d'Armi Pietro Beretta S.p.A., only one other company was in the running, a Pentagon statement said. That company, Maremont of Switzerland and West Germany, produces the Sig-Sauer pistol.

Gun collectors and other small arms aficionados were upset over the Pentagon's competition to resupply its officers with new sidearms, challenging the need to replace the heavy, reliable Colt.

But the Pentagon was not alone in its choice--or in facing opposition. While on secret missions, Bond slipped his personal Beretta, rather than a standard-issue pistol, into the holster under his neatly tailored jackets, inside his rubber wet suits--or even under his pillow during romantic interludes.

The Colt, in the words of Wayne Sheets, a member of the gun collector staff of the National Rifle Assn., was "a famous combat arm" worn into battle by Army officers in both world wars. It was chosen 74 years ago for its reliability and the "stopping power" of its .45-caliber bullet, which has a 0.45-inch diameter. The 9-millimeter Beretta bullet has a 0.36-inch diameter.

But Colt Industries of Hartford, Conn., took itself out of the running in the current competition because it would be unable to meet the Army's delivery schedules, an Army spokesman said.

Performance, Costs Cited

"The Beretta was one of only two candidates to satisfactorily complete a rigorous test program designed to verify both performance and durability under both normal and adverse environmental conditions. It met or exceeded all mandatory requirements and was judged to have the lowest overall costs," the Pentagon statement said.

By shifting to a 9-millimeter weapon, the U.S. military will adopt a handgun and ammunition that is compatible with those used by North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.

The Pentagon said Beretta would be awarded a five-year contract to manufacture 315,930 weapons to supply the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. The Army, which is handling the purchase for the other services, said the overall purchase price will be more than $50 million.

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