Weapons: January 5, 2004


Bye Bye Beretta, Hello PDW? The 9mm pistol cartridge has been in use for over 100 years by militaries and civilian law enforcement, but renewed efforts are underway both in the U.S. and European military establishments to field a replacement round, and a new type of weapon to fire it. The new weapon has been dubbed the Personal Defense Weapon (PDW) by NATO. This spring, the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab at Quantico, Virginia will be holding an evaluation between PDW contenders from FN Herstal and Hecker & Koch (H&K) in order to find a replacement for the "aging" Beretta 9mm pistol. PDWs look like miniature submachine-guns or, in some cases, large pistols.

Both NATO and the U.S. military are seeking a more effective pistol round able to penetrate body armor. For non-infantry personnel, especially those traveling in cramped quarters such as aircraft and armored vehicles, the PDW is expected to be a better and more affordable solution than either pistol-caliber submachine guns or folding-stock assault rifles. Infantry soldiers operating in urban environments could also benefit from a compact design. A pistol is desired for cost and political reasons, with a handgun being perceived as less threatening during police and peacekeeping operating. 

U.S. Special Forces has never been happy with the 9mm's pistol's stopping power, even in the very limited scenarios, such as terrorist hostage rescue, where they can legally use hollow-point ammunition for increased effectiveness. SOCOM went back to the .45 round (perhaps legitimized is a better term, since operators were still toting updated versions of the classic M1911s even after the 9mm came into regular Army service in the mid-80s) with the HK Mark23 Mod 0 SOCOM "offensive" handgun weapons system. 

Civilian law enforcement has also sought a more powerful round than the 9mm since the '80's, beginning with the FBI's adoption of the 10mm (.40 caliber) round in the early '90s, followed by the emergence of the more popular .40 caliber S&W cartridge. Between terrorists, drug dealers, and bank robbers showing up with automatic weapons and body armor, a more effective round is much desired. 

FN's PDW entry, the P90, uses the SS190 5.7 x28mm round capable of penetrating 48 plies of Kevlar at distances of 200 meters. The P90 is 19.7 inches long and weighs in at 6.6 pounds, including a see-through magazine holding 50 rounds of ammunition. First introduced in 1991, the P90 has been adapted by in limited numbers by several small nations as well as appearing as a prop in movies and the "Stargate SG-1" television series. Using the same ammunition, FN's Five-seveN pistol retains the same capability of penetrating body armor.

H&K's MP7 PDW was introduced in 1999 and uses 4.6 x 30mm ammunition (designed to penetrate a NATO CRISAT target consisting of a titanium plant and 20 layers of Kevlar intended to represent Soviet/Russian-style body armor.) With a 20 round clip, the weapons weighs only 3.7 pounds and measures 14.9 inches with the buttstock retracted. A 40 round magazine is also available. The MP7 can be fired with either one or two hands or from the shoulder. The weapon was adapted by Germany's KSK special operations unit in 2002 and first prototypes of an accompanying handgun, dubbed the Ultimate Combat Pistol (UCP), were announced at the end of November 2003. 

Both FN and H&K PDW families are designed to be easily broken down without tools for field cleaning, have Picatinny rails for mounting of lasers and light and can be outfitted with silencers. They also both come with integrated optical sights. 

NATO has been trying to adapt a PDW for years and was on the verge of adapting the 5.7mm ammunition in 2002, in part due to the availability of the FN 5.7mm handgun, but the selection procedure became gridlocked and could not reach a formal decision. Regardless, Germany will be buying a H&K solution and has a stated need for 6,000 MP7s in 2004 and 14,000 UCPs across the armed forces. It is likely Germany's civilian anti-terrorist force, GSG-9, will also select the new weapon in 2004. Other PDW shoppers in the coming year include the UK Ministry of Defense Police and the Singapore Police Force. -- Doug Mohney




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