At the Armed Forces Skill at Arms competition in 2017 at the Robinson Maneuver Training Center in North Little Rock, Arkansas, the Canadian Army’s best marksmen arrived with twenty of their field-issued 9mm Browning Hi-Power semi-automatic pistols.
Only five were used in the competition because fifteen jammed during warm-ups and were withdrawn. During the competition, the ten Canadians experienced an average of four and a half stoppages each while shooting a total of 2,810 rounds.
By contrast, the twenty British soldiers at the event had zero stoppages while shooting 5,620 rounds. It is generally considered acceptable to fire 5,000 rounds with a service pistol before experiencing a stoppage.
The Browning Hi-Power is a good weapon. It was invented by John Browning, an American, in 1911 for Fabrique National in Belgium. Over time, more than fifty militaries around the world adopted the Browning as their service pistol.
In the 1920s the Hi-Power was considered one of the most reliable pistols in the world and was one of the few weapons used by both the Allies and Axis in World War II. When the Germans took over a French plant that manufactured the pistol for the French Army, they forced the factory to stay open and continue to make the weapons for the Germans.
But production of the Hi-Power ended in 2017 and parts are no longer being made. The Canadian military now must rob parts from other Brownings in order to repair broken pistols. So, at a time when close-quarter urban fighting increasingly limits the effectiveness of service rifles, the Canadian military increasingly finds itself without an effective weapon.
It has gotten so bad that Canadian soldiers joke that it would be more effective to throw the pistol at an enemy instead of shooting at him. Bob Kinch, a former competitive marksman with the Canadian Army, has stated that he would choose the Browning over a sharp stick, but he’d “look fondly at the stick.”
The Hi-Powers in use by the Canadian Army were manufactured by John Inglis and Company in Toronto. They were intended to be sold to China to help combat the Japanese.
But the Japanese surrendered before the order shipped, and Canada was left with a surplus of the pistols. In the early 2000s, there were still unused Hi-Powers sitting in their original factory packaging.
They are showing their age in other ways, too. There is no place to mount a flashlight on the Hi-Power, and the small sights are difficult to aim in low light conditions. The guns cannot be fired while wearing gloves or with the left hand, and the long hammer can cut open the shooter’s hand. It’s also heavy due to its all-metal construction.
The Canadian Army is looking into purchasing replacement service pistols, but the process has bogged down. A statement in 2016 from the Department of National Defence said that soldiers would not get new weapons until 2026.
To fill the gap left by the aging Hi-Powers, the army approved the “Army Interim Pistol Program” to purchase around 7,000 pistols.
Some have questioned why the process would take ten years and $50 million, especially since industry representatives have said that the process should take no more than a year or two.
By contrast, a few years ago the British Army was also still issuing WWII-era Browning pistols to their troops. When they noticed that the weapons were becoming a liability, the British tested some other pistols, chose the Glock 17, and bought 25,000 of them for $15 million Canadian dollars.
That was less than a third of the cost Canada is expected to pay, and it took the British only two years to do it.