Meet the Walther P99: One of the Best Guns on the Planet?
One of the most futuristic handguns is also the product of one of the oldest German weapons companies. Manufactured by Carl Walther GmbH, the P99 was originally designed as a police pistol, but has had commercial success in the United States and elsewhere. Although the basic design is two decades old, the P99 continues to be a popular pistol in the crowded nine-millimeter market.
The Carl Walther weapons factory dates back to the 18th century, when the company that would later become Walther was founded in Central Germany. The company originally made target rifles, but switched to handguns at the beginning of the 20th century. The Model 6 was made for the German Armed Forces and was an enlarged version of the company’s pocket pistol that was chambered in 9-millimeter Parabellum. It had a longer barrel than previous versions, an eight-round magazine, and an overall length of 8.25 inches. The company later produced two now famous pistols, the Walther Pistole Polezi-Kriminal (Walther PPK) and the Walther P-38, which were used as a side weapon by the German army during World War II.
In the 1990s, the company pushed the Walther P99 into the high-capacity nine-millimeter handguns market. Designed by former engineers from Glock and Steyr, the P99 was also the company’s first pistol to use polymers for the frame / handle. (In 1988 the company was still producing handguns with steel frames and wooden handles – see Walther P88.) Development of the P99 began in 1994 and was completed in 1996.
The P99 was an aggressive looking pistol with a large, textured grip, a large trigger, and a grip angle that curved inward at the base. Walther’s new pistol, like the Glock, is a pistol fired by a striker. The first shot is a double-action shot with a penalty of nine rounds, while subsequent shots are single-action with a penalty of only 4.5 pounds. If the user wants to avoid the heavy initial double trigger, they only need to pull the slide back a quarter of an inch to switch to single-acting trigger mode.
The Walther P99 is available in two versions, a compact pistol that is 6.6 inches in length and a full size version that is 7.1 to 7.2 inches in length. The pistol is available in three barrel lengths: 3.5 “(compact) and 4 and 4.2” (full size). The compact pistol weighs 21.5 ounces empty while the full size weighs 24 ounces. All versions are 1.3 cm wide.
Originally available in nine millimeters, the pistol has branched out into the somewhat heavier .40 Smith & Wesson caliber. The compact nine-millimeter version carries ten cartridges and the full version carries fifteen cartridges, while the compact .40 Smith & Wesson model carries eight cartridges and the full version carries twelve cartridges.
Like many pistols fired by strikers, the P99 has a total of three safeguards: two internal fall arrest devices to prevent accidental discharge if the gun is dropped while loading, and a third firing pin safety device. There is no manual security. Another safety feature is a spring-loaded decocker, with which it can be returned from single-acting to double-acting mode.
The P99 features an unusual paddle-style manual magazine release at the bottom of the trigger, an ambidextrous lever that protrudes from either side of the pistol. This ensures that the user can drop an empty magazine with minimal movement of the trigger finger, while the user can reach for a new magazine with his non-pistol hand and insert it. The result is a pistol that can be quickly put back into service in a situation of high stress and minimal manipulation.
In addition to direct marketing by Walther, the P99 was sold from 1999 to 2006 under an agreement as the Smith & Wesson SW99. The Walther P99 received an upgrade in 2004 that included three interchangeable back straps for hands of different sizes. The upgrade also added a Picatinny rail under the barrel to attach lights and other aiming devices.
Official use of the Walther P99 is limited as the police / military market is dominated by Glock and to a lesser extent by Sig Sauer and Heckler and Koch. The P99 is used by a number of German regional police and a number of police forces around the world. It is also used by the Finnish Army. The P99 is already a two-decade-old design and is unlikely to be adopted by other armies and law enforcement agencies. Even so, the pistol is still modern enough to hold its own in the civilian market. Although Walther’s new Creed pistol is still being sold by the company, it appears to be able to replace the P99. Even so, the new pistol doesn’t have the futuristic seal of approval of its predecessor, and the P99 may have gun racks on stock for a few more years.
Kyle Mizokami is a San Francisco-based defense and national security writer who has appeared in the fields of Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War Is Boring, and The Daily Beast. In 2009 he co-founded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.
Image: Wikimedia Commons