While Gemtech developed the Blackside .45ACP sound suppressor specifically for the M1911 pistol to meet a special military requirement, the Blackside also works well on Heckler & Koch’s USP45 Tactical. Gemtech subsequently introduced a Blackside for .40 pistols called the Blackside-40, which works on nearly every .40 caliber pistol used by armed professionals. The story behind the development of the Blackside is as interesting as its unusual design, which defies certain trends in suppressor evolution. Understanding the tactical realities behind the Blackside’s development provides invaluable insight into the evolving needs of the special operations community, in terms of both pistol and suppressor design. The Blackside is noteworthy for its compact size, simplicity, light weight, and its ability to suppress the sound of the shot.
The Blackside story really begins when Gemtech began developing a suppressor for some USMC units outside of SOCOM. The Marines wanted the smallest, lightest possible can for the M1911. They repeatedly emphasized that the suppressor must be designed “for black side operations,” so naturally Gemtech personnel referred to the new project as the “black side can.”
The phrase “black side” is usually associated with the two mission profiles of the US Marine’s Force Recon: (1) deep reconnaissance, and (2) direct action. Also, “black side” refers to direct action missions on Gas/Oil Platforms (GOPLATS), Vessel/Board/Search/Seizure (VBSS), capture and recovery of selected enemy personnel and equipment, and Tactical Recovery of Aircraft/Personal (TRAP).
Sean Galt, one of Gemtech’s designers, tackled the challenge of developing the shortest, lightest possible suppressor for the M1911. To achieve these design goals and satisfy the KISS principle, Galt concluded he had to reject two laws in the design of modern pistol suppressors. He designed the suppressor without a recoil booster, which Gemtech calls a Linear Inertial Decoupler (LID). Also he designed the suppressor to be shot “wet.”
This was a bold move by Galt for several reasons. The trend in modern suppressor design is to develop suppressors that do not need a coolant medium, since most end-users want the convenience and tidiness of a dry can. Moreover, conventional wisdom suggests that a recoil booster is pretty much mandatory for pistols. Yet, Galt’s decision makes sense because the Marines wanted a suppressor that was short and light without sacrificing sound reduction. Thus, Gemtech developed the Blackside suppressor for only one pistol and a single mission profile. The Blackside was never intended to be a “one size fits all” or OMNI-mission suppressor.
The next phase of the Blackside project involved beta testing by shooters outside of the Gemtech organization. One was a champion shooter and tactical trainer, who put thousands of rounds through the Blackside can in various climates using a variety of host pistols, including his favorite Para USA Colonel pistol (a 1911 variant with a 4-inch barrel). He said that the Blackside “runs like a sewing machine.”
Another beta tester, who is a respected pistolsmith, noted, “The 1911 .45ACP is a difficult weapon to hang anything onto the barrel, and years of working with comp guns of all generations and types made me quite impressed that I was able to place an object that large and heavy on the end of the barrel and have the gun cycle properly. With a standard rate 17-pound recoil spring and full power .45ACP ammo, my standard setup, the gun functioned normally with and without the can mounted.”
The Blackside was also evaluated by the US Army Soldier System Center, the Army Marksman Training Unit, and by a federal agency at the White Sands Missile Range. I did not anticipate some of the results, especially with regard to the lack of a booster versus reliability and the speed of follow-up shots.
Conventional wisdom suggests that pistol suppressors of centerfire caliber require a recoil booster to function reliably, especially under adverse field conditions or when the weapon is dirty. The flip side of that coin is that any pistol suppressor used by an armed professional must have a booster. While that’s true for many pistols, it’s important to understand that this is not a universal truth.
A test of the Blackside at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico illustrates this point. A federal agency compared the performance of boostered versus unboostered suppressors on their .45ACP HK handguns. Even though reliability could be extended with a boostered model, as the host pistol got dirty, shooters running through combat drills decided the unboostered and less jumpy Blackside was better for their mission-essential needs. Why? They achieved faster target acquisition and better accuracy with the lightweight, boosterless Blackside. Moreover, the Blackside produced almost no point-of-impact shift.
What about reliability when the pistol is dirty? Since a conflict involving a handgun rarely continues for more than a few magazines and the HK-Gemtech system was reliable beyond that requirement, the agency concluded that the lack of a booster was a non-issue. Therefore, speed and accuracy trumped all other issues, including the need for a coolant medium for the suppressor.
The fact that the agency achieved faster follow-up shots with the Blackside surprised me. I’ve always found that a good booster speeded my follow-up shots by 20-50 percent, as long as the booster’s force and timing were properly matched to the model and barrel length of a given handgun. Clearly, the non-Gemtech boostered cans that the agency evaluated did not properly balance the force and timing requirements of the pistol in question.
Symptoms of such imbalances can be excessive recoil at one end of the spectrum or sluggish cycling at the other end of the spectrum. The aforementioned work at White Sands experienced the latter problem with boostered cans.
Another insight into the reliability delivered by Gemtech’s Blackside suppressor comes from the Army Marksmanship Unit. AMU personnel were surprised that their proof-of-concept “SOF (Special Operations Force) Pistols” actually worked reliably with a boosterless suppressor. That was a Gemtech can. When AMU finished their Joint Combat Pistol project, they fitted Gemtech suppressors to their JCP pistols before showing their work to Army brass up the chain of command.
Since I wanted to get a personal handle on the performance of Gemtech’s Blackside suppressor, I put one through its paces over a wide range of environmental conditions for seven months.
I fired rapid action drills with Gemtech’s Blackside suppressor mounted on two generations of HK USP45 Tactical pistols and a Colt Series 70 M1911A1 with an extended barrel, at temperatures ranging from 41 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Gemtech’s Blackside manual suggests the use of light oil rather than water as a coolant medium, presumably to minimize the potential for corrosion when combustion byproducts combine with water to produce acids. I nevertheless used water for several reasons. First, I did not want to breathe in low molecular weight hydrocarbons as I fired several thousand rounds of duty ammo and floor sweepings through the suppressor. Secondly, when military operators use a suppressor wet (with a coolant), the process typically involves simply squirting some water down into the can from a hydration bladder right before making an entry at the objective. Of course, water cannot be used at temperatures near or below freezing.
Since a sustained firefight is unlikely when using a suppressed pistol, for realistic mission profiles, and since many of my drills using the USP45 Tactical were conducted during coffee breaks, I generally limited my shooting sessions to three USP magazines (my common carry load) during my morning break. I’d clean the suppressed pistol during my afternoon break. This worked out to 36 rounds per day or 180 rounds per week. To evaluate the Blackside on a 1911, I had to visit a colleague who lives several states away.
Obviously, pistols get wet when using water as a suppressor’s coolant medium. Therefore, I would field strip the pistol after each shooting session, towel it dry, remove accumulated crud as necessary, and apply the thinnest possible coat of Militec oil before reassembling. When applied properly, Militec needs to be slightly heated so that the lubricant bonds with the surface of the metal in order that rust, carbon fouling, etc. won’t stick to the gun, making cleaning and maintenance simpler. It’s important to clean a suppressed pistol or precision rifle after every day of shooting because carbon fouling will harden by the following day, making basic maintenance more difficult and time consuming. In terms of suppressor maintenance, I’d run very hot water through the suppressor at the end of the day, shake it as dry as possible, and put the can under a heat lamp for several hours to completely dry out before returning it to secured storage.
What did I learn? Gemtech’s Blackside delivered superb reliability on M1911 5-inch barrels. The same was true with older HK USP45 Tacticals, but Tacticals made after 2006 or so may or may not cycle reliably. The pistols I used did not experience any reliability issues.
What about sound reduction? I conducted this phase of testing at an ambient temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, about 480 feet above sea level. I began by testing the Blackside dry, despite the fact that is was designed from the ground up as a wet can. After completing all of the dry testing, I added several tablespoons of water to the rear of the can, and shook out the excess with the front of the suppressor downward to help distribute water throughout the baffle stack. I then mounted the suppressor.
If the Blackside must be used dry in an emergency, only a few of the first 10 rounds will be hearing safe, with sound signatures averaging 142-143 decibels (dB) 1-meter to the left of the suppressor and 140-141 dB at the shooter’s ear, depending on the ammunition being used. That’s not too shabby, since precious few .45 caliber suppressors are hearing safe when shot dry.
When fired with coolant as intended, the Blackside produced sound signatures that were easily hearing safe, averaging 130 dB 1-meter to the left of the suppressor, and 128-129 dB measured from the shooter’s nearest ear. It is safe to say that’s impressive sound reduction.
Moreover, the USP45 Tactical with Blackside suppressor delivered reliable headshots at 25 meters without adjusting the sights. That is also impressive. In fact, the .45 caliber Blackside shot wet is nearly as stealthy as HK’s MP5SD 9mm.
Let’s back up that assertion with some hard data. The Blackside’s 130 dB (wet) sound signature is only 2 dB louder than the MP5SD’s typical sound signature of 128 dB, which most armed professionals view as the gold-standard benchmark against all other centerfire suppressors. It’s worth noting that the MP5SD produces a sound signature of 127 dB when new in the box, and as much as 131 dB when the suppressor is very dirty.
The Blackside is not a one-size-fits-all suppressor. Sean Galt designed the Blackside to be the smallest, lightest possible suppressor for the M1911 pistol with sound suppression as close as possible to KAC’s SOCOM suppressor. When shot dry (as it almost always is used) measured 1-meter from the suppressor, the KAC can produces average sound signatures of about 132 dB on the Mark 23 pistol and (with a different booster piston) about 139 dB on the USP45 Tactical. When fired wet on the USP45 Tactical, the KAC suppressor produces an average sound signature of 129 dB. It is safe to say that Galt met his goal for sound suppression.
Here’s the bottom line. When fired on the USP Tactical with the microphone 1-meter from the suppressor, Gemtech’s Blackside is only 3-4 dB louder than the KAC suppressor when shot dry, and only about 1 dB louder when shot wet. That’s compelling performance in such a small, lightweight package that weighs and costs about a third as much as the KAC suppressor. Clearly, Sean Galt hit a homerun for Gemtech when he designed the Blackside sound suppressor.
The final twist to this story is that Gemtech will soon offer a .45 caliber Blackside variant featuring a Linear Inertial Decoupler, which will cycle gracefully on a broad spectrum of .45ACP pistols being used by armed professionals. Either a boosterless or boostered Blackside should meet almost any tactical requirement.