The M1911 .45 caliber handgun is more than 100 years old and U.S. military personnel carried the firearm in several different U.S. conflicts to include World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Grenada and of course the Cold War. It was the standard-issue sidearm from 1911 to around 1986.
A favorite of troops who carried it because of its reliability and stopping power, the M1911 became of victim of government bureaucracy with many uniformed admirers wondering, if it wasn’t broke, why did the U.S. military try to fix it?
The Beretta 92FS, also known as the M9 in the U.S. inventory, entered the picture as the heir apparent of the M1911’s legacy. With the M9, the U.S. military promised an easier to shoot and maintain handgun that had more ammo capacity, but for those who had the privilege of shooting the M1911, there was no comparison.
In the mid-1980s all uniformed services would adopt the M9 as their primary handgun. But within the U.S. Navy SEAL community, because the M9 had some mechanical and performance issues during testing, the SEALs decided to go their own way and find a handgun that would work in their operational world. What they eventually found was the Sig Sauer P226 and for more than three decades SEALs have carried the P226 into battle in Panama, Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
Why do Navy Seals use a Sig P226? First, a little about its history. The P226 was developed by Sig Sauer as a replacement for the M1911, however by the end of the competition with other arms manufacturers, the P226 came in second place to the Beretta M9. The P226 was a variant of the P220, the sidearm of many militaries worldwide and it was run through extensive testing to ensure that the performance problems discovered with the M9 would not occur with the Sig.
Sig (Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft) Sauer was founded in 1853 in Switzerland. In 1976, Sig’s firearms division partnered with Sauer & Sohn, Germany’s oldest firearms manufacturer at the time, founded in 1751. The rest is history, as they say. The P226 became the Mk. 25 to Navy SEALs and they went into service in 1989. But why do Navy Seals use a Sig P226? We’re getting to that.
The P226 has a shorter barrel than the M9 and for warriors who sometimes fight in close quarters, that matters. The P226 slide is made of stainless steel for increased strength which prevents mishaps and failures like the ones that happened during M9 testing. The slide is also corrosion resistant due to ferritic nitrocarburizing, a treatment that helps protect against corrosion which is critical given SEALs are often immersed in saltwater. The P226’s chamber and barrel are chrome lined which is also a plus for those who operate in wet or dusty environments. The P226 weighs just shy of two pounds with a loaded magazine whereas the M9 weighs in at 2.5 pounds. A lighter weapon makes for a more agile warrior. So those reasons might answer the question, why do Navy Seals use a Sig P226? But there are more reasons to love this handgun.
The P226 is a single- or double-action pistol, depending on the shooter’s preference and it has a decocker much like the M9, that releases the hammer without firing a round. Unlike the Beretta, it has no manual safety. However, there are safeties designed into the weapon that prevent accidental discharge. The P226 has fifteen round capacity, night sights and a Picatinny rail so warriors can customize their weapon. And of course, the handgun has an anchor on the slide denoting that it is the chosen firearm of Navy SEALs. Why do Navy Seals use a Sig P226? For many of the reasons listed above. It was a weapon that they tested and modified specifically for their missions.
But like the M1911, all good things must come to an end. In 2015, the Glock 19, a compact 9 mm, was added to the SEAL handgun inventory. The SEALs plan to eventually replace the P226s with the newer Glocks.
For now, the M9 continues to be the primary sidearm for U.S. uniformed personnel worldwide and the P226 continues to be the primary handgun of the SEALs.
Why do Navy Seals use a Sig P226? The simple answer is the weapon has proven itself in service for more than 30 years.