The FN Herstal Five-seveN pistol has been in the news quite a bit lately, so we wanted to do a factual and honest review of the pistol.
When it was released in 1998 the Five-seveN pistol was marketed as a companion firearm for the P90 submachinegun, which fires the same round. Both are designed around the 5.7×28 cartridge which has a lower weight than standard intermediate rifle cartridges, allowing soldiers to carry more ammunition.
But the Five-seveN pistol has been controversial since it’s debut. Detractors derided it, calling it high-powered and unsuitable for civilian ownership.
In 2004, the Brady Campaign began to claim that commercial ammunition available for the firearm penetrated level IIa kevlar ballistic vests. In their attacks on the pistol, they called it a “cop-killer.” Investigation by the ATF found that no commercially available ammunition fired out of the 5.7 pistol was capable of defeating ballistic armor.
Even more recently, the pistol was allegedly used by US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan when he opened fire on personnel at Fort Hood in Texas. Again, the pistol was called a “high-caliber cop-killer” and even the Austin American Statesmen said that “One military expert said it was a weapon that no doctor — not even a military one — would normally carry.” The newspaper was unable to provide a source for the comment, and did not have an exact quote.
The actual Five-seveN Tactical pistol weighs in at 1 pound 4.5 ounces empty, and 1 pound 11.6 ounces fully loaded. Indeed, one of the primary advantages of the Five-seveN pistol is it’s light weight. This, combined with the low recoil and muzzle rise, makes the pistol very easy to fire and keep on target.
The 5.7×28 cartridge was initially developed as a low-weight high-velocity round with a AP (armor penetrating) steel core bullet. Designers of the 5.7mm cartridge wanted a powerful round that was light weight, so that soldiers would be able to carry more ammunition. The solution that they came up with is the 5.7x28mm cartridge loaded with SS190 bullets.
SS190 bullets are not available for sale to the public, and are heavily restricted due to their armor piercing capability. Instead, SS195LF (28 grain lead free hollow point) and SS197SR (40 grain ballistic tip hollow point) are the only ammunition available for purchase.
It is frequently and incorrectly reported that the 5.7×28 is an extremely powerful round. In fact, the 5.7 is a relatively weak round, carrying less energy than 9mm ammunition frequently carried by police and used by our own military in the standard issue M9 pistol.
On April 2nd, 2009, the Los Angeles Daily news reported on a shooting involving a Five-seveN pistol and they commented saying “Authorities have noticed an increase in high-caliber weapons in Los Angeles. One of the most startling incidents was when a Fabrique National 57, an assault pistol used to kill big game…” They went on to quote LAPD Deputy Chief Michel Moore who said about the pistol “You use it on large lions, tigers and bears.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The 5.7×28 cartridge is not appropriate for use on anything except small game, such as squirrels and rabbits. Indeed, the ballistic performance of the 5.7×28 cartridge is remarkably similar to the .22 Magnum round. The table below gives a side by side comparison between various 5.7 loads and .22 magnum loads. Edited: The following data was gathered from cartridges fired from a 16″ barrel. Actual muzzle velocities in autoloading handguns will be lower.
|Cartridge||Weight||Muzzle Velocity||Muzzle Energy|
|5.7×28 SS190 AP FMJ||32 gr (2.1 grams)||2,350 ft/s (716 m/s)||397 ft·lb (538 Joules)|
|.22 Magnum HP||30 gr (1.9 grams)||2,200 ft/s (670 m/s)||322 ft·lb (437 Joules)|
|5.7×28 SS197SR JHP||40 gr (2.6 grams)||1,950 ft/s (594 m/s)||340 ft·lb (461 Joules)|
|.22 Magnum JHP||40 gr (2.6 grams)||1,910 ft/s (580 m/s)||324 ft·lb (439 Joules)|
So, if the 5.7×28 is such a weak round, how is the SS190 AP ammunition capable of defeating ballistic armor? The answer is the high velocity at which it travels, combined with the steel penetrator at it’s core. Most bullets, including 5.7mm ammunition available to the public, have a lead core. Lead deforms significantly when it impacts a ballistic vest, spreading out the force of the impact and preventing the bullet from penetrating the multiple layers of fabric. SS190 ammunition, only available to police and military, has a steel penetrator that, when fired at the high velocity of the 5.7×28 cartridge, is capable of cutting through kevlar vests because it does not deform as lead does.
Pictured below is the Five-seveN USG pistol, one of the later variants that featured a tactical rail and single action trigger.