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9 Unconventional Guns of the United States Military

We walk you through some of the non-standard-issue weapons each branch of the U.S. military relies on to get the job done.

Military weapons are neat, but they typically follow a pattern. Standard issue often means boring.

Let’s face it, the M4 is a great rifle, but it’s not that fascinating after being in service for decades after decades. 

Travis M240B Machine Gun Military
The U.S. military uses a wide range of weaponry.

Standard issue only goes so far. Certain military personnel depends on more specialized weaponry…not just the normal spec-ops bubbas, but a variety of jobs require a variety of unique weapons. 

But what are some of these weird weapons of the military? Glad you asked…

US Army Shooting Training
U.S. Army Shooting Training

We’ve gathered the top nine weapons that go beyond the usual…

Weird Weapons of the U.S. Military

1. Saiga 12 — U.S. Coast Guard 

Yep, a United States military force utilizes the Saiga 12 shotgun.

Prior to the ban of certain Russian weapons into the United States, the Saiga 12 was a favorite of professional 3-gunners and mag-fed shotgun aficionados.

Modded civilian Saiga 12 Shotgun
Modded civilian Saiga 12 Shotgun (Photo: SpetsnazAlpha)

When you think military use of the Saiga, you likely picture a dude with a striped shirt and bad attitude. 

Yet, the Coast Guard’s Deployable Operations Group employed them.

The Deployable Operations Group does some interesting and versatile work and likely needs a versatile armament.

They help conduct anti-pirate operations in the Middle East and the drug interdiction the Coast Guard is known for. 

Saiga 12
Saiga 12 (Photo: Sinodov)

The Saiga 12 is what happens when you take an AK series rifle and give it some steroids.

It chambers the 12-gauge shotgun round and feeds from a magazine. Magazine size can vary from 3 to 20 rounds but 8 to 10 rounds usually strike the right balance between capacity and size.

I’d imagine a semi-automatic shotgun with a large magazine could deploy lots of buckshot fairly quickly.

If you are fighting from boat to boat, a shotgun offers a very capable weapon. Shot spread is your friend with moving targets, and the Saiga 12 can drop a dozen rounds in just a few seconds. 

2. M15 Revolver — U.S. Air Force 

The U.S. Air Force clung to revolvers for decades beyond the adoption of automatic pistols.

In fact, Air Force MPs were issued the M15 revolver up into the early 90s! Eventually, they phased revolvers out in favor of the Beretta M9

Smith & Wesson Model 15 Revolver
Smith & Wesson Model 15 Revolver (Photo: Euxomai)

The Airforce fights wars via jets and bombers, so small arms have never been a major concern for the guys guarding the gates and patrolling bases.

That said, while the Airforce largely replaced the M15 with the M9, the M15s are still in service..kind of.

At this point, M15s are used to fire blanks to train working dogs. But the Air Force plans to eventually replace them with the Sig Sauer fitted with blank firing adapters — that’s a process still in the works. 

M15 used for dog training
An M15 used to acclimate a dog to be around gunfire (Photo: The Drive)

The M15 is more properly known as the K-38 Combat Masterpiece.

This Smith and Wesson revolver is a medium-frame .38 special revolver capable of holding six rounds. The Airforce utilized the 4-inch barrel model, and they have distinct U.S.A.F. markings.

The K-38 or Model 15 is a sweet-shooting revolver.

The big frame and hefty weight make it a pleasant shooter with the rather soft-shooting .38 Special round.

The Combat Masterpiece title was earned through the weapon’s lack of recoil, accuracy, and robust reliability. 

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3. HK G3 — Delta Force and Special Forces 

In the early days of the Afghan war, America’s premier special missions unit, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment — Delta (1st SFOD-D or Delta Force) — deployed to the Tora Bora region.

Their mission was to hunt Bin Laden down, and they worked in a quasi clandestine manner to do so.

They dressed as Afghan natives and wielded a variety of weapons. 

Delta force GIs disguised as Afghan civilians, November 2001
Delta Force GIs disguised as Afghan civilians, November 2001 (Photo: “Dalton Fury” — the pen-name of a Major in the Delta Force)

This included M4s, AK series rifles, and, interestingly enough, the G3 Battle Rifle from HK.

Numerous photos show Delta operators wielding the gun, including the “Sheriff of Bagdad” John ‘Shrek’ McPhee.

It’s detailed in the book Kill Bin Laden that Shrek wielded the G3 and adored it. 

H&K G3 rifles. The lower rifle has been sectioned to show internal parts.
H&K G3 rifles. The lower rifle has been sectioned to show internal parts. (Photo: Edmond HUET)

The G3 provided a more accurate and ergonomic battle rifle option than the dreaded M14.

While the rifle stood out, it was still less American than an M4 or M16. This 7.62 NATO rifle provided a hard-hitting firearm that made long and moderate range combat easier. 

The G3 is a German-made battle rifle — created because the twice invaded by Germany creators of the FAL refused to license the design to Germany.

HK G3 with night vision
HK G3 with night vision (Photo: Wiggum)

A roller-delayed system makes the G3 controllable and insanely reliable. As long as you’re not a lefty, it’s an ergonomic option that uses the famous HK layout. 

Just recently, photos were released of a Marine Raider and Green Beret joint exercise were released.

Sure enough, Green Berets were still rocking the G3. It’s clearly a popular option with the Army’s special forces. 

4. Sig Sauer SP2022 — U.S. Army 

In 2017, the Army announced Sig Sauer won the MHS contest and the Army’s next service pistol would be the M17/M18.

A year later, the Army also purchased 5,000 Sig SP2022 handguns. That’s an odd order, but the best guess was that the pistols were for foreign military sales. 

Sig Sauer SP2022
Sig Sauer SP2022

The Army has been tight-lipped about it, so that drives the confusion even more.

Perhaps, these pistols are going to unconventional forces who might be working in South America — where the pistols frequently find themselves. 

I’m a fan of the SP2022, and it’s a neat and very underrated DA/SA, polymer-framed pistol.

Sig doesn’t charge the P series premium for the SP2022 either. That makes them quite accessible for military and police forces with a tight budget.

Heck, even in the United States, the SP2022 is ridiculously affordable and a great option. 

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5. M231 Port Firing Weapon — U.S. Army

Let’s say you got an armored vehicle, not a tank, but a mechanized infantry vehicle.

You have a light main gun, soldiers in the vehicle, and you need to acknowledge the various threats of an asymmetrical battleground. What do you do? 

Well, you add firing ports and put your crew to work.

The normal M16 is too much gun that doesn’t fit into the firing port. Plus, the 3-shot burst and semi-auto mode don’t provide the firepower you need.

Therefore you make a new rifle using a shrunk down AR-15 design and some full-auto only.

M231 Port Firing Weapon
M231 Port Firing Weapon

Thus you have the M231 Port Firing Weapon.

This 5.56 rifle wears a 15.6-inch barrel, lacks a stock, features a shortened receiver extension, and offers a cyclic rate of 1,225 rounds per minute.

That’s insanely fast and allowed the crew of the Bradley to open up and defend the vehicle via the volume of fire. 

Also, in theory, the crew could direct the main gun to the threat via a magazine full of tracers.

The high fire rate would make it tough to control, but it locked into the firing port. This takes care of the muzzle rise issue for the most part. 

The M231 is a limited use weapon, but it’s seen some action in and out of Bradley vehicles.

In Iraq, the M231 was seen with a mounted wire stock in use by crew members. It’s pretty light and quite short compared to the M16. So, I could see why troops would want it over the rifle for short excursions. 

6. M11 — U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy 

A history of small units issuing odd handguns for certain roles goes back quite a bit in the U.S. military.

When the Beretta M9 was adopted, numerous units wanted something smaller and handier. Thus the Compact Pistol Program began and Sig Sauer introduced the M11.

SIG Sauer M11
SIG Sauer M11 (Photo: SIG Sauer)

A smaller, more portable handgun was better in the cockpit and easier to carry for investigators than the big ol’ Beretta.

The M11 is a variant of the P228, Sig’s compact model of the P226 for military and police.

Although it’s extremely well made, durable, and reliable, this 9mm handgun carried 13 rounds of 9mm and provided the tried and true DA/SA action.

Interestingly enough, the M11 lacks a manual safety — strange for military sidearms. 

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Safeties are beloved by military selection officers, yet the M11 relied on proper training to ensure the NDs didn’t occur.

The M11 is on its way out, and the M18 is set to replace it with the compact handgun of choice. 

7. B&T APC9K — U.S. Army 

Submachine guns fell out of mainstream military use after Korea…but they stuck around for armored units and special ops.

Until 2019, big Army hadn’t adopted a new SMG since the M3 Grease Gun. I followed their SMG contest closely, and I was surprised when the APC9K won. 

B&C APC9
B&C APC9

The purpose of the contest was to find a new weapon for Army Personnel Security Details where a small and portable weapon could be useful.

Moving in and out or even using a gun in a vehicle can be tough if it’s not small. 

Plus, the weapon draws less attention and tends to be easier to conceal than the shortest of carbines.

APC9K Army
APC9K (Photo: Sandboxx)

The APC9K fits the bill quite well. This ultra-small gun is very easy to wield, conceal and offers much more firepower than any handgun. 

With a 4.3-inch barrel, the APC9K is a tiny terror that includes a collapsing stock and weighs 6.7 pounds.

B&T APC9K
B&T APC9K (Photo: Sandboxx)

You can toss on suppressors, lights, optics, and lasers with relative ease. It’s a plain jane blowback SMG that’s a reliable system, albeit a simple one. 

B&T makes some premium goods, and their SMGs are some of the best.

Best 9mm and Multi-Caliber Pistol Suppressors
Toss on one of these.

This little fella packs a punch and a very modular design. Heck, some interchangeable lowers even allow the user to utilize P320 magazines. 

This will be a limited issue item, but I’m excited to see where the Army takes it. 

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8. GAU-5/A — U.S. Air Force 

If you want to see a weird list of weaponry, check out previous Air Force survival weapons.

The Air Force has always utilized a smattering of weird weapons for pilots needing to bail from planes — and the latest is the GAU-5/A. 

Combat Control Team Member with a GUA-5/A
Combat Control Team Member with a GUA-5/A (Photo: US National Archives)

It made sense for the Air Force to adopt an M4 style platform, but the rifle itself is still too big for a pilot’s bail bag.

So they started cutting, trimming, and devising a new carbine in the form of the GAU-5/A. 

First, they cut the barrel to 12.5 inches.

Next, they utilized a Cry Havoc Tactical Quick Release Barrel Kit. This allows the barrel to be removed from the upper receiver quickly and with relative ease. 

USAF GAU 5/A
USAF GAU-5/A

Finally, the pistol grip even folds rearward to reduce the weapon’s profile overall. 

Interestingly enough, the GAU-5/A utilizes an M-LOK rail system instead of the typical military issue KAC rail. We also see they ditched the FSB for a set of folding sights. 

Shooting a GAU-5/A
Shooting a GAU-5/A

This lightweight carbine setup provides a lot of firepower if you’re shot down over enemy lines, more so than previous escape rifles.

It’s also got lots of parts commonality with your typical M4/M16 series of rifles. It’s a sweet design. 

9. Glock 007 — U.S. Marine Corps 

The Glock 19 might be one of the most standard-issue weapons ever outside of the United States military.

Glock G19 Broken Down
The Glock 19

Special Ops prefer the Glock series, but big Marine Corps doesn’t stray. Often…

The Marine Corps Criminal Investigators are rather new but they found the Beretta to be a bit much for plainclothes carry. 

Glock 19M
Glock 19M

So, the Marines chose the Glock 19, specifically the Glock 19M

Glock made the M series to eliminate those finger grooves they built into the Gen 3 and Gen 4 guns.

As you’d imagine, this more ergonomic Glock offers a compact and lightweight option for plain clothes use. 

Glock 19M
Glock 19M

In fact, a requirement was for the pistol to be easily concealed with an IWB rig.

As most concealed carriers know, pistol size and weight make a big difference in IWB carry. The Glock 19M might not be the most interesting option, but the Marine designation is fantastic. 

They named it the M007, which instantly makes me think they have a James Bond fan in-house.

Sadly, the M007 will likely be replaced by the M18 once it hits its stride in the USMC. 

674
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Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Conclusion

Standard issue is just so dang boring. You can only see your average M4 so many times until it just becomes another gun.

Putting on that Uniform Is the Only Way You’ll get to shoot a real M4.
Sorry, M4…

So, it’s interesting the see the weird, the unusual, and ultimately cool weapons the military uses in small numbers. 

What’s your favorite not-so-standard-issue firearm? Let me know below. If you want to see what soldiers have carried over the years, check out the 14 Best Service Pistols of the World or peek into Spec Ops with the Best Guns of SOCOM.

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8 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    John

    "Air Force MPs were issued the M15 revolver up into the early 90s! "

    LoL.

    There was no such thing as an "Air Force MP" in the early 90's.

    In the beginning it was called Military Police (MP). Then it became Air Police (AP), and later became Security Police (SP), the later all Security Police were grouped into what today is called "Security Forces" which is composed of Security Police which perform security, law enforcement, ground combat, and air base defense roles with sub specialties (used on some installations) in criminal investigation, information/personnel security, personnel protection (VIP, dignitary, presidential, etc...), and specialized resource protection, among others.

    In Jan 1948 the air force "Military Police" was reformed into Air Police (AP). In 1966 the Air Police were re-designated 'Security Police (SP)' to more emphasize their security role along with the law enforcement role

    December 23, 2021 5:59 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Alex

      Interesting and I wasn't aware of that. Now I have to go back and re-watch the movie Wargames and see if the security personnel are identified as MPs or SPs....LOL

      December 25, 2021 1:07 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Robert

      Good catch John.

      I retired from the Air Force, 30 years all spent in Security Police. Enlisted in 1972 and went to Security Police Academy after basic training, both at Lackland AFB. Got out in 1980 due to a family related hardship and went to work for our local PD. The hardship ended in 1984 and in 1985 was (voluntarily) recalled back to active duty along with a few hundred other (former) SP's, we had specialties that were needed. I stayed to finish out a career and I'm glad I did. Went to work for DHS after that.

      December 26, 2021 5:30 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Firestorm252

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the 2nd photo in the APC9K section looks like an MP7.

    December 22, 2021 7:01 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Joe

      It is.

      December 23, 2021 10:53 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      123

      It is shown with the flush mag in the pistol grip.

      December 23, 2021 10:55 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    FlamerPope

    Is that a blank adapter on the muzzle of the GAU-5/A, or something else?

    December 22, 2021 2:22 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Alex

      The red box on the muzzle? You are correct!

      December 25, 2021 12:30 pm
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