Are you considering purchasing an HK USP 45 and want to learn more about what this pistol has to offer? If so, you’ve come to the right place…and you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
The HK USP is no ordinary handgun. It’s one of Heckler & Koch’s most successful pistols, and also has a reputation for being one of the most reliable and durable service pistols in existence. That’s because, as we’ll soon see, there are preciously few handguns on the market that have endured the sheer level of testing that the USP has been put through.
In this review, we’ll dive into the history and development of the Heckler & Koch USP, the specific design features of the pistol, and the different variants that are available.
History of the HK USP
‘USP’ stands for Universal Self-Loading Pistol. Development of the pistol formally began in the late 1980s when Heckler & Koch realized that their existing P7 pistol would soon become obsolete in the face of lighter weight polymer framed pistols like the Glock. The high cost of the P7 also meant that HK could not successfully compete on the American market with established brands such as Glock, Beretta, Smith & Wesson, or Ruger.
As a result, HK decided it was time to design an entirely new pistol from a clean slate. It was determined early on that the new pistol would be intended for the American law enforcement market. The company conducted an extensive market survey in 1989, which discovered that American shooters simply wanted a conventionally built pistol that was both reliable and affordable.
HK also decided from the beginning that the new pistol would be a double action single action and initially chambered for the new .40 S&W cartridge, which was rapidly becoming adopted by US law enforcement agencies. The reason HK chose to base the new pistol off of the .40 is because several existing pistols originally built on 9mm frames were wearing out faster when chambered in the .40 caliber. HK recognized that building a pistol on a .40 frame from the beginning would help ensure that there would be no such issues.
The design work of the HK USP was completed in the middle of 1991. HK then began work on the Offensive Handgun Weapon System (OHWS) Pistol for the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM). The resulting Mark 23 pistol in .45 ACP was heavily based off of the USP.
The Mark 23 pistol went through extensive testing by both HK and SOCOM, to the point that to this very day it remains one of the most thoroughly torture tested pistols in existence. The Mark 23 survived the extreme stress tests it was run through, which included a 30,000 endurance test with hot +P ammunition, being forced to run through extreme temperatures, grueling drop tests, and exposure to sand, dust, and sludge.
HK returned to the USP in late 1991, and throughout 1992 it was exposed to much of the same extreme torture testing that the Mark 23 had been subjected to the year prior. The USP passed with flying colors, and it was formally introduced to the American market in January of 1993.
The first USPs were built in the .40 S&W caliber, and the 9mm version followed six months later. The HK USP 45 in .45 ACP was released over two years later in the middle of 1995. The USP 45 is built using a slightly larger frame and slide than the 9mm and .40 versions in order to accommodate the larger .45 ACP round. The USP 45 also accepts the same 12 round magazines as the Mark 23.
Many people consider the .45 caliber version to represent the epitome of the USP design. This is because there are already few .45 ACP duty pistols with a large capacity of 12 or more rounds on the market, and virtually none that have been run through the same level of testing as the USP has.
Design Features of the HK USP 45
The USP 45 is a conventionally built locked breech pistol with a double action single action trigger mechanism.
The barrel is built out of cold hammer forged chromium steel, while the slide is built out of carbon steel and the frame out of polymer. All metal components to the USP come coated in HK’s proprietary Hostile Environment nitride-based finish. This includes both the external and internal parts. The internal components are additionally coated in anti-corrosion Dow Corning finish.
One of the big standout features of the USP is the mechanical recoil reduction system, which consists of a heavy captive recoil spring located around the guide rod. This system is not just a marketing gimmick by HK and really does help to reduce recoil from the big .45 ACP rounds. This feature, combined with the large size of the pistol, help make the USP 45 a surprisingly controllable pistol.
As mentioned previously, the USP has been subjected to incredible stress tests to demonstrate its reliability and dependability in extreme scenarios. Over 20,000 rounds were fired by HK through the USP with no adverse effects on the weapon. There are also reports of over 297,000 rounds being fired through the handgun without a failure.
The USP was also frozen to -67 degrees Fahrenheit and then reheated to 153 degrees and continued to function with no adverse effects. The weapon was also subjected to mil-spec NATO mud and rain tests, surpassing without any difficulty. It was then immersed in salt water for extended periods and continued to function without hindrance; the 9mm version is also standard issue with the USP German Navy and has been used without corrosion.
Perhaps most notably, a bullet was jammed down the muzzle of the handgun; a round was then chambered from the magazine and fired the bullet out of the muzzle with minimal wear to the gun.
The fact that the USP has survived the sheer level of torture testing it has been put through alone is a testament to its quality.
Why Go With the USP 45?
The HK USP 45 is not an inexpensive pistol, and this fact alone keeps many people who want one from purchasing it. A standard USP 45 can easily cost nearly or over a grand, when comparable duty pistols like the Glock or the Smith & Wesson M&P or the Walther P99 can be owned for around half of that total cost. Nonetheless, the USP is verifiably one of the most dependable pistols in existence, so the high cost is arguably justified.
When it comes to civilian use, the USP 45 has many practical applications. It is a bit large for concealed carry, but it is an excellent choice to use for home defense, as a sidearm while hiking or hunting out in the woods, or as a general purpose SHTF sidearm for extreme circumstances as well.
Again, the USP 45 comes with an effective recoil reduction system and is very controllable to shoot. This means that if for nothing else, the USP 45 could just be used as a simple range gun as well.
Variants of the USP 45
There are many variants of the USP 45 available today. HK actually makes different variants based on the location and function of the safety and decocking lever.
These are as follows:
- Variant 1 – right handed, safety and decocker lever
- Variant 2 – left handed, safety and decocker lever
- Variant 3 – right handed, decocker lever only, no safety
- Variant 4 – left handed, decocker lever only, no safety
- Variant 5 – right handed, double action only (DAO) with a safety lever
- Variant 6 – left handed, double action only (DAO) with a safety lever
- Variant 7: law enforcement modification (LEM) trigger, no lever
- Variant 9: right handed, safety lever only, no decocker
- Variant 9: left handed, safety lever only, no decocker
In addition to the above variants in regards to the safety and decocking lever, there are many additional versions of the USP 45 made as well.
One such example is the USP Tactical, which is a version of the USP that comes with raised sights, a threaded barrel to accept a suppressor, O-Ring, a match grade trigger, and an adjustable trigger stop. The USP Tactical is officially only made in .45 ACP; a 9mm version is available, but lacks the match grade adjustable trigger and O-ring, and also does not sport the label ‘Tactical’ on the slide as well.
Another version is the USP Compact, which as the name suggests is simply a smaller version of the USP with a squared off trigger guard. The USP Compact in .45 holds 8 rounds of ammunition, and accepts the same magazines as HK’s own HK45C pistol.
All in all, the HK USP may be a large handgun, but it’s also simply one of the most durable and proven duty pistols that money can buy today. While there are many other reliable and well-made service handguns available, very few have been put through the same level of testing as the USP has.
Nick Oetkin is a firearms expert with over a decade of firearms experience. He is a published Kindle writer who has written on the subject of survival and prepping