In August, 1991 a request was made for the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) for an "offensive" handgun. Dianne Feinstein, Charles Schumer and President Clinton would probably tell you that all handguns are offensive, but SOCOM had something different in mind. Termed the OHWS, for Offensive Handgun Weapon System, it was a pistol designed within certain specified parameters that would be sufficient for conducting "offensive" operations, as opposed to the more tradtional role for the handgun, for "defensive" operations. HK and Colt were chosen to compete against each other for the new pistol. HK eventually won out, and the contract was awarded to them. It has undergone many changes from its birth in 1991. Some are obvious, some are not. The official name for the pistol is Mark 23, Mod 0. Not very catchy. That is why it is more popularly known as the SOCOM.
The SOCOM was designed by the great HK engineer, Helmut Weldle. The gun holds 12 cartridges of .45 ACP ammunition. In a move that the above folks would surely find offensive, HK offered a limited number of SOCOM pistols to the citizenry of the United States, and left the threaded barrel intact. The suppressor sold by HK with the gun is made by Knight's Armament Company of Vero Beach, FL. It is usable wet or dry, with wet knocking even more dB from the already quiet can.
Insight Technology Inc., the maker of the UTL series for the USP pistols, was chosen to provide the Laser Aiming Module. It had a dual laser, one visible light, and one infrared, visible only with night vision. Wilcox Industries Corp. has the LAM featured in the Ichiro Nagata photos that start this page. I have not heard that this is the new unit that SOCOM adopted over the one made by Insight, but it appears to be the case.
The SOCOM pistol has reportedly met with tepid enthusiasm on the part of the operators it was ultimately issued to, due to its huge size. It feels like a Desert Eagle, and rivals it in size. The introduction of the USP Tactical seems to have answered the size questions, and may prove to be more popular in the long run. One of the uncompromising attributes of the SOCOM pistol, however, is the extreme accuracy. It is an absolute tack driver, with groups possible under two inches at 50 yards.
No matter what you think about a handgun replacing a shoulder fired weapon as an offensive arm, the staff at HK produce what they are asked to produce. This was a request from the U.S. government. They were provided with a list of what they wanted, and as usual, HK delivered.