In terms of development, one can argue that Heckler & Koch had some critical years from about 1991 until 1996. 1991 is when HK entered the race for the Offensive Handgun Weapon System (OHWS) program for U.S. Special Operation Command (USSOCOM). From 1991 until 1996 HK developed, tested, and tested again a weapon system that was we know as the Mark 23. As the Development of the Mark 23 was ongoing, HK took key features and began developing the Universal Self-Loading Pistol – USP (Universelle Selbstlade Pistole in German) line of handguns. Released in 1993, the USP line offered in 9x19mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP provided HK an entire fleet of handguns for military, law enforcement, and civilian purposes.
USP handguns were developed and tested to incredible measures. The handguns were frozen to -42 degrees C (-43.6 degrees F) and heated to 67 degrees C (152.6 degrees F) fired at the extremes and moving between these temperature ranges while continuing to test fire. The USP handguns were tested in accordance with NATO mud and rain abuse standards, immersed in water, sprayed with sea water, and dropped from 6ft hammer first on to a concrete slab – without discharge. HK even fired the weapon with a round in the bore (completely obstructing) where the second round removed the obstruction, leaving only a minor bulge in the barrel. When firing the USP with the bulged barrel, it resulted in less than 4 inches of deviation at 25 meters. In the end, the USP is not a scaled down, untested, and slightly copied version of the proven Mark 23, it is for all intents and purposes its own handgun, tried and true.
Polymer Frame - HK revolutionized the use of polymers in handguns decades ago, and the USP utilizes an incredibly strong and durable fiber-reinforced polymer frame.
External Finish - The slide is made of a single piece of machined nitro-carburized steel, treated with HK’s proprietary ‘hostile environment’ nitride finish.
Internal Finish - The internal components are coated with a Dow-Corning anti-corrosion chemical to reduce friction and wear. By far the weakest element involved with the operation of the USP is the shooter.
Recoil Reduction System - The USP features a mechanical recoil reduction system that is incorporated into the recoil spring. The system is specifically designed to reduce wear on the handgun. HK claims it reduced felt recoil by 30%. The system operated by a primary guide rod spring working in conjunction with a secondary recoil dampering spring.
Multiple Trigger Firing Modes - The USP has the ability to be converted between nine trigger firing modes – with minimal work and requires only a few parts.
Accessory Rail - Perhaps the most criticized feature on the USP is the HK proprietary accessory rail, which only accepts HK specific accessories without a 1913 ‘Picatinny” adaptor. Like the Mark 23, the development of the USP predates the standardization and universal use of the 1913 rail mounts on weapon systems. Nonetheless, there are aftermarket mounts by reputable manufacturers like GG&G that can be attached by that will allow for mounted lights and lasers.
Polygonal Barrel - The key to accuracy and barrel life for HK rests in the use of the polygonal barrel. These barrels have a life that exceeds 30,000 rounds (some say 60,000) before degradation that affects accuracy and velocity.
Ergonomics - The grip on the USP is not for small hands, that being said the angle and stippling provide for a very ergonomic, yet solid feeling handgun. The magazine release is paddle-style and located at the bottom of the oversized trigger well - good for those who wear gloves. The 10 and 12 round magazines have a floorplate option for either a standard rubberized type or an extended floorplate type which provides control at the bottom of the grip. The overall balance of the USP is impressive.
HK prides itself on making military grade small arms and in doing so they have to develop processes that can withstand military use. The USP, whether in 9x19mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP or the standard, tactical, expert, or elite variants are expertly manufactured.
USP 45 Tactical – Specific Enhancements
The USP 45 Tactical is a variant of the USP 45 that features tree main enhancements from the standard USP 45. The USP Tactical also features the specific making of ‘USP TACTICAL’ engraved into the side of the slide. The USP 45 Tactical is rated to regularly use .45 ACP +P ammunition.
Threaded Barrel - Perhaps the most recognizable difference is the addition of a 5.09” inch threaded barrel with the added feature of an accuracy enabling O-ring. The threaded barrel has a 16mm x 1mm left-hand (16x1 LH) thread pitch and can accept specifically matched (or use of adaptor) sound or flash suppressing devices. HK makes available a thread protector to protect the barrel threads if a device is not in use. Given the uncommon 16x1 LH thread pitch, the recommended sound suppression devices for the US 45 Tactical are the formidable and hushed ACC Ti-Rant and Silencerco Osprey.
Elevated Sights -The USP Tactical features a set of elevated (high profile) target style sights; these sights are all black and feature no contrast dots or tritium. The sights are provided by design to allow for the compensation of a sound suppressing device – increased barrel length. Rear sight is micrometer adjustable for windage and elevation. The front sight is significantly taller as it rises 8mm above the slide (normal is 3.5-4mm) by design to ensure a clear sight picture when utilizing a sound suppressing device. Given the sight enhancements of the USP Tactical, it provides for a suppressor-ready set-up that allows for close-in target engagement without sight picture obstruction.
Match Grade Trigger -The USP Tactical features a match grade trigger. In Single Action (SA) mode the trigger travels 7mm to break and in Double Action (DA) it travels 14mm to break. In the Double Action Only (DAO) configuration it travels the full 14mm. Trigger weight in SA is 4.5 lbs, and in DA its 11.2 lbs. in the Law Enforcement Modified (LEM) configuration the trigger is set to 8 lbs in DAO mode. The reset in the match trigger is similar to that in SIG’s ‘Short Reset Trigger’ (SRT) trigger system. The USP 45 also features an adjustable trigger-stop that allows for altering the amount of over-travel by the trigger.
-Caliber: .45 ACP
-Action: SA/DA, DAO, DAO (LEM)
-Overall Length: 8.64”
-Overall Height: 5.90”
-Overall Width: 1.26”
-Overall Weight (unloaded with magazine): 32.8 oz
-Barrel Length: 5.09”
-Sight Radius: 6.73”
-Trigger Pull: 4.5lb (SA)-11.2lb (DA), 8lb (LEM)
-Magazine Capacity: 10 or 12
There is a saying used by those who mock HK, friendly or otherwise – “…because you suck, and we hate you.” Those individuals, with clear bias if not misinformed altogether, struggle to recognize and respect handguns like the USP 45 Tactical. If HK truly thought we suck, and they hated us, why would they bless us with their incredible ballistic masterpieces? As much as I hate to invoke it, I think it is nothing more than envy. The USP 45 Tactical is a fine example of HK’s German engineering when it comes to tactical purpose. The USP 45 Tactical takes the standard USP 45 and gives it additional utility with a slightly more aggressive look. Like any HK, it eats anything you feed it, it will perfectly engage targets with precision if you let it, and has a life that will likely exceed that of most original owners and maybe some generations after.
Like the Mark 23, it doesn’t have to be an apocalyptic handgun, but it’s nice knowing we have that option if the end times fall upon us.