For three decades, the U.S. Navy’s Sea Air Land (SEAL) special-forces teams relied on a pistol apart from the rest of the American military. While the Army, the Marine Corps and even the rest of the Navy toted the Beretta M9 pistol, Navy SEALs carried an entirely different handgun altogether: the Sig Sauer P226.
In the mid-1980s, the U.S. military finally moved away from the M1911A1 .45 caliber handgun to a new pistol, the Beretta 92FS. Known as the M9 in U.S. service, the Beretta was touted as a modern, safer, easier to shoot handgun with twice the ammunition capacity as the .45. The M9 was adopted by all arms of the military, including U.S. Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six. Trained for counterterrorism missions, Team Six operators honed their close-quarter shooting skills to a sharp edge, and during the 1980s it was rumored Team Six’s small arms ammunition budget was greater than that of the entire U.S. Marine Corps.
All of this meant that SEALs assigned to Team Six placed a great deal of wear and tear on their pistols. In 1986, a SEAL demonstrating the Beretta for a visiting VIP was injured when the rear portion of the pistol slide broke off, sending the slide crashing into the sailor’s face. Although the injury was relatively minor and only a few pistols showed signs of slide cracking (a deficiency Beretta later fixed), the SEALs wanted a new pistol.