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Experiences with the FN P90

By Sandy Wall

The Houston, TX, Police Department was the first American law enforcement agency to deploy with the FN P90 submachine gun on its SWAT team. We received five P90s into our inventory in 1999 along with several thousand 5.7mm rounds of ammunition. After a short period of in-house testing and training, the P90s became operational within our entry team elements. The P90 has been utilized primarily at the point man positions where its CQB features are best utilized. The first time I saw a P90, I couldn’t help but notice how unique and interesting it looked. It was fun to shoot and no one could argue about the innovations the engineers at Fabrique National in Belgium had featured on this weapon. The fact remained, however, that the 5.7x28mm cartridge was unproven. We had all the energy data and gelatin shots, but had no documentation on what the round would do on a real human body. It may sound morbid, but in the tactical world the proof is in the real deal. That missing element was always in the back of our minds. Well, the jury is now in. Houston SWAT was involved with the first and only lethal engagement with the weapon to date.

I first wrote an article on the P90 for the Texas Tactical Police Officers Association (TTPOA) Command Magazine. Then, as well as now, I carried a P90 as my primary weapon. I have shot thousands of 5.7mm rounds in training and continue to deploy with the weapon on every SWAT situation and high-risk warrant I respond to. I concede that the P90 is not all things to all people. However, for what I do, as a SWAT officer in a major city, it’s a great weapon. Its CQB features are many, so I will just touch on the high points. The weapon system, including both the P90 submachine gun and the FiveseveN pistol, is built around the SS190 5.7x28mm cartridge. One of the unique features about this system is that the cartridge can be fired from an assault rifle or a handgun. The SS190 version of the 5.7mm cartridge uses a 31-grain, steel jacketed, steel tipped, aluminum core bullet. It is capable of 2350fps and it can defeat level IIIA body armor at 200 meters. The bullet contains no lead for environments that prohibit toxins. The round is not cheap but as the weapon becomes more popular here in the United States, the cost should come down. Winchester will soon assemble the 5.7mm round from imported FN components and also plans to make a hollowpoint round.

The 5.7mm round has 379 ft-lbs of energy, compared to 1300 ft-lbs for the 5.56mm NATO. The recoil from the 5.7mm round is much less than even the 9mm. The SS190 ball is not only flat shooting, but also capable of penetrating car doors and auto-glass with minimum ricochet potential. In contrast, the bullet is designed to stay intact and start a controlled tumble once it penetrates a soft medium, thus reducing any over-penetration worries. The SS190 ball penetrates between 11 and 13.5 inches of gelatin, compared to between 17 and 22 inches of penetration for the M855 dual-core 5.56mm NATO round. Upon impact with soft targets, the 5.7mm ball tumbles one time, base over point. This transfers energy and limits over-penetration. The 5.7mm ball produces a wound cavity about the size and shape of the best 9mm 115 grain JHP +P+, except the peak occurs at a deeper penetration. In the one shooting we had with the P90, the bullet performed well. In fact, the bullet performed exactly as it was designed. The autopsy provided detailed information about the wound cavity and travel of the bullets. None of the 5.7mm rounds fragmented and as far as we can tell, none exited either. The shooting itself was a violent confrontation with many rounds exchanged between the suspect and the react team. The suspect was hit multiple times with both 5.56mm and 5.7mm rounds. The P90 works from a simple blow-back bolt in a bullpup design. It is as easy to break down and clean as any gun you will ever shoot. I have been amazed at how little residue I find even after hundreds of rounds. I find less residue than in most weapons fired only 50 rounds. The simplicity of the action provides almost no chance of malfunctions. We literally tried to make one of ours malfunction by refusing to clean it. After several thousand rounds we couldn’t stand it anymore, broke down and cleaned it anyway. To this day, after thousands of rounds down range, I have yet to experience a malfunction with my P90. The ergonomic design provides comfort and speed on target but does not compromise accuracy. It can hold a respectable group at 100 yards and the recoil is about one third of an M4, and even less than a 9mm MP5. Recoil management and time back on target is easy. It has a two-stage trigger in full-auto mode that allows the shooter to fire single or full-auto fire with just trigger manipulation— no more accidentally going full-auto because you did not realize where your selector was positioned. With the P90 the shooter has to commit a conscious effort to pull through the semi-auto stage to the full auto mode.

Every feature of the weapon can be operated equally from the right or left hand position. Spent casings eject straight down, which makes my partners on the firing line happy. No more doing the hot-brass-down-my-shirt dance. FN even has a slick little pouch that neatly attaches to the eject port. It will catch about a hundred casings before you have to dump it. The 50 round magazine almost eliminates the need to carry extra ammo. The magazine is translucent, which allows the shooter to know how many rounds remain with just a glance, even while you operate the weapon because the magazine sits right on top of the weapon just below the shooter’s cheek well. The P90 comes with a two or three rail option for after market accessories and an optional built in laser. One of the drawbacks of the weapon is poor iron sights and I don’t really care for the optional factory optics. We popped them off and went with EOTech Holo sights. Normally, I’m not big on lasers, but in this case I use my built-in laser as a good back up to my holo sights should it malfunction.

When I talk to operators from other agencies about weapons, I now seldom have to explain what weapon I’m talking about when I mention the P90 as my primary. Obviously the folks at FN are getting the message out and the weapon is now familiar. If you operate in an environment like the one I operate in, you can’t go wrong with a P90 slung at the low-ready.

Sandy Wall is the past president of the TTPOA.
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