In 1991, the German firm of Heckler & Koch was awarded a contract by the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) to develop an offensive handgun system. The resulting semi-automatic pistol, designated the MK 23 MOD 0 was selected in 1994, with the first MK 23 pistols delivered in 1996 for deployment. The total system included an infrared and visible laser aiming module and a sound and flash suppressor built by Knight's Armament Company of Vero Beach, FL.
Strict operational requirements and stringent testing in a variety of harsh environments resulted in the MK 23 being well-suited for use by SOCOM components including the Navy Seals, Army Green Berets, Rangers and Special Operations Aviation units. This large semi-automatic pistol was designed to provide extreme match-grade accuracy equal to the finest custom target handguns with an anticipated service life of 30,000 rounds of +P ammunition. Reliability is also a strong suit for the MK 23, as several test pistols fired more than 6,000 rounds between stoppages.
Some Special Forces operators issued MK 23s have dubbed the pistol "Thor's Hammer" for its size and weight, but the polymer-framed .45 is a prized sidearm that many reserve for quiet and effective sentry elimination. The H&K MK 23 is just one of many modern military handguns represented in the National Firearms Museum galleries.