Gun Review: HK USP Tactical 45 – The Civilian MK23

HK USP 45 Tactical

Any in-depth review of the HK USP Tactical 45 has to begin with its predecessor, the HK Mark 23. In the late 1980s, Heckler and Koch responded to a tender offered by the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to develop the Offensive Handgun Weapons System (OHWS). The result, called the MK23, was adopted and placed into production in 1991. It was, as you’d imagine, designed to be used under crazy-extreme conditions and still operate reliably and accurately. When it was adopted by the SEAL teams (and other special operators), there were many smiles gleaming from camo-covered faces.

As with so many other advances in technology, what was developed for the military began to be applied to civilian use. In this case, Heckler & Koch’s USP (Universal Self-loading Pistol) series of handguns began to be produced in 1993, eventually culminating in the H&K USP Tactical in .45ACP. The difference between the Mark 23 and the USP Tactical is that the design has been influenced by design criteria provided by the rest of the military, law enforcement and civilian shooters with tough environment demands. This handgun offers the same advanced design, tough construction, reliability and accuracy of its parent, with enough options to allow a shooter to customize it to suit whatever profile he requires.

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Good things may come in small packages, but this isn’t one of them. The HK USP 45 Tactical has an overall length of 8.64″ (with a sight radius of 6.73″ and a 5.09″ barrel), a height of 5.90″ and a frame width of 1.26″. With an unloaded magazine, the weight is just a shade over two pounds (32.8 ounces). In other words, this handgun has presence, but in a slightly more compact frame than the Mark 23.


The black frame, made of fiber-reinforced polymer, is also stiffened with steel inserts in areas that are subject to stress and friction. Unlike other H&K pistols, there are no replaceable backstraps to fit smaller hands, but the integral backstrap and fore edge of the grip are well checkered for a good, solid hold. An oversized trigger guard is also provided to allow for ease of shooting while wearing gloves. The slide (machined from a single piece of steel) and other metal parts are blued with a “Hostile Environment” finish. This is a tenifer coating, a process using a gas or salt bath of nitrocarbonization, with a polymer coating.

Frame design extends to the location of the controls. The oversized USP control lever, which is a combination safety/decocking lever, is frame mounted for quick access. The extractor also doubles as a loaded chamber indicator. An ambidextrous magazine release allows for a fast reload, no matter what grip is used during shooting. There are also mounting grooves for accessories; although they are designed to accept H&K proprietary mounts, it is possible to mount a Picatinny rail onto which other accessories can be mounted.

Sights and trigger are where firearm and shooter come together. Heckler & Koch uses a high-profile front blade sight combined with a rear sight that is adjustable for windage and elevation. The match-grade trigger is also adjustable, both for preferred firing mode and trigger stop. This is yet another example of how the designers of the USP Tactical allow each shooter to make his pistol uniquely his own.

A modified Browning-type action includes Heckler & Koch’s special recoil reduction system. This system, which does not require any special adjustment or maintenance, not only lowers the felt recoil for the shooter, but reduces stress on the handgun’s components. The modular design of the USP’s internal components allows for nine variations, combinations of the location of the control lever (right, left or none) and either the double/single action or double action only (each with or without the “safe” position). This isn’t custom gunsmithing, keep in mind, but standard options available straight from the factory.

Heckler & Koch are among the few gunmakers who continue to use the hammer-forged polygonal rifled barrels. Although more difficult (and expensive) to manufacture, these barrels provide a better seal around the projectile during firing, resulting in at least a marginal increase in velocity and accuracy. More importantly, the design reduces the build-up of copper or lead in the bore and prolongs the barrel life.

The “tactical” in H&K USP 45 Tactical includes a longer, threaded barrel with 16×1 left-hand threads and an O-ring. This makes it suppressor-ready, suitable for anything from the Vortex flash suppressor to the SilencerCo Osprey and AAC Ti-Rant sound suppressors. This is where the high-profile front sight becomes particularly useful, since it will be visible above the “can” for aimed fire in a suppressed mode.

The Heckler & Koch USP 45 Tactical is available where you find HK guns for sale, including Omaha Outdoors. Given the handgun’s design, particularly the high profile front sight (let alone other add-ons), it will probably be necessary to get a custom holster, but that only seems fitting for a handgun that itself offers so many choices for customization. Best of all, any shooter who owns one will have the confidence that this handgun is part of the same family of firearms made for the harshest conditions into which the United States military sends its toughest men.

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