The U.S. Army's effort to replace its M9 9mm pistol with a new Modular Handgun System may be facing another hurdle now that lawmakers in the House want to kill the service's $5.4 million fiscal 2016 budget request.

The language in the House Chairman's mark-up of the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Bill comes three months after the Army announced it was delaying the MHS competition in late January.

The program would replace the 30-year-old M9, made by Beretta USA, with a more-powerful, modern handgun. The Army began working with the small arms industry on MHS in early 2013, but the effort has been in the works for more than five years.

The effort to replace the M9 could result in the Defense Department buying 500,000 new pistols during a period of significant defense-spending reductions.

The Army's decision to delay the launch of the MHS competition followed a Military.com report about the December decision of the service's Configuration Control Board to deny Beretta USA's submission of a modernized version of the M9 pistol, the M9A3, as a cost-saving alternative to MHS.

Beretta unveiled its M9A3 in December as an engineering change proposal to the current M9 contract. The improved M9 features new sights, a rail for mounting lights and accessories, better ergonomics and improved reliability, according to Beretta USA officials.

The Army formally rejected the M9A3 proposal in a Jan. 29 letter because it went beyond what a traditional ECP is supposed to do. As a result, Army officials said they could not alter the original M9 contract and the M9A3 would have to be submitted as a brand new pistol, the source familiar with the letter said.

The service decided to delay the MHS program to give Army weapon officials time to improve the formal request for proposal to the small arms industry, according to Army officials.

The proposed congressional language in the House mark-up rejected the Army's $5,417,000 request for "HANDGUN" under Procurement of Weapons & Other Combat Vehicles. The language cites "schedule delay" under the entry.

It's too early in the budget process to know if the Army will get this money since the Senate still has to do its version of the 2016 defense spending bill mark-up.

MHS is set to cost at least $350 million and potentially millions more if it results in the selection of a more potent pistol caliber, according to small arms experts.

Current plans call for the Army to purchase more than 280,000 handguns from a single vendor, with delivery of the first new handgun systems scheduled for 2017, according to Program Executive Office Soldier officials. The Army also plans to buy approximately 7,000 sub-compact versions of the handgun.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com