By Dan Shea
SAR is not entirely about machine guns. We deal mostly with the small arms of war; the firearms and innovations from the user’s and designer’s perspective. Law enforcement firearms and collectors are also of great interest to our readers. This has led us to expand from the full auto “Niche” and to bring you articles on precision military firearms (Sniper rifle systems), and starting with this issue, some handguns we feel are of particular importance.
HK has done some amazing things with firearms for professionals. Much of their business has to do with fully automatic firearms, but they have a large slice of the handgun market for law enforcement personnel. SAR was lucky enough to be one of the first to test the new USP45 Compact; here’s the scoop on one of the newest incarnations of the HK product line.
There is a definite market for reliable small frame pistols. The marketplace is getting fuller every day with offerings from many different manufacturers- some new names, and many of the old standbys as well. It has been my experience that while “smaller” may yield a less conspicuous profile for carrying concealed, loss of the grip size can tend to contribute to a loss of controllability. Placing the bullet where it will do the most good is the point of the exercise- not just keeping it small. When HK took it’s tried and proven USP (Universal Self-loading Pistol) down to the compact size, it was an immediate success. The 9mm and 40 caliber versions have achieved a sizable following in a short period of time.
One of the reasons for this is that they kept the grip frame at a “Three finger” instead of a “Two finger” length. By slimming down the grip and designing it to use a single stack magazine (In .45 ACP), the USP Compact series maintains a “Full feel” when you are shooting. This translates into the controllability of a full frame pistol. Some of the other compacts on the market maintain their accuracy when using 9mm, but when they move up to the venerable .45 ACP, it becomes almost impossible for many people to control. Not so with the USP Compact.
The general characteristics of the USP series are fairly well known. A full detail of the USP Control Lever system is in the accompanying chart, but it deserves some note here as well. Pistol shooters are generally “Picky”. They know what they like, or require on their job, and they usually subscribe to a certain doctrine of shooting. Double Action only, Single and Double, “Cocked and Locked”, de-cocking or not, and right or left-handed controls are all available. Installing different component parts can quickly change these features. It is easy to see where the “Universal” in “Universal Self-loading Pistol” came from.
HK managed to keep most of the features of the full size pistols when they presented the Compact series. Some of the well known qualities of shooting a standard USP required a little creativeness to get into a Compact- SAR generally admires the ability to “Improvise, overcome, and adapt” in all aspects; but these are essential characteristics for firearms designers to have. It shows in the USP45 Compact. It was necessary to change the recoil spring system away from the dual spring utilized by the full size USP series. The shortened recoil assembly necessary to make the reduced frame and slide function properly would have yielded a difficult to control recoil, due to the fact that the dual spring was not readily adaptable to the new length. The engineers solved the problem by utilizing a specially engineered flat recoil spring, augmented by a polymer absorber bushing. This new recoil system is captive in one assembly, easy to remove from the pistol, and easy to clean. It works quite well, and in .45 caliber the recoil was negligible. I was able to rapidly re-acquire targets. That counts.
The abbreviated frame (“Shorter” frame for our friends in Maine) presents another interesting dilemma. Many law enforcement personnel prefer to, or are required to utilize a frame-mounted flashlight. HK has the Mark II HK Universal Tactical Light that is their standard unit. The Mark II fits handily on the Compact frame, with only a slight protrusion to the front. Maybe HK will design a smaller unit for the Compacts, but for now, this one will do the job.
There are at least 4 active or passive safeties on the USP45 Compact, depending on the configuration. ( 1- Manual safety lever in variants 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10; 2- Double-action mode with hammer intercept notch; 3- Firing pin block; 4- Disconnector). Applying the “High pucker factor” brainblock test, the USP45 Compact came up as a “Positive”. These are natural to use, and none interfered with the operator’s state of mind. While it has a lot of features, one of the most interesting safety features is the “Loaded cartridge” indicator. You can visually check to see if there is a cartridge, by noting the increased visibility of a red line (See illustration.)
I would strongly suggest that operators of this firearm take advantage of this feature- and utilize it in the tactile mode. Run your finger over it and memorize how it feels when nothing is in the chamber, then with a round in the chamber. It is a very distinct difference, and if you program yourself in your safety checks to run the finger there, it may save yours or someone else’s life.
The magazine release is ambidextrous and protected from accidental engagement by the flared trigger guard. I found that dropping the mag was easy from any hold, right or left handed, thumb or forefinger release. It all depends on how you train yourself, and the USP is very adaptable. The metal magazines hold 8 rounds of .45 ACP, making 9 with one in the chamber. Floorplates are interchangeable between the two styles- flat or extended. The extended floorplate adds a little bit of length, which might be a consideration for concealment, but with the curved front end it certainly helped with the grip control.
Regarding the concealment of the USP45 Compact; I was not able to try any holsters at the time of testing. A cursory examination of the specs should tell you what you need to know. At 1.14 inches wide, 5.06 inches tall, overall length of 7.09 inches, it’s a seriously small package. Most variants feature the “No-snag” bobbed hammers- the one that I tested had that and I liked it’s styling very much.
HK .45 USP / .45 USP Compact Comparison Sequence.
HK’s polygonal hammer-forged barrels have been extensively written about. The major two differences are the decrease in barrel wear, and the better utilization of propellant gases. This is accomplished by the polygonal structure maintaining a better gas seal with the projectile. Those of you who insist on pushing the limits, the USP45 Compact is rated for +P usage. I fired several mags of +P, and still maintained controllability.
Many of HK’s products have had cutting edge material technology and innovative finishes. This “policy” is evident in most of HK’s history. The information and technology that was learned in the VP70 and G11 projects is evident in the USP45 Compact as well. The frame is of high strength lightweight polymer construction, and all the metal components have received HK’s “HE” (Hostile Environment) finish. The actual HE process is the application of a nitro-gas carburized black oxide coating. HE finish is considered state of the art, and will resist the corrosive effects of most environments, including salt water. This does not authorize the operator to abandon simple cleaning and care procedures; it just adds a little bit of an edge for keeping the life of your handgun.
How did it shoot? Very accurately. The trigger was fairly crisp- I utilized the single action features of course. After a little training I was able to shoot some impressive groups. The HK USP45 Compact is everything it should be. These firearms are being imported as you read this article- the first 25 were coming in next week for the general firearms industry to test out, and HK is planning on giving this a serious marketing campaign. I suggest that you try one out if you are considering a small frame .45- this really is an interesting product.
HK Shooter Conversion Unit
Your faithful correspondent is not, and has never been what would be considered an “Expert” pistol shooter. Why, then, would I write about a handgun? Quite frankly, in my 25 years with machine guns, the pistol has always been a utilitarian tool- as long as I can hit a twelve-inch square at about ten paces, I have been satisfied. That is all that I needed for a confidence level with my defensive handgun. I like 45 Acp, but have compromised to 9mm Parabellum due to the fact that I have a small hand. (I do NOT want to open the “Bigger bullet / faster bullet controversy!) Most of the 45’s that I try are just too big, and they are uncomfortable to shoot- and I have tried a bunch of them. Some of the smaller ones were also uncomfortable to shoot- and I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn unless I threw the pistol at it. Since the point of carrying a firearm is to place bullets on target, not 30 odd ounces of plastic and metal, I stayed 9mm.
Jim Schatz from HK Federal Operations is a longtime friend, and he puts up with some of the stupidest questions that I ask- usually by saying; “Jim, one of our readers would like to know why (Fill in the blank). I would like to explain in terms that come directly from HK- can you answer this”? There is usually a muffled snicker, then, in small words that I am likely to understand, he gives an answer.
On the day of the test, Jim took into account that I had little formal training with handguns, and spent some time working with me on the Isosceles shooting position. I still couldn’t hit very well with the USP45 standard size- while the recoil was smooth, it’s a pretty large frame pistol.
When I tried the Compact version, the target acquisition started to dial in. After about 10 magazines, I tried a final series of 4 shots at the target’s eyeball. The target was looking at me, clearly aiming a pistol right at myself, and I did my best to muster up some indignation. While this was only a paper assailant, I started to take offense. If Jim would have let me use the MP5 he had there, this turkey would have been doing a two dimensional Spandau Ballet. But, Nooooo, I had to use the pistol. Utilizing my knowledge and training in combat riflery, I decided that it was necessary to put some serious lead into this character’s medulla oblongata- I mean, what if this cellulose scumbag “Flinched” and pulled the trigger in his final spasm? Would the world still be safe for Democracy? I took careful aim, utilizing my newly acquired Isosceles shooting position, and concentrated on my paper opponent. Four shots later, he was still standing there, the way these paper tigers do, and I sauntered up to the target. Three out of four were smack dab in his eye frame! This proved to be a real eye opener for me. (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist).
Jim walked up, seeing that I appeared pretty happy about something, and he quietly looked over the target. I pointed at the four holes interrupting my opponent’s target acquisition mechanism, and he said “Not too bad, not too bad”. This made me happy enough to ignore the mumbled comment he made as he walked away, about how I had been talking about hitting the target “Center of mass”, which was a crass and vulgar lie, by the way. I really did hit what I was aiming at, and the USP45 Compact impressed the heck out of me, even enough to make me plan on buying one for carry use!
The HK USP Control Lever.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N2 (November 1997)|