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HK45 Tactical Review

by Tom Beckstrand   |  February 14th, 2014 9

Contemporary HK polymer-frame pistols follow an evolutionary pattern. The introduction of a new design is followed by a compact version of that design. Some patterns get specialized features like the Expert or Tactical editions. Each version of the HK design is intended for a particular role, and each model seems to prove more refined than the last.

The latest model of HK pistol arriving in the States is the HK45T, “T” meaning “Tactical.” This pistol was unveiled at the 2013 SHOT Show to the great pleasure of HK aficionados, myself included.

The new pistol is identical to the HK45 except that it comes from the factory with Meprolight night sights and it has a barrel threaded to accept a suppressor. The HK45T isn’t expected to stay in production for long, with only 2,000 black pistols slotted to leave the plant. The tan and green variants will be even harder to find because only 1,000 of those will be made.

The HK45 has made a name for itself in the past few years as being an exceptionally reliable pistol. One pistol trainer and online blogger, Todd Green, even put 50,000 rounds through an HK45, experiencing only two malfunctions: a light primer strike and a broken trigger-return spring. That’s a mean rounds-between-failure rate of 25,000 rounds, which is 10 times the industry standard. In order to understand how HK is able to design a pistol 10 times more durable than the rest of the industry, we need to look at the HK45T’s origins.

HK formed a new design team in 1989 to begin work on a new HK polymer pistol. Glock had come seemingly out of nowhere two years earlier, and HK could see the end of the P7 pistol line, so it decided to explore the use of polymers for its next handgun. The new pistol was going to be marketed heavily to consumers in the United States, so HK conducted extensive market analysis in America, a survey upon which it relied heavily as it designed its new pistol. This was “The Word.”

HK set about designing its new pistol just as rumblings were coming from America’s Special Operation Command (SOCOM) that a new pistol solicitation would be forthcoming. HK decided early on that its new offering had to be equally capable for the American commercial market, law enforcement authorities and militaries of the world. As a result of this accepted premise, modularity and easy configuration became part of the design focus.

The name HK gave to its new pistol was the Universal Self-loading Pistol, or USP. The USP incorporated a new polymer frame with a buffered Browning locking system. In order to make these two simple and robust components work together effectively, HK had to spend some time and money getting the slide design right. If you compare the USP slide with slides from other polymer-frame pistol manufacturers, you’ll notice how much higher up into the slide the HK polymer frame sits.

The greater overlap between the frame and the slide is a trait unique to HK’s product line, to include the HK45T. I have never been a member of HK’s design team, but to my untrained eye it looks like the increased purchase between frame and slide not only makes for a stronger design but a more accurate gun as well. There would be much less frame flex and more consistent lockup with the HK pistol when compared with pistols from other manufacturers.

The buffered Browning locking system was a design first pioneered by none other than John Moses Browning. Browning’s design is simple and strong and has locking lugs near the barrel hood that mate to grooves in the underside of the slide. The design allows the barrel to connect firmly with the slide, so lockup between the two is strong. When we fire the pistol, the slide and barrel move rearward together for a few milliseconds (ensuring the chamber pressures stay contained) before the barrel moves down and out of the way and the slide continues rearward through the extraction and feeding cycle.

While the Browning system is superb and has been working well for more than 100 years, it can be improved. HK did away with machining lugs near the barrel hood and uses the barrel hood as a lug itself. This further simplified Browning’s design. Next up for HK’s improvements was the addition of an internal buffering system. HK initially used a dual-spring assembly for the full-size USP. One short, stiff buffering spring absorbs the impact of the unlocking barrel while a second recoil spring controls movement of the slide. It is a complex and effective design.

Starting with the USP compact and continuing to the HK45T that now sits on my desk, HK simplified the buffering component of the modified Browning design and now uses a flat wire spring and a polymer buffering sleeve. The flat wire spring can cycle more times before it takes “a set,” giving the new design a less intensive maintenance schedule, and the polymer sleeve absorbs the impact that the buffer spring once managed. The new design is much simpler.

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