Sig Sauer—The Rich History & Tenuous Future of a Military Mainstay
Elite military personnel and law enforcement officials carry SIG handguns in their holsters to this day. The name Sig Sauer is synonymous with innovation and excellence, but it has been a long time coming and recent revelations suggest the gun maker still has some kinks to work out.
Here is a quick overview of the origins of Sig Sauer and their current position in global military operations.
The Birth of Sig Sauer
In 1853, Friedrich Peyer im Hof, Heinrich Moser and Johann Conrad Neher founded Schweizerische Waggon Fabrik, aka Swiss Wagon Factory. Their goal was to become a successful wagon factory above the Rhine Falls in Switzerland, but something else would end up putting them on the map.
The company was first recognized for its achievements in 1860 when a state-of-the-art rifle they created won a competition by Switzerland’s Federal Ministry of Defense. As a result, they landed a contract to produce 30,000 Prelaz-Burnand rifles.
Upon receipt of this lucrative contract, the company promptly changed its name to Swiss Industrial Company or SIG for short. Despite these auspicious beginnings as a manufacturer of long guns, the company would go on to develop a range of pistols starting with 1947’s SIG P210.
This single-action semi-automatic handgun was adopted by the Swiss military in 1949 and was lauded for its precision design and performance.
In the 1970s, SIG’s small arms division expanded to include Hammerli Target Arms from Lenzburg, Switzerland, and J.P. Sauer & Sohn, GmbH, of Eckernforde, West Germany, the latter of which was renowned the world over for its hunting rifles.
The following decade would see the introduction of SIG to the American market, cementing its reputation as an international leader in small arms.
SIG Goes America
In 1985, SIGARMS, INC. was born; it quickly moved from its first US location in Tyson, Virginia after the importation of the P220 and the P230, respectively. The P220 was first developed in 1975. It was adopted for military use by Japan for general issue and by Denmark for special forces.
It has been used as a standard service handgun for US Park Rangers of the National Park Service as well as the Irvine Police Department.
1992 marked the advent of production of the P229 chambered in .40 S&W. The manufacturer began providing superior customer support from highly qualified gunsmiths and cutting-edge training at a newly minted New Hampshire facility.
At this point, the company had long since expanded to a larger location in Herndon, Virginia where they continued to pride themselves on innovation and ergonomic design.
The Browning Method
All SIG Classic variants operate by the locked breech short-recoil method pioneered by John Browning, the American firearms designer renowned for his military firearms, cartridges and gun mechanisms.
Their locked breech barrels confine high-pressure gas to the barrel, permitting the gas to expand and cool without compromising the integrity of the weapon or the shooter.
US Military Adoption
Few civilian gun enthusiasts are aware of SIG’s American military history. This is due in part to the wide circulation of the Beretta M9. However, SIG’s P-series pistols has served military officers well. In 1984, the P226 was entered into the US military’s pistol replacement competition.
Although it lost to the Beretta in terms of cost, the Navy ordered several P226s and issued them as sidearms. In 1988, the P228 was introduced as a compact, stamped-slide variant of the P226. One year later, the US Army adopted this 9mm M11 pistol for military police units. The snub-nosed handgun was also embraced by their Criminal Investigation Division.
Subsequent variants would be pressed into service by the Coast Guard who found that it surpassed the Beretta in a rigorous test of 46 disparate handgun models. The P229R DAK with its under-slide rail became the handgun of choice among law enforcement officers.
SIG Today & Tomorrow
The SIG name remains a prominent one today; the Sig Sauer P238 Army Micro-Compact is widely considered to be one of the best compact handguns for concealed carry. Weighing less than a pound, it is chambered in .380ACP and features a durable and comfortable rubber finger groove grip.
Another example of a modern SIG firearm is the SIG Sauer MCX, an innovative and modular semi-automatic rifle.
Many companies offer military discounts on Sig Sauer handguns and other products and services via their respective websites.
On November 28th, 2017, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) became the first unit to field the US Army’s new Sig Sauer M17 and M18 Modular Handgun System. Colonel Derek K. Thomson of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st ABN DIV (AASLT) called it an “absolute honor” for the soldiers in his command to be the first to witness the modernization.
As with all businesses, Sig Sauer has had its ups and downs. Earlier in the year, they faced major backlash after a series of reports rolled in about safety defects. The online rumor mill claimed that the P320 variant was prone to accidental discharges when dropped.
These allegations were confirmed after two videos surfaced that showed the pistol firing when dropped on its magazine base. The videos in question demonstrate that the mass of the trigger when jarred results in the trigger moving enough to trip the pistol’s sear.
All of this would seem to run counter to the gun maker’s long-time reputation for innovation and excellence. There is also speculation that among the gun community that the bullet caliber of the P320 is ineffective for defensive purposes. Some have said that it is not as powerful as the 9mm.
The fundamental problem with the design is one of absence. The P320 lacks a built-in trigger safety and, therefore, does not safeguard against unintentional discharge.
This year, a Pentagon report emerged that pointed to multiple issues with the P320. Extensive testing revealed trigger assemblies splintering apart in two pistols and an overall propensity for ejecting live rounds during normal functioning.
These jams and accidental discharge are significant concerns for active duty soldiers and the manufacturer’s vague response to the matter has resulted in much consternation. These findings have opened the manufacturer up to potential legal action if they aren’t able to work with the Army to rectify the problem.
While Sig Sauer is a long-established gun maker with a decades old reputation as a creator of exceptional firearms, the future of their company is uncertain. If they don’t stand by their mission statement and serve as a “reliable, long-term partner” to their customers, a loss of quality could lead to obsolescence.