The Depot

Why do Navy Seals Use a Sig P226?

Four US Navy SEALs at a shooting range loading magazines

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.

Comments on this post ( 24 )

  • Apr 07, 2024

    before deploying to the Vietnam War Games i had my clunker M-911 made into match condition. I never got to use it in combat because we SEALs did mostly spray and pray type shooting.
    I have that pistol in my gun safe because it is “second to none” of all the G.I. (government issue) sidearms.
    E. “Doc Rio” Riojas
    USN Ret.

    — Erasmo "Doc Rio" Riojas

  • Feb 08, 2024

    It’s old, heavy ,etc. But I lucked into a stainless cz75. Year’s ago.
    10k rds. N she still runs, n. Is more accurate than I am.
    When I was n navy, we still trained with 1911’s & M14s you know, REAL WEAPONS The cz is only other pistol I’d trust

    — David

  • Feb 05, 2024

    Only one pistol I carry every day is a 1911 a1 45. I work armed security and I carry the 1911 on and off duty. My 1911 has never given me any problems. All these other hand guns do not cut the mustard when it comes to knock down power. Buy all your high priced crap and put it up against the old 1911 and see who comes out ahead.
    Beretta, Sig, and Glock
    Nothing But high priced Junk I carried a 1911
    in Viet Nam for two years and had no problems in That that nasty country. That all i got to say. Thanks Have a nice day .

    — J.R.Jones

  • Jan 22, 2024

    Everyone has an opinion, remember this, the non-military types, politicians decide what you carry, even if you think otherwise.

    — John

  • Jan 02, 2024

    Having fired the Beretta M9 and the Sig M17, there is considerable differences. The Beretta was fat and heavy, I thought it was weak and considerable issues every time. The M17, lighter, more adaptable and more shooting with less malfunctions. I think when looking for a defense weapon for home or operation, it depends on the shooter, dependability and construction.

    — Travis

  • Dec 19, 2023

    Sig all the way🇨🇱

    — Steve

  • Nov 08, 2023

    I was at Little Creek in NSW at that time, when the P226 was adopted. I was also a weapons specialist and directly involved in that situation. The M9 failures were catastrophic slide failures, and I personally knew of at least 6 myself. Beretta started the rumor about us using high pressure ammo in their pistols as damage control- we had no high pressure ammo in inventory, just WCC NATO ball was what we used. NWC Crane tested the failed slides and found that Beretta had improperly heat treated the steel. Ours were some of the first pistols made in the new US factory, so perhaps their production wasn’t up to speed yet. We commonly fired thousands of rounds per week so it didn’t take long to find issues in equipment.
    The first batches of P226s that we received were off the shelf pistols, and they were heavily tested by NWC Crane before they were purchased in quantity. Those pistols had a fabricated slide, no rail, no chrome lined bore. The stainless milled slide and those other features came years later.
    The SIG was one of the most reliable weapons that we had in inventory. We used them in all kinds of extreme conditions and I was impressed with their durability and reliability. We had several other handguns in inventory to choose from and the SIG was by far the most reliable, and probably the most accurate. My newest M1911A1 was made in 1947, I believe.
    I heard that the decision to pick the M9 over the SIG was purely political. I won’t get into specifics but I knew the people directly involved in the selection program. When politics get involved the warfighter usually suffers.

    — Vic Wolfe

  • Nov 08, 2023

    The bickering within the firearms community is hilarious. This comment section is a perfect example. Glock, Berreta, and Sig all make great weapons. The P226 and M9 just have more sex appeal than a stick of butter with a handle on it. They’re all grade A pistols that I would trust my life to. I own all three but the P226 stays on my kit.

    — Jack Sprad

  • Oct 01, 2023

    Recently talked to members of a Seal Team based in Norfolk Virginia, members who had returned from Iraq. They had been using the Sig M17 and had high marks for it.

    — David.S

  • Oct 01, 2023

    The Sig P226 is heavy. It may kick less and give you a touch more accuracy in the first few rounds. But sending a few clips down the barrel is fatiguing. That would make a difference in a long fire fight.
    As a backup gun, it would be great. As a primary shooter, in close combat, I might prefer the Glock.

    — Raoul Duck

  • Sep 19, 2023

    The SEALS were using non standard ammo when the M9 failure occurred. The pressure greatly exceeded any known ammo (NATO) or commercial. The part that failed was the slide not the barrel, The slide separated with the rear portion striking the shooter. The only “weak” area of the M9 and other Berettas of that series would have to be recessed area in which the barrel link operates. Overall the pistol is about as reliable as anybody could reasonably expect.

    — C.B.Cochran

  • Sep 19, 2023

    Makes sense. Glocks will probably outlast all those guns. We had issues with Berettas in the Army. Money has nothing to do with their decision. Special Operations command has a pretty big budget and what they want is what they will get. A funny trend is that Elite forces always choose the wepon they like and goes against is standard to regular conventional units. And as of now , Seals, Grenn Berets, Marsoc, Rangers and Delta all went with the Glock 19. The M17 is pretty but hasnt seen any combat. They will see more vault time than anything else.

    — Hector Rivera

  • Mar 12, 2023

    Hi webmaster, Great job!

    — Leatha Epp

  • Feb 26, 2023

    Hello owner, Thanks for the comprehensive post!

    — Steve Sennitt

  • Jan 14, 2023

    Price should never even enter the picture when American lives are hanging in the balance. These warriors die for us and now you want to worry about a few million when we give ridiculous money away to countries that want to KILL US AND EVERYTHING WE STAND FOR!

    — James Ostraco

  • Jan 13, 2023

    What had not been mentioned in the above article and discussion was the durability factor. The Initial Beretta M9 had an issue with the barrel cracking way too early in the pistols life cycle. It was repaired but then the pistol cost more. I fired the M1911 for qualification in the USMC and it was older than my father, loose and barely accurate, but stopping power wow. I preferred the M9 because the 9MM was so much more controllable and accurate for rapid firing. The Colt M1911 had bigger kick and pulled right hard. The Sig was a much better weapon and more attuned to the environments that marines are deployed to. But it’s cost and politics left the M9 as the winner. The reality always remains, we are defended with the cheapest alternative possible not the best.
    Where they missed the boat was in not giving the H&K a real consideration. Less Parts, long life, durable and still light in the hand. I currently own the Sig P226 and an H&K P30 and with ambidextrous safety, which is a far better choice for full military deployment, The key point not discussed above, and which is possible now (I don’t know if it was possible then) is that you can swap barrels on a few of these weapons and change caliber.
    Those wanting more kick and move from 9MM to .40 or higher.
    This changes the magazine and load capacity, but it adds flexibility to support the multiple mission role.

    I final thought. Spec Forces in Granada got into a prolonged firefight with those Cuban engineers ILOL) that were somehow all armed… when we flew in helo’s with reinforcement and resupply of ammo, the ammo didn’t match the weapons the Spec Force guys were using. DUH! If you don’t share the same weapons, and calibers, the logistics become a nightmare. Just saying.

    Semper Fi.

    — Douglas Laurell

  • Jan 04, 2023

    Glocks simply do not last. LE has to replace their service pistols every ten years because the pinned on rails separate from the frame. In terms of accuracy and reliability, Glock shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as SIG, Beretta, or even the 1911. The only reason Glocks took off is their per unit price is cheap. As for the SEALs going to Glock, that was before the adoption of the P320. The 19 will be offered as a back up weapon, but the SEALs, like all US Forces, will be going to M17s and their variants.

    — Kenneth Miller

  • Sep 13, 2022

    As a former 2nd Recon Marine I have trained in some of the muddiest, wet, hot and cold places on the planet as well as service in Desert Storm, Afghanistan etc. Each op had its own diverse environment and situations. I have carried a Sig P229 in LE for 27 years. I also have a Sig P226 and love it. My personal favorite for any mission is the Sig P320. Just after retirement the state LE transitioned from the P229 to the P320. Other local Police departments, Probation and Parole as well as Corrections have swapped out their Glock 19’s for the Sig P320. With the high intensity training and ops. the SEALS go through they might want to look into this absolutely outstanding pistol.

    — James

  • Sep 10, 2022

    Can’t believe the M-17 (Sig P320) isn’t mentioned. Wasn’t it adopted in 2017 as the standard sidearm? Why are they still playing with M9s when the newer M17 is on hand?
    Sorry – I’ve been retired from the military for more than 25 years and I’m out of the loop.

    — Dave Proulx

  • Sep 04, 2022

    This is all a moot point.SEALS have been issued Glock 19’s since 2015 because the Sig Suaer P226 was a rusty failure ridden weapon that couldn’t be relied on any longer.No hate here,just the truth as I worked with the Teams as a SF Combat Diver and we had Glocks and never had problems with them.Ever.They were so boringly reliable it was awe inspiring.No matter what conditions we were in-and most of the time,conditions were terrible,these things never failed to operate.I saw Team guys with Sigs have constant problems-from all sorts of different malfunctions.I am happy they weee issued Glocks as their duty sidearms because there is one thing you should never have to think about-your last line of defense being unreliable.

    — Travis Lane

  • Sep 02, 2022

    Once again over-standardization and management mistaking
    standardization for effectiveness puts the fighting men at greater risk for lack of the best weapons for individual circumstances.

    — Marshall Knight

  • Aug 08, 2022

    as long as it knocks the BAD guy out of the battle it’s a good gun & round

    — Marty White

  • Jul 23, 2022

    The sig and Beretta were the only two guns that passed all the tests. the berretta was the low bidder.

    — another twocents

  • Jul 09, 2022

    I’ve always believed that the selection of the Beretta over the Sig had more to do with naval bases in Italy than any mechanical superiority. Just sayin…

    — Michael Cruvant

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