Prior to the 1980s,  the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had a long history of revolver use, despite early flirtations with the Smith & Wesson (S&W) Model 1913 in .35 S&W and limited issues of the Colt Government Model and Super .38 during the gangster era of the 1930s.

Things began to change starting with the FBI’s Special Weapons & Tactics (SWAT) teams, circa 1981.  Previously issued round-butt S&W Model 19 revolvers, SWAT evaluated three 9x19mm pistol designs: the Beretta 92S-1, the prototype FN HP-DA, and the S&W Model 459.  Ultimately, the latter was selected.  However, it is difficult to track down the specifics of these orders due to their concurrent status with the Bureau’s orders for general issue S&W Model 13 revolvers.

Next came the establishment of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) in 1982-1983.  It appears that the HRT did not get its signature Browning Hi-Powers until at least a month after the unit was first activated in August 1983.  The pistols were purchased from Howco Distributors Inc., a law enforcement distributor for Fabrique National, on contract JFBI83130.

After the Miami/Dade Shootout of April 11, 1986, the FBI was not completely satisfied with any of the commercially available pistols in 9x19mm and .45 Auto. Until a suitable semi-auto service pistol could be selected for general issue, individual agents would still be issued S&W Model 13 revolvers.

In August 1987, the FBI formed its Weapons Evaluation and Selection Advisory Group, composed of 13 firearms instructors and a gunsmith from the FBI Academy and eight Field Division. Their task was to evaluate samples of nine different pistols in 9x19mm and .45 Auto. These included the S&W Model 645 and SIG-Sauer P220 in .45, as well as the Beretta 92F, Glock 17 and 19, ITM AT84 (a Swiss CZ75 clone), Ruger P85, S&W Model 459, and SIG-Sauer P226. 

The ITM AT84 was quickly rejected as it lacked a decocker for its conventional DA/SA lockwork. On a scale of 750 points, the evaluators rated the S&W 645 as the best overall (730), followed by the SIG-Sauer P226 (710). The remainder of the field scored as follows: S&W 459 (705), Beretta 92F (690), SIG-Sauer P220 (665), Glock 17 (620), Glock 19 (620), and Ruger P85 (575).

This was followed up in September 1987 by the FBI Firearms Training Unit’s (FTU) Wound Ballistics Seminar, which included Dr. Martin Fackler and other outside experts on wound ballistics. The workshop’s report established the importance of adequate penetration and the size of the permanent “crush” cavity in determining handgun cartridge effectiveness. This would ultimately kick-start the development of the FTU’s famous series of gelatin tests using various barrier media (light/heavy clothing, auto glass, sheet metal, wallboard, and plywood.)

The seminar’s general recommendation was that there would be no significant difference between 9mm subsonic Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) loads like the 147gr Olin Super Match (OSM) and commercial .45 Auto JHP. However, the .45 Auto would be preferred over any lightweight/high velocity 9mm JHP load. In .45 Auto, preference was given to the Remington 185gr JHP load due to its moderate expansion and deep penetration.

The earlier Weapon Evaluation and Selection Advisory Group study appears to have served double-duty as an evaluation for FBI SWAT’s replacement of the S&W Model 459.  In January 1988, the FBI signed a contract for 1,500 SIG-Sauer P226 pistols – JFBI88014. 

While FBI SWAT’s immediate needs were now satisfied, the FBI held yet another weapons forum in May 1988 to establish the ideal characteristics for a general issue semi-auto pistol to replace the Model 13 revolver. This forum was not limited to the FBI, but also included representatives from Federal, state, and local agencies, as well as the US military.  

Around August 1988, agents were authorized to carry personally-owned semi-auto pistols in 9x19mm, which was expanded later that year to .45 Auto pistols. In both calibers, these choices were limited primarily to models from S&W and SIG-Sauer. Even with personally-owned pistols, only FTU-approved ammunition could be carried.

The FTU’s unit chief John C. Hall introduced the 10mm cartridge into the FTU’s gelatin testing trials using his own Colt Delta Elite. However, the full power 10mm loads like the Norma 170gr JHP were quickly dismissed from consideration for adoption.  By December 1988, the FTU had developed its own mid-velocity 10mm load. The load in question used a Sierra 180gr JHP loaded over 5.2gr of Hercules Bullseye.  

On the basis of the early testing of the mid-velocity 10mm load, FBI Director William S. Sessions approved the 10mm cartridge’s adoption for use in the Bureau’s future issue pistol in February 1989.

Basically, the FBI and FTU had advocates for both the 9x19mm (Bill Vanderpool) and .45 Auto (Urey W. Patrick) and the choice of 10mm had the political advantage of splitting the difference. It could potentially satisfy agents who blamed the failure in Miami on the 9mm cartridge, and would never trust it even with different ammunition. The mid-velocity 10mm’s ballistics were close enough to the .45 ACP, yet it was not burdened with the negative connotations of the .45’s mythology.

There was talk that the Director Sessions and other FBI leaders feared that Congress would balk on funding new .45 Auto pistols for the FBI when the US Army had just dumped the .45 for new 9mm pistols. 

Again, the FBI never adopted a full power 10mm loading as general issue ammunition. I’m not even certain it was ever authorized for individual agents with their SAC’s sign-off. (Previously, a SAC could authorize an individual agent’s use of an FTU-approved .357 Magnum load instead of their general issue .38 Special load.)

The FBI’s solicitation for 10mm pistols was issued in May 1989, with the Request for Proposals (RFP 4756) released on June 26, 1989. While 21 manufacturers had indicated interest, only two of these manufacturers actually submitted test pistols: Colt and S&W. 

Glock filed an agency level protest with the FBI on July 11, 1989.  After the FBI rejected their protest, Glock filed a Government Accounting Office (GAO) protest on August 14, 1989, claiming that S&W already had an inside track on the contract, given their close relationship with the FTU.  Indeed, S&W had begun fabricating prototype 10mm pistols in late 1988 at the FTU’s request (both full-size and compact) delivering them by February 1989 for the FTU’s gelatin testing. 

Glock also pointed to the short time between the release of the RFP and the deadline for submissions, which was originally one month. While the FTU pushed back the deadline by roughly 3 weeks, it was done at S&W’s request. In addition, Glock claimed that the requirements for a steel-frame DA/SA pistol were arbitrary. However, the GAO dismissed Glock’s protest on December 26, 1989.

With the GAO protest out of the way, the FBI formally selected the S&W Model 1076. The FBI signed a contract with S&W on January 4, 1990 for 9,500 pistols – JFBI90012.  In February 1990, S&W delivered the first fifty of the required 250 pistols for post-award, pre-production testing. S&W delivered the remaining 200 pre-production pistols in May 1990. The FTU  distributed these among every field office for field testing. 

There is a myth that the TEU-serial prefix of these pistols was short for either “Test & Evaluation Unit” or “Technical Evaluation Unit.”  S&W just happened to hit this letter combination for semi-auto pistol serial number prefixes when these pistols were assembled.  The pre-production pistols were shipped without the wide-spaced tritium night sights, and also lacked the significant relief cut at the rear of the slide stop for access to the decocking lever.

The FBI Academy began issuing the production 1076 to new agents in July 1990. However, the general issue of the 1076 to field agents did not begin until December 1990. The delay was caused by the Quantico Gun Vault armorers’ inability to process more than 100 new pistols per week.  As a result, the contract with S&W had only demanded deliveries of 100 pistols per week.

Alas, the general issue of the 1076 was short-lived because of serious malfunctions in the field and during range training. The incident in the field had happened in all places, Miami FL. After an arrest, an agent attempted to unload his 1076 and could not rack the slide. Further examination noted that the trigger could not be pulled, nor could the hammer be cocked. As a result, the pistol would not have been able to fire if needed. 

Another two lockups happened on the range in Tampa, FL and Oklahoma City, OK.  At least one serious malfunction even  occurred during New Agent training at Quantico. According to Bill Vanderpool, nearly the entire class lost faith in their new pistols, and demanded replacements.

In April 1991, Director Sessions approved the formation of a new working group to study the problems encountered with the S&W 1076. This group was headed up by Danny O. Coulson, founding leader of the FBI HRT.  On May 30, 1991, the group came back with the recommendation that all of the 1076 in service be withdrawn immediately for repair and modification. 

Additional recommendations included not allowing the Gun Vault at Quantico to modify pistols prior to initial issue. The Gun Vault had continued to be a major bottleneck in the distribution of the 1076, as only a fraction of the pistols delivered by S&W by this point had even made it into the hands of field agents.  Reportedly, only around 750 pistols had been issued out of the approximately 2,000 pistols accepted. 

The very next day, on May 31st, the FBI and S&W formally announced the recall of the FBI’s 1076 pistols.  In August 1991, S&W also issued a commercial recall for certain frame-mounted decocker models (Models 1026, 1076, 4526, 4536, 4576, 5924, 5926, 6924, and 6926) to recover any FBI-style parts that had made it into pistols sold on the retail market.  (Curiously, the Model 4026 was not included in this recall. Could the latter have all been assembled after the affected lots?) 

The custom gunsmiths of the S&W Performance Center were brought in to solve the issue, which took more than a year of experimentation and testing. The difficulty with the 1076 was ultimately tracked back to the FTU’s previous request that S&W reduce the 1076 trigger’s initial takeup to suit the FTU “trigger-prepping” technique. (Ironically, Glock had pointed out in their 1989 GAO protest that this technique was flawed and unsafe.) S&W had reportedly modified the trigger hooks where they engaged the drawbar.  Upon inserting a loaded magazine, the drawbar could be lifted just enough that the modified trigger hooks would lock up the drawbar and disable the pistol.

By October 1992, S&W finally came up with a solution that was acceptable to the FBI. On November 30, 1992, Director Sessions formally announced that the FBI would acquire 2,400 new production S&W 1076 pistols. These pistols would be assembled by the S&W Performance Center, and delivered over the period of 12 months. (The original lot of returned pistols were disposed of by S&W through commercial channels after refurbishment.) 

While individual agents could keep their replacement 1076 if they so desired, by this point most official interest had been lost in the 10mm pistol and cartridge.  The FBI’s primary 10mm advocate, John Hall, had been replaced as FTU Unit Chief in 1991 by Jim Pledger.  The FTU had even released a report in September 1991 recommending the termination of the S&W 1076 contract.  In the end, no follow-on purchases of the 1076 were ever made, and the contract was ultimately cancelled.

In the interim, the May 1991 recall of the S&W 1076 created an urgent need for temporary replacement weapons for Special Agents until the issues concerning the 1076’s reliability could be resolved. While older agents had been trained on revolvers, reissuing Model 13 revolvers was not considered a viable option for the new agents who had only been trained on the 1076.

The FBI’s solution was to reissue the 1987 specifications written for FBI SWAT’s replacement pistols. On June 17, 1991, the FBI sent solicitations to two of the top finishers in the previous procurement competition – Beretta and SIGARMS. 

This was mainly a formality as the FBI’s Weapon Evaluation and Selection Advisory Group had already recommended that the SIG-Sauer P226 was the pistol best meeting the FBI’s needs. On July 3, 1991, Director Sessions announced that the Bureau signed a contract with SIGARMS (JFBI91211) for the purchase of 1,000 P226 pistols, with an option to purchase an additional 1,000 pistols. (The option was reportedly exercised immediately.)

However, even the initial issue of the P226 did not go smoothly. During firearms training at the FBI Academy, five pistols malfunctioned. In each instance, the slide catch lever caused the slide to lock back back and would not allow the slide to be released manually. This caused each weapon to be incapable of firing. This condition occurred within the first 100 rounds fired, with each weapon in new condition.

In response, SIGARMS advised that the SIG-Sauer P226 pistols with serial numbers 447000-447999 might have been assembled with improperly manufactured slide catch levers. Six hundred pistols from this series were included in the FBI’s 1991 purchase.  SIGARMS requested that these parts be replaced in all of the P226 purchased by the FBI.  The pistols were ultimately returned to the Quantico Gun Vault for upgrade with the new part.

In September 1992, the FBI began piggybacking orders for SIG-Sauer P228 off of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) contract DEA92C0006.  A series of FBI orders via the DEA contract continued through 1995, and in September 1996, the FBI ordered its last batch of P228 off of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) contract with SIGARMS – TATF9615.

It is a myth that the FBI dropped the 10mm for the .40 S&W.  Bill Vanderpool insists that S&W and Winchester had kept its 1989 development a secret from the FTU.  While the May 1991 Coulson memo suggested the .40 S&W cartridge as a potential replacement for the 10mm, the FTU resisted approving a .40 S&W load for privately owned weapons for several years.  Until an official .40 load was approved, there would be no pistols allowed in that caliber.  

The FTU ultimately selected a mid-velocity load using a 165gr JHP, instead of a clone of their mid-velocity 180gr 10mm load.   The earliest known gelatin tests of these mid-velocity loads were completed in August 1993.  

However, it is unclear when any .40 S&W pistols were actually approved for carry.   The FTU reportedly approved the S&W Sigma SW40F as the first privately-owned weapon chambered in .40 S&W, followed by the Glock 27 and SIG-Sauer P229.

The FBI finally issued a solicitation for .40 caliber Double-Action Only pistols (RFP 6935) in February 1996.  It would take until May 1997 for the FBI to announce the adoption of the Glock 22 and 23 (JFBI97052). The first Glocks would not be issued to new agents until October 1997.  Note that the former FTU Unit Chief Jim Pledger had retired from the Bureau in 1996 and then became Glock’s national sales manager.

As Duncan covered earlier at the former LooseRounds site, the FBI started justifying a return to 9x19mm as early as May 2014.  On July 25, 2014, the FBI followed up with a presolicitation notice for 9x19mm semi-auto pistols.   The FBI issued the actual solicitation on October 7, 2015.   Glock was announced as the winner on June 29, 2016 (DJF-16-1200-V-0006459).

As mentioned earlier, FBI’s HRT and SWAT had already been issued 9x19mm semi-auto pistols for several years.  While FBI SWAT had  switched from the S&W Model 459 to the SIG-Sauer P226 in 1988, the HRT had kept their Wayne Novak-customized 9mm Browning Hi-Powers.  This was about to change.  In April 1994, the FBI released RFP 6564 for a “.45 caliber, single action, high capacity, semi-automatic pistol.”  Each entrant was to submit five pistols for testing by June 7, 1994.  

Cylinder & Slide, Les Baer Custom, and Wilson Combat each submitted pistols.  The  FBI’s evaluation team thoroughly inspected each of the submitted pistols for compliance with the RFP.  Two of the five samples were randomly selected for accuracy testing.  The pistols were required to shoot 2″ ten-shot groups at 25 yards with 230gr Federal Hydra-Shok ammo.  A third pistol was selected for the abuse testing.  The remaining two pistols underwent a 20,000 round endurance test, again with Federal Hydra-Shok.  

The Les Baer submission was the only entry that passed every aspect of testing and was the only submission that passed the 25 yard accuracy tests.  Recorded groups reportedly averaged around 1.5″.  

Awarded the contract in September 1994 (JFBI94173), Baer Custom’s gunsmiths built the pistols from the ground up using high capacity Para-Ordnance P14.45 frames.  This package was known commercially as the SRP – Swift Response Pistol. 

Unfortunately, Matt Gish, the pistolsmith that did most of the work on the trials SRP pistols left to start his own shop in 1996.  Baer allegedly tried to cut some corners on the delivered contract pistols, including the substitution of a different finish than the trials submitted Birdsong Black-T.  There were also endemic issues with the Para-Ordnance magazines.  

In the end, pistolsmith Steve Nastoff was called in to attempt to correct the delivered pistols’ deficiencies. Reportedly, only 75 SRP pistols were delivered out of the 250 ordered before the contract was canceled.

With the HRT’s switch to .45 Auto in the mid-1990s, FBI SWAT expressed interest in procuring a similar pistol, yet not a double-stack like the Baer SRP.  The FBI released a solicitation for a single-stack, single-action .45 semi-auto pistol on July 19, 1996, with  RFP 6990 issued a few months later on October 25, 1996.  

The FBI received proposals and pistols for testing from eight companies by May 15, 1997: Baer Custom,  Colt’s Mfg. Co., Colt Competition (C-More Systems), Cylinder & Slide,  Kimber, Professional Gunsmithing Inc. (Matt Gish), Springfield Armory Custom Shop, and Wilson Combat.  

Bear Custom and Cylinder & Slide quickly dropped out over worries concerning the RFP’s follow-on service and warranty requirements.  Other manufacturers complained about the accuracy requirements – 1.5″ 10-round groups at 25 yards with 230gr Remington Golden Sabre ammunition.  In the end, only Professional Gunsmithing Inc. and the Springfield Armory Custom Shop passed all of the requirements.

In April 1998, FBI SWAT selected the Springfield Armory Bureau Model, now commercially known as the Professional Model (JFBI98059).  Matt Gish filed a GAO appeal, which was rejected.  Ironically, Gish would quit private gunsmithing several years later and go to work for the FBI maintaining the Baer Custom and Springfield Custom pistols for the HRT and SWAT.

Sources indicate that the HRT ultimately transitioned to the Springfield Professional Model as well as their limited supply of the Baer SRP began to wear out. There is word that even the Professional Model is on the way out as the Bureau transitions back to 9x19mm.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s