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Elite Marine Corps units to field new pistols

Jul. 19, 2012 - 02:14PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 19, 2012 - 02:14PM  |  
The Marine Corps has awarded a $22.5 million contract to Colt Defense for its M1911A1 Rail Guns.
The Marine Corps has awarded a $22.5 million contract to Colt Defense for its M1911A1 Rail Guns. (Dan Lamothe / Staff)
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The Marine Corps' elite special operations and reconnaissance units will field thousands of new .45-caliber pistols over the next four years, military acquisition officials confirmed Thursday.

The service awarded a $22.5 million contract to Colt Defense for its M1911A1 Rail Guns. The deal was finalized Wednesday night, according to Barb Hamby, a spokeswoman for Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va. Precise details are expected to be released Thursday evening, but there is widespread speculation the order will total some 4,000 firearms.

The pistols will be manufactured at Colt's plant in West Hartford, Conn., and delivered to the Marine Corps by 2017, Hamby said.

Designated the M45 Close Quarter Battle Pistol by the service, Colt's Rail Gun takes a tried and true platform used since World War I and outfits it with a rail at the front of the receiver that can be used to mount the flashlights, lasers and infrared devices preferred by today's special operations forces. While fundamentally unchanged since its inception, the weapon does use the company's newer series 80 firing system, developed during the 1980s to increase safety by adding a firing pin block that prevents the discharge of a live cartridge if the gun is dropped or banged.

The weapon Colt submitted for this contract competition includes a dual recoil spring assembly, meant to reduce recoil. It was furnished in a desert tan color and featured a Cercoat finish designed to reduce reflection and prevent corrosion. The pistol also features more stainless steel parts, which should help it withstand the harsh environments where special operations and reconnaissance Marines operate — particularly in and around saltwater.

It's not immediately clear whether Colt's final prototype also includes all these flourishes.

While standard operating forces throughout the U.S. military use the NATO-standard Beretta M9 pistol, elite military and law enforcement units, including Marine special operations and force recon, have continued to use the 1911. While it requires more maintenance and care than many modern semi-automatic pistols, it is revered for its accuracy and performance in the hands of skilled shooters. Its .45-caliber rounds also pack a heavier punch than the 9mm NATO rounds used in the M9.

Other company's that competed for the contract included Springfield Armory out of Geneseo, Ill., and Karl Lippard Designs of Colorado Springs, Colo.

Staff writers rcurtis@militarytimes.com?subject=Question from MarineCorpsTimes.com reader">Rob Curtis and dlamothe@militarytimes.com?subject=Question from MarineCorpsTimes.com reader">Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.

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