First Look: Umarex Beretta M9A3 Part 1
The civilian market wins when the military takes a pass
By Dennis Adler
In 2017, after 32 years providing this nation’s standard issue military sidearm, Beretta lost its contract after failing to win the U.S. Army’s Modular Handgun System (MHS) competition. Back in 2012, Beretta was awarded a secondary contract to improve the M9 (Beretta 92) in use by the U.S. military since 1985 and the result was the M9A1, an upgraded 92FS for the military that also found its way into the civilian market. When the Army’s XM17 Modular Handgun System (MHS) competition was announced in September 2015 to find a replacement for the M9A1, Beretta again worked to upgrade the Model 92 to meet the new standards established for the MHS trials. The significantly upgraded M9A3, however, only met 86 percent of the Request for Proposals (RFP) outlined in the MHS program requirements. The most noteworthy issue for the MHS was not being a modular handgun design, of course, neither were most of the guns developed for submission to the MHS trials, including Glock and S&W, leaving Sig Sauer with a clear avenue given its already established and proven modular designed P320.
The eventual result of any U.S. military trials is that armsmakers in the U.S. and abroad invest millions in developing new guns, all in an attempt to win one of the most lucrative military contracts in the world. Only one manufacturer can win, as Beretta did in 1985 with M9, but as always, the vast majority of the guns that did not win turn into the latest models from companies like FN (Fabrique Nationale), Glock, Heckler & Koch, CZ, Beretta, and others, and the civilian market reaps the benefits. Fortunately, in the past few years airgun enthusiasts have benefited as well with exceptional blowback action models like the Umarex Beretta 92A1 (M9A1), the HK USP (from the 1989 U.S. Army SOCOM project), and now the new M9A3.
More than just an upgrade
The Beretta M9A1 (92A1) was a fairly conventional upgrade to an existing gun, with improvements from the original M9 (92FS) to new military requirements for a pistol with an integral MIL-SPEC 1913 Picatinny rail, three white dot sights, front and backstrap checkering and a flared magazine well. All of these changes were also offered in the civilian 92A1, and in 2016, with the Umarex Beretta 92A1 CO2 model which immediately became one of the best built and most desirable CO2 models on the market.
The 92A1 offered airgun enthusiasts the latest Beretta design in a blowback action, BB-firing model with self-contained CO2 BB magazines, and an exterior design correct in every noteworthy detail, plus the addition of a select-fire function based on the military-only 93R. The original 93R was produced for the Italian military and Italian law enforcement from 1979 to 1993. The selective burst fire mechanism counted shots, after three rounds in rapid succession, the trigger had to be pulled again, thus eliminating the tendency to empty a full magazine with one pull of the trigger. This same type of device is used in the latest Umarex built Beretta Model 92A1 but it doesn’t count shots, you can empty the magazine with one sustained pull of the trigger, and the thumb safety-style selector from the 93R has been subtly incorporated into the right side of the receiver as a small lever at the back. The rest of the 93R’s distinctive styling was not reproduced as a CO2 model, but rather in an Airsoft version with a folding forward assist finger grip and extended 20-round capacity magazine. The CO2 92A1 has a capacity of 18 BBs.
In terms of handling, the 92A1 airgun provides the exact feel and operation as a 9mm model making it ideal for firearms familiarization. The same is going to be true for the soon to be released CO2 version of the M9A3.
The M9A3 is the most advanced version of the Beretta 92 Series semi-auto, initially developed for the U.S. military before the MHS program began. Significant changes were made to the M9A1 design with a new dovetailed front and combat style white dot rear sight, the MIL-STD 1913 Picatinny rail was upgraded for easier mounting and removal of accessories, the grip frame changed to new Vertec-style thin grips and a flat mainspring housing similar to the flat mainspring housing of the Colt Model 1911 M45 CQBP developed for the Marine Corps in 2012. The new M9A3 grip design makes the overall grip smaller and more suitable for a grater number of end users. There is also the flared magazine well, increased magazine capacity to 17 rounds (9mm), larger magazine release button, and larger manual ambidextrous thumb safeties, which can be changed out from a FIRE/SAFE/DECOCK to a FIRE/DECOCK version for mission specific requirements. The other very obvious changes are to the frame, slide and grip coloration and the design and texturing of the grip panels. The M9A3 also has an extended threaded barrel for mounting a sound suppressor.
The new CO2 version
Working with Beretta, Umarex was able to copy all of the exterior features of the new M9A3 and build what is arguably now one of the most authentic to the centerfire model CO2 air pistols. This is becoming a constant in the airgun world over the last couple of years and it is gratifying to see that airgun manufacturers are really taking this seriously. Certainly consumers will share in this enthusiasm as more new models are revealed this year. But for now, we have this one, and it is one to behold, as it has taken the already successful 92A1 CO2 model to the next level.
In the comparison photos with the 9mm M9A3 the CO2 model scales up almost perfectly and shares nearly all of the noteworthy exterior improvements, all of which, with the exception of the threaded barrel, work the same as the 9mm models. The tread cap on the CO2 model is not removable and thus Umarex will not be forthcoming with a military-style faux suppressor, which, when you think about it is a fairly impractical addition if it can’t do anything to either reduce noise or improve accuracy with an internal barrel extension.
The improved white dot sights (the 9mm model’s have tritium night sights), larger magazine release and ambidextrous safeties (carried over from the 92A1 CO2 model) stand out against the new FDE finish of the slide and grips, and Cerakote anodized frame (which is another variation from the 9mm model, but more about that later). There are some finish differences, and of course, the CO2 model has the select-fire feature, but certainly no one is going to take issue with that added upgrade from the 92A1 CO2 model.
In Part 2 we will get into the fine details, further comparisons with the 92A1 CO2 model, and some interesting changes in the construction of this latest Beretta blowback action pistol.