Heckler & Koch is generally known for making top quality and reliable duty handguns. There is no denying that the company has invested heavily into research and development in a manner that plays directly into their defense and law enforcement contract bids. Heckler & Koch’s marketing philosophy centers on long term durability and cost effectiveness when weapons are subjected to total life cycle cost analysis, that in itself explains the expense, those who own Heckler & Koch can speak to the truthfulness of this.
The Universal Self-Loading Pistol (Universelle Selbstladepistole) or ‘USP’ for short was born from Heckler & Koch’s determination that the P7 handgun was expensive to manufacture and in many ways outdated in terms of what customers wanted. In September of 1989 Heckler & Koch’s lead designer Helmut Weldle began work on this new USP family of handguns, specifically aimed at the commercial and law enforcement markets in the U.S.
The USP handgun is based on many aspects of the Browning 1911 design. A true Double Action (DA)/Single Action (SA) hammer fired handgun with a grip angle known as being the most natural to shooters, a frame mounted thumb safety, and lastly the modified Browning type action (locking breech system). Where Heckler & Koch made gains with the USP over the historically classic 1911 is the use of a composite (fiber-reinforced polymer) frame and patented recoil reduction system.
Heckler & Koch entered into the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Offensive Handgun Weapon System (OHWS) program with the imposing Mark 23, but the two designs were subjected to much of the same rigorous testing. The USP development continued in-parallel and in 1993 production of the USP40 (.40 S&W) started with the USP9 (9x19mm) shortly thereafter. The USP handgun family has been expanded and slightly modified several times since the USP40 entered the market in 1993.
The USP9 Tactical is the 2015 successor to the USP9 SD, a model that lacked several ‘tactical’ features demanded by Heckler & Koch buyers.
USP9 Tactical Features
Heckler & Koch has spent more than 35 years developing the use of composite materials in the use of firearms. The use of polymer (polyamide) is actually preferred in the case of handgun frames as it absorbs recoil, vs. steel on steel impact that causes wear. The USP9 Tactical uses corrosion proof fiber-reinforced polyamide, which is done via an injection molding process. Multiple steel components are inset to the polyamide which add reinforcement to critical areas and reduce the number of actual parts for the frame assembly.
Considering the design of the USP line of handguns is more than two decades old, the ergonomics were well ahead of their time in the mid-90s and still pretty appealing today. Heckler & Koch maintained the well designed stippling on the side panels of and the checkered pattern on the front and back straps of the grip, however the grip is ideal for shooters with medium to large size hands. For the Tactical models of the USP, a larger slide release was added, this allows shooters with various hand sizes to engage the release lever without adjusting a proper firing grip. The control lever, which acts as a safety and decocker can be easily swapped from right to left depending on shooter preference. The magazine is a typical Heckler & Koch ‘paddle style’ design, which is another ambidextrous feature. Included on all USP handguns is a universal mounting rail which allows for the mounting of accessories like flashlights or lasers. For some this “universal” mounting rail isn’t as universal as required. To be fair, the design (1993) pre-dates the NATO MIL-SPEC standardization of the 1913 Picatinny rail (1995). The only possible explanation as to why Heckler & Koch haven’t updated the USP with the MIL-SPEC rails is that the German military is still purchasing under contract the ‘P8’ (USP designated to P8). Either way that would be a welcome change in the future for the USP and Mark 23 handguns.
The USP9 Tactical features a slide machined from a single piece of 42 CrMo 4 high grade alloy steel. Nitrocarburized and coated with Heckler & Koch’s Hostile Environment (HE) blued finish for complete corrosion resistance, the hardness rating for the HE treatment of the slide is at 732 HV1 Vickers. Rear cocking serrations are machined into the slide and the ‘Tactical’ designation is engraved into the side.
Heckler & Koch uses a Cold Hammer Forging (CHF) process on their barrels. Made of cannon grade steel, these barrels are nitrocarborized and feature a polygonal bore. The use of a polygonal bore increases barrel life and produces added qualities in terms of accuracy due to gas pressure movement past the bullet when moving through the bore. The use of a partially-inset high temperature o-ring that sits toward the front end of the barrel provides a sealing and centering quality. By centering the barrel within the slide, it reduces friction and wear, but also increases accuracy. The o-ring also actively keeps gases from seeping out of the slide from around the barrel. While this was not the intent of the design, it makes the USP9 Tactical quieter and run more efficiently. The lifespan of the o-ring is rated to 20,000+ rounds. Lastly, the barrel features a 13.5mm x 1mm left hand (LH) threaded barrel, allowing for the use of a sound suppression device.
All things considered, Heckler & Koch puts the competition to shame in terms of how a shooter can make the trigger system of a handgun work for them, outstanding modularity. Heckler & Koch offers nine variants that are combinations of safety options and triggers. The USP9 full size models can be fitted with DA/SA, Double Action Only (DAO) or the Law Enforcement Enhanced (LEM) DAO trigger.
The standard trigger for the USP9 Tactical is a ‘match grade’ Double Action/Single Action (DA/SA) system that boasts a 7.5 lbf pull in DA and 4 lbf pull in SA. Compared to the standard DA/SA trigger for the USP9 (DA: 11.5 lbf / SA: 4.5 lbf) this makes the trigger crisper and shortens the reset. The match trigger also features an adjustable trigger stop, which sits behind the trigger shoe and eliminates over-travel.
Recoil Reduction System
The USP9 Tactical utilizes Heckler & Koch’s patented recoil reduction system. The premise behind this system is to reduce the recoil and subsequent effects on handgun components as well as a reduction in felt recoil. While felt recoil is completely subjective, Heckler & Koch claims that the system produces a 30% reduction in felt recoil. When testing the USP40 during product development, the amount of force captured at peak force shock was 67 lbf using the recoil reduction system. Peak force shock on polymer and metal frame .40 S&W handguns by competitors was around 1,100 lbf, proving the recoil reduction system dampens peak force shock tremendously. The reduction in peak force shock benefits the components of the handgun, reducing wear and extending lifespan. The system consists of the two overlapping springs on the guide rod, one of which is the recoil spring, the other is a shorter stiffer spring that compresses as the slide is to the rear.
The USP9 Tactical ships with 10 or 15 round polymer magazines, unlike typical Heckler & Koch magazines these are made of a lightweight composite material (likely the same polyamide used for Heckler & Koch handgun frames). Steel feed lips are inset during the injection molding process to ensure reliability of the magazine.
Heckler & Koch is known for delivering very accurate weapons, the USP9 Tactical is very accurate by design. When shooting at combat range, it’s superb. With all the engineering marvels that the USP9 Tactical delivers, it’s able to consistently hit man-sized targets at 100 yards, unsupported. Chances are the shooter will have to grow into the USP9 Tactical.
The USP9 Tactical cycles the full spectrum of 9x19mm ammunition without prejudice. To put it plainly, the handgun is not needy in terms of lubrication, you can run it dry, in the rain with or without a Sound Suppression Device. The USP9 Tactical features Dow-Corning Molykote being applied to all metal components (apart from the slide). It’s been said that the USP line of handguns are built like tanks, we can’t counter that argument.
Model: USP9 Tactical
Manufacturer: Heckler & Koch
Chambering: 9x19mm (Parabellum)
Operation: Short recoil operated
Action Type: Modified Browning type (linkless locking system)
Effective Range: 50 meters
Maximum Range: 60 meters
Trigger System: DA/SA, LEM
Trigger Pull: DA 7.5 lbf / SA 4.0 lbf
Trigger Travel: DA .24” / SA .47”
Overall Length: 8.40”
Overall Height: 5.50”
Overall Width: 1.26”
Overall Weight (w/ empty magazine): 28.16 oz (1.76 lb)
Barrel Length: 4.86”
Barrel Profile: Polygonal profile, 6 groove
Barrel Threads: 13.5x1mm, left hand
Sight Radius: 6.22”
Magazine: 10/15 round standard, 18 round with Jet Funnel
Sights: High Profile Target Sights (fully adjustable micrometer for windage and elevation)
After a thorough inspection and lubrication on the bench, the USP9 Tactical made its first trip to the range for an initial impression. With a pretty decent round count using the other Heckler & Koch handguns (P30 and VP9), I wanted to see if the USP9 Tactical was more in line with the USP45 Tactical or the P30 in terms of how it handles. After only a half dozen magazines, I found the USP9 Tactical to be much more in line with its larger .45 ACP counterpart. It took only a few rounds from the first magazine before I began to find my bearings, it is a very easy handgun to shoot and it cycles very well.
Initially I put the target at 10 meters, then 15 meters, walked it back in to 7 meters, and way out to 25 meters (5” group) to see where the USP9 Tactical was performing. Using Winchester 115gr FMJs, I was content given this was the first trip to the range for my USP9 Tactical since the factory proof and the ammunition used was less than stellar. My take was that the only limitation of the handgun was the operator. After about 100 rounds I moved on to the next project and tucked the USP9 Tactical away for cleaning and another journey to the range.
The USP9 Tactical ships with Heckler & Koch’s fully adjustable target high profile sights. While these sights are not short on quality, they lack illuminated reference dots which many shooters prefer. With quality sights on the market that are fitted for the USP, shooters may decide to upgrade to Trijicon or Heinie sights for slide charging or illumination options.
Magazine capacity is always a consideration when carrying a handgun. More ammunition in the magazine equals more weight, but we’re talking about a threaded barrel full frame 9x19mm handgun here so the rules that apply to a proper concealed carry gun don’t apply. If you think a handgun will be too heavy with more than 15 rounds of ammunition, it’s time to hit the gym bro.
For the USP line of handguns, Heckler & Koch offers what they term as the Jet Funnel. Essentially a flared magazine well that bolts directly into the bottom of the grip of the frame. The Jet Funnel uses special magazine which hold 18 rounds of ammunition (for 9x19mm handguns) and feature a rugged steel base plate. The added weight of the Jet Funnel system actually balances the handgun incredibly well considering the frame is made of polymer.
Benefits of the Jet Funnel upgrade include; increased capacity to 18 rounds, quicker reloading with flared magazine well, increased drop of magazines given the weight of the magazine base plate, and balance to the handgun. Heckler & Koch makes two Jet Funnel magazines for the 9x19mm USP handguns, both are 18 round capacity, however one is a metal magazine encased in a polymer housing making is one of the most durable magazines for a handgun on the market, all things considered.
Accessory Rail adaptor
In order to rectify the issue with using 1913 Picatinny mounted accessories on the USP9 Tactical, an adaptor is required. Arizona-based GG&G makes an outstanding option for this.
There are 9x19mm handguns for carry, many work fine for that purpose. There are those that share some of the same polymer frame qualities as the USP9 Tactical, even some that are offered in DA/SA. When breaking down the design, testing, and features of the USP9 Tactical, you find a true research and development-based handgun designed for military operations. Understanding the history and development of the USP line of handguns, match trigger option, recoil system, tenured use of polymers, and the quality of steel used, it becomes clear that you’re dealing with a different class of handgun. What more can be said, when facts are put forth, what you get with a USP9 Tactical is the most rugged, reliable, and accurate tactical handgun chambered in 9x19mm. To put it plainly, the USP9 Tactical is better than you, the shooter.