At the time of the MK23 program R. J. Thomas, was a SEAL Lieutenant Commander who pressed the effort to provide a “secondary weapon system” that was more “potent” then the 9mm. This was based on his personal experience in Vietnam with the Colt 1911 that ultimately resulted in him being awarded the Navy Cross. There were serious “Key Performance Parameters (KPP’s)” that needed to be met in order to achieve the capability required. The state of weapons and ballistics technology at that time implied such an undertaking would be a developmental effort as no production ready handgun offered a double-stack magazine, 15 round capacity, much less the accuracy required at 50 yards, a step up from the MilStd 25yds for a pistol.
The Mk23 was required to shoot <2MOA at this distance and handle +P ammo. This meant a clean shooter and one that is quite robust. H&K and their “K” frame platform won the award and the Mk23 was developed and fielded. The pistol weighed 38oz without magazine or ammunition. One of the most interesting fallouts is that by the time the weapons were fielded countless new pistols had been brought to market by various pistol manufacturers 8120.that would’ve met the initial KPP requirements, in a lighter weight.
There was a lot of BS in why Naval Special Warfare (NSW) went with .45 ACP and much of the conversation was about performance criteria that isn’t based on factual performance. “Stopping power”, “Knock down power”. “Increased lethality” requiring less rounds fired”. Laws of physics get in the way of the first two and common sense the third. Lethality is a black and white measurement. There are no measurable levels. After extensive time (3 years) on the Army’s “Wound Ballistic Integrated Product Team (IPT)” as the USSOCOM representative I can tell you the one and only key to “terminal ballistic performance” of any conventional small caliber munition, and even more so a pistol round, is “shot placement” and accompanied “accuracy”. This is, by far, the #1 factor in determining a pistol’s performance.
One of the key factors in consistent “shot placement” was and remains “form, fit, function” of the weapon in the hands of the user. Although the .45 was a larger projectile than the 9mm, .357, or 38, it provided very little in terms of greater terminal ballistic effect (<10% increase in permanent wound cavity for example). Terms and catch phrases such as “stopping power” and “knock down power” are unsubstantiated. There remains to this day ZERO evidence to demonstrate .45 is better than 9mm or any other pistol munition. It was all psychological. Here’s an interesting fact: 99% of the Mk23’s delivered to NSW never left the armory. The Mk23 with 15 rounds and a suppressor weighed almost 4 pounds. The handgun was nick named the “whopper” because it took 2 hands to handle it. The force was much more confident in the Sig P226 and that is exactly why the P226 was the most widely used / widely carried handgun in the SEAL Teams for the next 25 years.
Tucker Campion is a Retired Navy SEAL Commander, Former SOCOM Project Manager, and Current Partner at SOFACC : Special Operations Forces Applied Capability Corporation. www.sofacc.comHe may be reached through email [email protected]
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