| SHOT IN THE DARK: Heckler & Koch Mk 23 Mod 0 SOCOM Offensive Pistol |
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Special military operations demand special weapons -- even something as small as a pistol. Heckler & Koch faced tough requirements in designing an offensive pistol for USSOCOM. Their impressive answer: The Mk 23 pistol.
The components of the Heckler & Koch Mk 23 pistol (Heckler & Koch graphic).
There are handguns, and then there are handguns. To wit: There are standard issue pistols for standard needs, and specialized guns for specific situations. Case in point is the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), which declared a need for an offensive handgun weapon system (OHWS) in the early 1990s. This "offensive" system requirement separated USSOCOM's vision of a weapon with greater capabilities from issue sidearms, which are normally viewed as "defensive" weapons.
Heckler & Koch MK23 Mod 0 SOCOM Offensive Pistol
Type of Equipment:
- 12-round magazine fires +P .45 ACP ammunition (the first combat pistol to do so since the Colt M1911)
- High temperature rubber O-ring improves accuracy, lasts more 20.000 rounds, and can be replaced without tools in seconds
- The extended slide release lever and ambidextrous magazine release are easily actuated without re-adjustment of the firing grip using the firing hand thumb or index finger
- Integral optics rail accepts laser aiming/illuminating devices
- Match grade accuracy: 1.44" shot groups at 25 meters
Heckler & Koch XM-8
Heckler & Koch G11
To flip the old cliché around, the best defense is a good offense, and in its original request, USSOCOM was intent on having the best offensive components around in its OHWS: the weapon itself, a silencer/suppressor module, and a Laser Aiming Module (LAM). The result? The Heckler & Koch MK 23 Mod 0 pistol, chambered for .45 ACP cartridges.
As its name implies, USSOCOM is responsible for conducting highly specialized unconventional warfare missions. To accomplish these missions requires not only highly trained personnel, but a great deal of specialized equipment as well. As such, the SOCOM community has access to the most advanced weapons physically available, and may pick and choose based on mission needs and requirements.
So what sets the MK 23 Mod 0 (or SOCOM, as it is known) apart from the standard issue pistol? In short, the SOCOM is a national match grade pistol developed for use in combat field conditions. The SOCOM is designed to reliably fire most .45 ACP +P ammunition, including ball (FMJ) or expansive (JHP) bullets. Debate continues as to whether .45 ACP cartridges are more accurate and easier to handle than the standard 9mm Luger cartridge you might find in a Luger, but there's no denying the .45 ACP's stopping power.
Whatever doubts people may have about the accuracy of a weapon with that much firepower (and potential recoil), the SOCOM has certainly tested out well. To meet the government weapon accuracy requirements -- 1.44 inches maximum dispersion at 25 meters in a 5 shot group -- 450 rounds were fired from the SOCOM while in a precision firing mount. The end results were impressive to say the least; of the 90 groups fired, 65 of them had less than 1 inch of dispersion, while 5 of the groups had less than .5 inches of dispersion. To further validate the accuracy of the weapon, these tests were conducted both with and without the sound suppressor.
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We mentioned that the pistol is reliable -- and it underwent a lot of punishment to justify that claim. To meet reliability and longevity requirements, the SOCOM was exposed to temperature extremes between -25oF and +145oF, submerged in seawater at 2 atmospheres for two hours and exposed to surf, sand, dust, sea fog, ice, mud, and fired while fouled and unlubricated. In addition, during testing, the SOCOM averaged 6,000 mean rounds between stoppages (MRBS), which far exceeded the government's requirement of 2,000 MRBS. Finally, the pistol was expected to fire 30,000 rounds of both standard and +P ammunition before requiring depot level maintenance, and still have a remaining 30,000 rounds of life left on the slide and frame. Not only did the SOCOM meet this requirement, but after having fired 30,000 rounds, the pistol was still able to meet the new weapon accuracy requirements.
Simple and Durable
The Mk23 pistol, side view. Above the grip are separate safety (rear) and decocker (middle) levers.
The SOCOM is a field pistol with match grade accuracy, not a target pistol that you take to the field. Rather than rely on exotic parts and complex mechanisms, the SOCOM was developed to be ruggedly simplistic and solidly accurate. The frame itself is made from polymer plastic, while the slide is steel. Grooves are molded into the frames plastic to accommodate the LAM or similar devices. The internal components are factory produced and can be replaced by the operator as required; they do not need to be hand fit by an armorer or gunsmith. The barrel uses the H&K polygonal bore profile (in which the rifling "lands and grooves" look more like "hills and valleys") to improve velocity, reduce barrel wear, and fouling.
To improve accuracy, the SOCOM incorporates a high temperature rubber O-ring on the barrel to stabilize the barrel while locked up. This ring has a life expectancy of more than 20,000 rounds, and is easily replaced without the need for specialized tools. The barrel is threaded on the end to accommodate a flash hider/sound suppressor (in plain language, a quick-detachable silencer). When equipped with the 7½" Knight's Armament Company sound suppressor, the SOCOM produces only 132 db of noise when dry, and 122 db when wet (a .45 ACP gun typically has a noise level of 157db).
The SOCOM is equipped with an ambidextrous safe/fire switch and magazine drop, as well as a decocking lever and slide lock on the pistol's left hand side (as an interesting side note, with the hammer cocked and the safety on, the decocking lever is deactivated, which prevents the pistol from being accidentally decocked though the slide can still be manipulated to either load or unload the pistol). The trigger housing is oversized, to allow for operation while wearing gloves, and the pistol is capable of firing in either single action or double action modes. In addition to the LAM, which installs on the underbarrel rails, the SOCOM comes with tritium illuminated, fully adjustable, iron sights, which provide a 3-dot sight picture with white or optional self-luminous tritium dots. The ammunition capacity is 12+1, and the pistol is capable of firing both standard issue ball ammunition and hotter +P loads. To improve accuracy and reduce recoil, the SOCOM uses a heavy-duty two-spring recoil compensator that absorbs 30% of the felt recoil.
The Mk23 with add-on silencer and laser aiming module (LAM) attached.
It all adds up to one solid, accurate, heavy-duty pistol for special operations. There are guns and there are guns, but when a gun with offensive capabilities and absolute reliability is needed, the Heckler & Koch, as members of USSOCOM can probably tell you, is the weapon of choice.
|MK 23 PISTOL -- SPECIFICATIONS|
|Builder ||Heckler & Koch|
|Caliber ||.45 ACP|
|Ammunition feed ||Staggered magazines;10 (civilian) or 12-round (military and law enforcement) capacity|
|Rifling ||Polygonal bore, right hand twist|
|Sight radius ||7.76 inches (197mm)|
|Weight ||2.66 pounds (1.21 kg) unloaded; 3.47 pounds (1.576 kg) with loaded 12-round magazine|
|Barrel length ||5.87 inches (149mm)|
|Overall length ||9.65 inches (245mm)|
|Width ||1.53 inches (38.8mm)|
|Height ||5.90 inches (150mm)|
|Single action (N) ||20|
|Double acttion (N) ||50|
|Type of action ||Recoil operated, with improved Browning locking and patented recoil buffering system |
|Reality Check |
For sure, the MK23 Mod 0 is a tack driving machine, and in the realm of close quarters battle (CQB), smaller is better. But it could be argued that the SOCOM pistol only holds the advantage in firefights taking place inside the same room, and even then, 12 rounds of ammunition does not provide much of a margin of error. Numerous combat tested weapons already exist in the SOCOM inventory which surpass the MK23 Mod 0 in terms of accuracy and lethality, especially beyond 25 meters (such as the H&K MP-5 family of sub-machine guns, and the M-4 SOPMOD series). Moreover, while there is no denying SOCOM's accuracy or reliability, what specific missions could possibly require such accuracy, for such a cost, for such a short range? The short and simple answer is, the SOCOM pistol exists because the Special Operations Command said it needed it. But is that the most accurate answer?
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