Project 90 [FN P90]

Today, let us talk about that one weapon I have been admiring since it first made an appearance on TV in Stargate SG1, the FN P90. The ergonomics, the proprietary ammo and  it's looks makes it almost legendary. My appreciation for this gun doesn't come from what it can't, but from what it can do, so let me go more into detail.

FN Herstal’s P90 submachine gun was developed in the 1990s at the request of NATO, which was seeking a “personal defense weapon” for its troops. The basic idea behind the PDW, was that it would bridge the gap between a pistol and a rifle. A standard 9mm pistol, for example, cannot penetrate body armor, only carries about 15 rounds in the magazine, and has a very limited effective range. A standard 5.56mm rifle, on the other hand, is much larger and heavier to carry around than a pistol, and the 5.56mm cartridge is limited to use in a rifle because it’s too long to fit in a pistol.

With the P90, FNH managed to create a weapon that will penetrate body armor effectively at distances of up to 200 yards, while also being much more compact and handy than a typical full-size rifle. To top it off, the proprietary FN 5.7x28mm cartridge used by the P90 allowed for a larger magazine capacity and was also small enough to be used in a pistol, allowing for ammo commonality (which paved the way for development of FN’s Five-seveN pistol).

The P90 uses a unique horizontally mounted feeding system. The detachable box magazine is mounted parallel to the P90's barrel, fitting flush with the top of the weapon's frame, and it contains 50 rounds of ammunition, which lie in two rows at a right angle to the barrel. As the cartridges are pushed back by spring pressure and arrive at the rear end of the magazine, they are fed as a single row into a spiral feed ramp and rotated 90 degrees, aligning them with the chamber. The magazine body is composed of polymer, and it is semi-transparent to allow the shooter to see the amount of ammunition remaining at any time.

Another unique feature of the P90 is the stock arrangement, wherein both of the shooter’s hands hold onto thumbholes in the stock (the big round trigger guard doubles as a foregrip for the shooter’s weak hand). It’s an unusual arrangement but I think it feels very natural. Everything on the P90 is completely ambidextrous; it has an ambidextrous safety/fire selector, charging handle, magazine release, etc. Empty cases also eject straight downwards through a chute in the bottom of the stock, so the shooter doesn’t have to worry about anyone being hit with flying brass casings.

One of the design intents for the standard 5.7×28mm cartridge type, the SS190, was that it have the ability to penetrate Kevlar protective vests (such as the NATO CRISAT vest) that will stop conventional pistol bullets. Fired from the P90, the 5.7×28mm SS190 has a muzzle velocity of roughly 716 m/s and is capable of penetrating the CRISAT vest at a range of 200 m, or a Level IIIA Kevlar vest at the same range. FN states an effective range of 200 m and a maximum range of 1,800 m for the 5.7×28mm cartridge when fired from the P90.

In testing conducted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in 1999, the SS190 fired from the P90 at a distance of 25 m exhibited an average penetration depth of 25 cm in ballistic gel covered with a Level II vest. The SS190 exhibited penetration depths ranging from 28 to 34 cm (11 to 13.5 in) when fired from the P90 into bare ballistic gel.

The 5.7×28mm projectile potentially poses less risk of collateral damage than conventional pistol bullets, because the projectile design limits overpenetration, as well as risk of ricochet. The lightweight projectile loses much of its kinetic energy after traveling only 400 m, whereas a conventional pistol bullet such as the 9×19mm (used in the MP5) retains significant energy beyond 800 m, posing greater risk of collateral damage in the event of a miss.

All in all, the FN P90 is one of a kind. Even today, two decades after it′s creation, the weapon is completely unique; and over the years, it’s proven itself to be an effective fighting tool, being used in its original format by hundreds of agencies in over 40 countries. And for when you don't need to shoot anybody, you can use it as a ping pong paddle!




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