In November 2011, Sig Sauer announced that it had received permission to officially make the P226 MK25 available to the public. This was advertised as the exact pistol configuration carried by the SEALs. Seldom does an opportunity to own an actual U.S. military-issued firearm with all the right characteristics and markings come available direct from the manufacturer. But that’s what we have in the new MK25.
Although SIG’s MK25 may feature a new Picatinny rail, a UID label and Siglite night sights as standard, it isn’t new to the holsters of America’s Naval Special Warfare community. And it isn’t replacing the MK23 or MK24. What it is, is an official update of the P226 that’s been “unofficially” serving for 25 years.
Then and Now
The NSWC and its SEAL teams vehemently opposed the results of the JSSAP pistol trials that awarded Beretta the M9 contract in April 1985. The P226 was actually prototyped in 1980 for these trials, and it introduced a double-stack magazine to the classic SIG P-series in the process. Besides the Beretta 92FS, the P226 was actually the only other pistol to have passed all of the tests but lost the bid reportedly due to pricing. The final selection left a wake of controversy concerning what the tests were supposed to demonstrate and how they were administered. After one SEAL experienced a disastrous result with a 92FS fired with proof loads, the teams purchased the P226 in spite of the trial results.
The P226 currently in use by the Navy hasn’t gone away from the aluminum-alloy frame and stainless steel slide configuration since manufacturing came to the U.S., but it has evolved. Cosmetically speaking, the first P226s originally featured black plastic grips with molded checkering. The grips on the P226 Navy and MK25 are still molded plastic, but the checkering changed to a less aggressive, pebble-like grip texture.
There have been other subtle changes over the years. The magazine release that was once serrated is now checkered. Vertical serrations on the frontstrap have been replaced with horizontal ones, and horizontal serrations are cut into what was once a clean surface on the front of the triggerguard. The early P226s featured a white two- or three-dot sight system that remained until three-dot Siglite night sights began appearing as an option in the late ’90s. Since then, Navy-procured pistols were delivered with both white dots and tritium-filled night sights.
The MK25 and other classic P-series pistols are U.S.-manufactured in Exeter, New Hampshire. I’ve visited this factory on three separate occasions and can certify that each P226 variant is still assembled, deburred and finished by hand.
Mechanically speaking, there have been a number of significant improvements to the P226. Original contract models were supplied with phosphate or nickel-plated internal parts. These early guns featured carbon steel slides with internal extractors manufactured in Germany and finished in a black phosphate. Once production of the P226 shifted from Germany to our American shores, the manufacture of all P226 slides was machined from stainless steel and featured an external extractor. The aluminum frames of all P226 variants are Nitron finished.
The P226 started out utilizing a two-piece breech-block roll-pin system that developed a reputation among armorers for breaking and drifting apart at about 7,000 rounds. It was basically a small roll pin pressed within a larger roll pin. Without much attention called to the change, the breech block eventually incorporated a solid stainless steel pin. Per my armorer manual, these pins were intended to be disposed of each time the breech block required removal. However, if an armory was short on these small parts, it was quite common to reuse these pins until they came back from training broken or loosely fit. In the last few years, the roll pin resurfaced on the P226 and is found on all MK25 models. Unlike the early roll pins, this new pin is stronger due to the fact that it’s rolled from a single piece of spring steel that wraps around itself about four times. Since it’s more likely that people will attempt to reuse these pins rather than replace this, this redesign is a good move.
Most obviously significant to the development of the P226 is the new three-lug Picatinny rail on the MK25. For more than two decades, the P226 didn’t have an accessory rail. That changed in 2004 when Sigarms developed a proprietary rail that was unique in that it had a curvature and wouldn’t accept M1913 rail-spec lights and lasers. Seeing that end users were unwavering in their preference for Picatinny-adaptable accessories, the MK25 now features a true mil-spec rail.
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The P226 has always been exceptionally accurate, and the MK25 is no exception. I was surprised to find that the Olin military-issue M882 ball produced the best five-shot group: 1.89 inches at 25 yards. And, at 1,170 fps, it was also the fastest load of all that I tried.
Since this pistol is now offered commercially, I ran a selection of popular defensive ammunition through it and observed that my two T&E samples preferred the heaviest load: Winchester’s 147-grain PDX1 Defender with an average muzzle velocity of 999 fps. This combination is ideal in any MK25 (or P226) intended for personal defense.
Once I completed grouping and chronographing, I put the MK25 through the Navy’s pistol qualification test. Although NSW members do not have to qualify by these annual standards, I felt that the test was a good way to assess fit and function. The pistol passed with flying colors. In fact, if I were still a card-carrying member of the military, I’d renew my expert badge using this MK25. I smoked the Navy’s qualification standards and enjoyed every minute of it.
Felt recoil is minimal (even with defense loads), and the newer grips now have less bite than older two-piece checkered ones.
I’ve always found the grip on the P226 to be better contoured for the shape of the hand than other models. Not only do they help with presenting the pistol, I can happily report these don’t crack around the screws under hard use as was the case with some of the earlier P226s.
The pistol’s profile is slimmer than that of the M9, the decocker more intuitive to operate, and the magazine release is easier to reach. It’s quite understandable that the NSWC would choose the P226, even if it cost a little more than the M9.