Hey guys, welcome back. Today I’m going to talk to you about Beretta. Beretta is one of the oldest manufacturers of firearms. They’ve been manufacturing firearms for 500 years. It’s not a public company.
It’s a privately-owned family business. They’ve been manufacturing firearms for civilians and militaries worldwide, including the US military. As a matter of fact, in 1985 when Beretta won the M9 service pistol contract, they set up manufacturing facilities here in the United States in Accokeek, Maryland.
A lot of people have had a lot of interest about the Accokeek, Maryland facility, including myself. We had the unique opportunity to go to Accokeek and tour the Beretta factory. Let’s get going.
The first thing we wanted to do when we got to Beretta was to learn a little bit more about the M9 service pistol. I wanted to learn about its history and how it became America’s service pistol in 1985.
Can you tell us a little bit about the M9 service pistol with regards to the US Army and Us Marine Corp?
Sure, the M9 has a very interesting history. The first time that Beretta started working with the US military on pistols goes back to the mid-70s. At the time, there was a test conducted by the Air Force — it was managed by the Air Force — the [phonetic] JSAP trials.
The pistol, the Beretta 92 — at the time was called the Beretta 92 — passed those tests. It then actually passed two more government tests. One was the XM9 trials in the mid-80s and then the XM10 trials in the late 80s.
We call the Beretta M9 the most detested pistol in the US military because it actually not only passed one test, not two, but actually three military tests and won all three. In 1985, we were awarded the contract for the M9 pistol.
Today, we’ve made approximately 600,000, including foreign military sales, of the M9 pistol for the US Armed Forces. We’ve been making the M9 pistol here at the Accokeek facility since 1987. We employ a workforce of about 300 Americans.
We’ve been making pistols since then. In 2012, we were awarded a contract for an additional 100,000 units of M9 pistols. It’s an IDIQ contract so a 5-year contract that can order as many as 100,000. Today, we have about 18,000 delivery orders of that pistol on hand.
Relatively recently, the Marine Corp. adopted a new M9 pistol, the M9A1. What are the differences between the M9 and M9A1?
Correct. The US Marine Corp. back in 2006 had a requirement for an improved M9. One of their primary needs was an accessory rail. They need to attach lights and lasers to the pistol very easily. The M9 does not have that feature.
They approached Beretta, and we quoted what then became the M9A1, which is primarily an M9 with an accessory rail. There are some other features that came with it. For example, it has a sand-resistant magazine which we had developed due to the desert wars that now expose our pistols to a very, very fine sand.
That fine sand gets everywhere, gets in every system, every weapon system and just penetrates inside. It was penetrating our magazine, and the sand was accumulating there. By redesigning the magazine both internally with some geometric changes and also with a very, very high lubricity surface finish, we have improved that magazine’s performance in the sandy and dusty environments of the desert.
Also, a few other changes — we did have front and back strap check rings on the M9A1 just to improve the grip-ability and an improved magazine well-beveled, just to make the magazine insertion a little bit easier.
Another item in the news recently is that the US Army has announced their intentions to perhaps adopt a new service handgun. How does that affect Beretta? What’s your response to that?
The US Army, the Module and Handgun System, the MHS program is ongoing. The army is asking basically industry to provide newer designs, new pistol designs, improved pistol designs and also kind of keeping the caliber open at this time.
It’s an open caliber competition at this time. Beretta’s position: we will obviously participate in MHS but at the same time we’re also positioned and we’ve done this already for the past few years.
We also believe that the M9 can be improved, just like the US Marine Corp. demonstrated. Many of the improvements that the army is asking in the [inaudible][04:46] system, we believe can be accomplished much, much more cost-effectively on an M9 platform.
The M9A1 is currently the United States Marine Corp’s service pistol. This is the latest version of the handgun. However, the army has expressed interest in adopting a new handgun to replace the M9.
Beretta is proposing the M9A3, which they recently announced. We’ll learn in the future whether or not the army will actually adopt the M9A3 or perhaps another handgun.
We have a lot of ideas including those which are in our commercial pistols today that are improvements over the M9. The M9 TDP, the technical data package, is owned by the army. They’re free to do whatever they want to it.
They don’t have to ask our opinion. Our point is if they just look at our commercial pistol which we sell today at the dealer’s, there are many, many characteristics there that they’re asking for. Again, our opinion could be much more cost-effectively introduced rather than spending a lot of money on a new platform that will require new training, new holstering, new technical literature, new logistic supply chains, et cetera.
Something you may consider is to propose the M9 going forward with just some changes, making some changes perhaps to the caliber if necessary or grip design changes or safety changes — things that the army is asking for.
You may resubmit the M9 to those trials.
Sure. That’s what we plan to do, whether it’s during the MHS trials or in some other form. We believe we can address a lot of those issues, even the issue of caliber. The Beretta 92 platform can be manufactured in .40 caliber.
We call it the Model 96. We could introduce a .40 caliber if that’s needed. We could work with ammunition manufacturers for improved accuracy and improved [inaudible][06:38] ammunitions in 9 mm. We believe we can address many, many of the issues that the army is raising with an improved M9 platform.
Let’s say that the army adopts the 40 Smith & Wesson. With the M9 — it’s obviously basically an M9 with a .40 caliber conversion kit — would you be able to make available retrofit kits that would save the army money.
They could use some of the existing inventory that they have, update them to .40 caliber and move forward.
Yes, we could. We could develop a conversion kit made up of a slide, a barrel and a magazine that could swap — you could be able to swap an M9 platform generic frame. By swapping those parts, you could convert that pistol to 9mm or to .40 caliber use.
One of the things that impressed me most about the tour of the factory and taking a look at the M9 pistol and of the Model 92s was the amount of hand-fitting that went into these handguns. Parts like this barrel were actually hand fit into the handguns.
We also noticed that the slides and frames on all the pistols were hand fit by skilled technicians. Another thing that struck me about the tour of the factory was the fact that every single step of the process had an incredible amount of testing.
Each part was tested pretty much at every stage. Even the tooling used to manufacture the parts is tested regularly. The amount of testing and attention to detail that goes into the construction of these handguns actually took me by surprise.
The original components, the raw materials, come into this lab that I’m standing in now. They get tested. Once they’re approved, they’re sent out for a forging to be made, which I have in my hands.
This forging is also tested before it goes out to final finishing. When this is finished, which looks like a complete M9 slide, it comes back in for a testing again to test to make sure that the final finish and surface treatments are correct.
Then it goes out for the black finish you’re all familiar with and it gets assembled into a complete firearm. In my hand I’m holding an M9 barrel. These barrels are tested to make sure that they’re within specification.
Behind me, those tests are being conducted. Now what happens is they’ll take a sample set of barrels from a production lot and make sure that they’re within those specifications. if one barrel is out of specification, that entire lot is inspected and tested.
Regardless of that, each one of these barrels, 100 percent of them, will be visually inspected. Keeping with old world tradition, every single barrel here at Beretta is hand-polished.
Both the civilian handguns and the military contract handguns are assembled on the exact, same line. I thought that was interesting. The testing between the two is a little bit different. This is what I found also to be interesting is the fact that many people automatically assume that if it’s a government contract built pistol that it’s to a lower standard perhaps than a civilian-made pistol.
The exact opposite is true. While they’re both built on the exact same production line, the military actually has more stringent testing requirements than the civilian side of the house does. Either way, you’re getting a very high quality handgun with a surprising number of parts that are hand fit by technicians.
Beretta is of course known for building quality firearms. When you think of the name Beretta, of course you think of firearms. Beretta is moving into the high-technology field. Beretta showcased some stuff that I found to be particularly interesting.
These are force multipliers that when used on military service weapons, and even in the civilian world, will definitely improve the functionality of a fighting rifle. Beretta Defense Technologies, when I came into the facility today I saw the shirts. I was unfamiliar with what BDT was.
What is Beretta Defense Technologies?
Beretta Defense Technologies is a relatively new initiative at the Beretta Group companies. It is a strategic alliance of four brands, Beretta, Benelli, Sako and Steiner that together are able to provide solutions to the defense community in terms of products and services.
We are able to take each company’s unique and very extensive knowhow in a particularly segment and in the future develop systems from the ground up that will provide additional capabilities to our customers, primarily in the military and law enforcement community.
This is an example of the old way to do it. You take a flashlight, which has its own battery compartment and its own battery, then you put it on the rail. Of course you’re adding weight — because now you have on the other side a laser that has its own battery compartment and batteries on the other side.
You keep on adding weight primarily to the front of the gun. Now that can become this. Now you have a simple accessory adapter and just the light head.
Plus you get rid of the plumbing, the wires and all the stuff that are snag points.
Correct. All the snag points go away. The weight goes away. The redundancy of batteries goes away. Everything is consolidated in a stock. The stock solution — here’s a bread board that demonstrates the concept.
Here you have what would obviously be hidden in a stock, the battery pack. The army’s favoring standard double AA batteries for simplified logistics around the world. They can be found anywhere.
This can be as high-tech as rechargeable lithium ions. Again, the army right now wants simple AA batteries. You power a rail that can transfer not only power to and from the rail but also data. Now I can transfer a video image, a laser range finder, ranging information…
I can transfer data back and forth and power back and forth. I can apply control panel anywhere I want on the rail. I can put that anywhere I want where it’s ergonomically comfortable. I can program the buttons to do several things.
In this case, that button obviously is activating the lights. This next button can activate a laser. The next button can activate a laser range finder, et cetera. By doing this, I am removing, again, the bulk and weight of redundant battery systems and battery compartments and simplifying control.
Under stress now the soldier only has four consolidated buttons or three consolidated buttons to think about and not remember “Okay, I’ve got to turn this lever, push that button, do this and that.” It’s all under his fingertips.
One concern is redundancy of batteries. Again, because it’s new technology, people obviously are nervous about that. It’s a yet to be proven technology. They’re concerned. “Well, what happens if this battery pack fails?”
Well, our answer to that is — again, until the technology is proven to their satisfaction, we can supply redundant power systems. For example, we can have a battery pack that’s carried by the soldier that can be clamped on to any part of the rail and will provide instantaneous emergency backup power.
About 3 years ago, Beretta announced a shot show they would be introducing, the ARX-100, which is a semi-automatic version of the ARX-160, which is currently the Italian military service rifle. When they announced the gun, there was quite a bit of excitement about it at the shows.
People were giving Beretta a hard time because they fell behind on the delivery schedule a little bit ni bringing it to the US civilian market. When the gun arrived, it seemed as though some of the excitement petered out. I was still pretty excited to get my hands on the rifle.
Now, in the US market, the AR-15 is the rifle to beat. How this rifle compares to the AR-15 is really tough. It really appeals to a different market. This was designed from the ground up to meet the military needs of the Italian armed forces.
When I started looking at the gun, that’s the perspective I took when I was evaluating the rifle. From looking at it in that light, I came to conclude that the rifle really has some pretty unique features. From an engineering standpoint, it’s actually quite ingenious.
Internally, I found the engineering of the ARX-100 to be intriguing. Taking a look at the bolt, this is where I found probably one of the most interesting features. On the face of the bolt, we have two extractors and two ejectors.
When you switch the rifle from left to right-hand ejection, you’re simply moving a cross block pin, which is a very simple mechanism, either left or right which then allows you to use one side or the other as the ejector or the extractor.
In essence, this is giving you two extractors and two ejectors. If one extractor should fail, with the tip of a bullet you can make the weapon operational again. It’s rather ingenious. The whole system is extremely simple in design.
Another thing that I found to be interesting about the rifle was just how quickly and easily you could remove the barrel from the rifle. Not only does the barrel come out for easy cleaning and replacement, but when you put the barrel back in the gun it actually does maintain zero.
I will admit that the rifle isn’t a sub-MOA rifle, but most military rifles aren’t intended to be. As a matter of fact, the US M4 is expected to hold about three MOA at 100 yards with military ball ammunition. The ARX-100 easily meets those specifications.
I have found the rifle to be extremely well made, very durable, very reliable and easy to maintain. I also like the fact that the gun that I’m holding here, the civilian version, is 100 percent made in the United States — everything from the cold hammer forged barrel to the injection-molded Palmer body.
It’s all made here in the United States. We got a chance to look at that of course when we toured the Beretta factory. The traditional way to make a barrel in the United States has been to take a barrel blank and pull a cutting tool through the barrel that would then cut the rifling into the barrel.
Some would argue, I would argue that the best way to make a barrel is to hammer forge it. This process is nothing new. It’s been used in Europe for a long time. The process is just now starting to make its way to the United States.
What I have in my hands right now is a barrel blank. This is the beginning of what will become an ARX-100 barrel. It has no rifling. As you can see, it’s relatively short and thick. This barrel blank is placed in that machine, which is the hammer forge, and what comes out is a rough barrel that looks like this.
Next they’ll take the rough barrel, which I have in my hands, and they’ll put it in this machine. This machine will put a rough contour on the barrel. What comes out looks like almost a completed ARX-100 barrel, but there’s still a little bit more to be done to it.
The last step in making an ARX-100 barrel is to cut the shoulder, get it perfectly dimensioned. Again, this is where the barrel head spaces on the rifle. Also, the machine, this diameter here, which is around the chamber area, which is a critical fit where it locks into the quick change barrel system of the rifle…
Then the last step is cutting or contouring the barrel here, which is where the gas block sets on the barrel. The barrel is one small component of the total ARX-100 package. At the Accokeek facilities, Beretta manufactures all the components and assembles them into the new, complete rifle.
The ARX-100 has its own dedicated assembly area where technicians conduct final assembly before the rifles are sent out for quality assurance and test firing. Here’s something I found to be really interesting. Every single rifle is taking to a test fire area where it’s not only tested for reliable function with standard commercial ball ammunition, but every rifle is also tested with a proof load.
A proof load is loaded above normal operating pressures. This is done to assure the quality and integrity of the barrel. I’ve never seen such tests conducted on every firearm before. I believe this speaks volumes to Beretta’s commitment to quality and testing.
Alright guys, I hope you enjoyed taking a tour of the Beretta factory. It was a unique opportunity for us. We really enjoyed it. I learned quite a bit about the manufacturing of Beretta firearms. If you guys have any questions about anything you see in this video, you can ask those questions on our Facebook page.
Again everybody, thanks for watching. We’ll talk to you guys soon.