Personal Defense Weapons, largely referred to as PDWs, have displaced sub-machine guns for a number of military and law enforcement applications. Whereas the handgun cartridge spewing sub-gun was great at delivering highly-accurate volumes of fire even in very tight combat conditions, they lacked the ability to punch through ever more prevalent and capable body armor. Enter the PDW, which uses what can be loosely described as a miniaturized rifle cartridge that lacks the stopping power and range of their bigger cousins, but can punch through many types of body armor with ease, are extremely accurate, and can fit inside a highly ergonomic and compact weapon system.
While PDW cartridges have already been adopted in multiple handgun platforms, most notably Fabrique Nationale’s FN Five-seveN, American gunmaker Kel-Tec just announced a pistol that looks more like it belongs on the set of a sci-fi film than in a holster of a soldier or law enforcement officer. Oh, and this new weapon packs a whopping 50 high-velocity rounds in a single magazine.
There are a growing number of PDWs on the market today, but the most well known is probably the Fabrique Nationale’s P90, which replaced the MP5 within the U.S. Secret Service, and HK’s MP7, which is famously used by SEAL Team Six. While smaller high-velocity rounds defined the PDW segment, it is increasingly blending with smaller and smaller weapons that leverage full-sized rifle cartridges, but that is a whole other story.
The reality is that both the MP7 and P90 have many users around the globe, from police departments to top tier special operations units. They fire different ammunition, but the P90’s 5.7x28mm cartridge has caught on more than H&K’s 4.6x30mm cartridge. Once again, FN’s aforementioned Five-seveN pistol, in addition to the P90, fires the 5.7mm round. Other PDW developers have also leveraged the ammo for their own designs, such as the AR57 and the Diamondback DBX 5.7.
The P90’s unique bullpup design, which is now 30 years old, leveraged a unique slab-like, flush-fitting, top-loading, translucent magazine design that holds 50 rounds. This fits well with the PDW concept, which trades a bit of stopping power for armored penetration and very fast follow-up shots via rapid cycling in automatic or burst, as well as semi-automatic modes.
The magazine was purpose-built to make the P90 as small of a package as possible, so that it could fit under a coat or be used from within the tight confines of a vehicle. As such, the magazine itself, which rotates the cartridge 90 degrees prior to loading, is its own technological innovation and has helped the cartridge become more popular than its competition.
FN’s Five-seveN full-sized service pistol uses its own separate standard box-like magazine, holding 20 rounds in a fairly light overall package. With the right ammunition—an issue we will get to in a moment—even the pistol, with its shorter barrel, provides the ability to penetrate body armor designed to stop all types of handgun cartridges. One can see how such a capability would come in handy in an era where body armor is readily available and an increasing feature not just on battlefields overseas, but in active shooter and other criminal situations here at home.
So, what Kel-Tec did is that they built something between a PDW and a full-framed pistol that is designed specifically around FN’s 50-round P90 magazines. As such, the gun packs a tremendous amount of firepower at the ready in a relatively small package. Although, at 3.2 pounds, it isn’t exactly as ergonomic or lightweight as a full-frame service pistol. In fact, it includes the ability to attach a sling to it, if that gives you any idea of how it sits outside the side of a standard full-frame pistol. Still, the arrangement retains a 9.3-inch barrel, which is roughly double the barrel length of a full-frame pistol, including the FN Five-seveN. In fact, it is just an inch shy of the P90’s barrel. This allows for far improved ballistic performance for the 5.7x28mm round.
Reloading occurs by the entire upper receiver and barrel assembly tilting upward via a forward hinge. Then the big empty longitudinal P90 magazine snaps out and a full mag snaps in. The P50 also comes with a full upper Picatinny accessory rail system, as well as one at the forward end of its frame, so red-dot optics, lasers, and weapons lights can all be accommodated.
And yes, it looks like it is something right out of Netflix’s latest sci-fi thriller.
While the P50 is unique in the amount of firepower it packs for its size, and especially for its pistol classification, it is limited in application by this classification. In a law enforcement or military configuration, a small folding stock would make the weapon far more capable and accurate and it wouldn’t take up any more room really even in some type of concealment situation. But attaching a stock, or even a vertical foregrip, would trigger far more restrictive National Firearms Act rules for the average citizen buyer, making it totally illegal without going through special administrative steps. So, as it sits now, to the average buyer, this is a pistol, just as an AK-47 Draco or a similar gun, legally, is a pistol.
Then there is the question of ammunition. The advantage to this round is primarily the ability to pierce body armor that typical handgun calibers cannot, all in a very handy and accurate package. The thing is, while a number of available FN factory cartridges exist in 5.7x28mm, the SS190 aluminum core armor-piercing duty ammunition is restricted and not commonly available to civilians. Still, even some rounds that are readily available to civilians, both from FN and secondary manufacturers, have shown an ability, even if inconsistent, to pierce through some Class IIIA body armor.
This makes the entire argument for the 5.7x28mm, at least in civilian hands, a bit nebulous. If your life depends on punching through class IIIA body armor, consistency is key, and the ammunition choices available, while still certainly deadly, do not cater to answering the problem that, at least in part, spurred the creation of the round in the first place. Since the average civilian purchaser cannot put a stock on it, either, it isn’t really accurate under most circumstances. At the same time, traditional submachine gun designs that adapted into ATF compliant pistols are becoming increasingly available to civilians via top manufacturers, including Sig Sauer’s Copperhead and H&K’s MP5K.
So, the P50 pistol, while clearly lethal, is sort of a niche, if not a novelty on the civilian market. Still, if it proves to be a robust and reliable platform, and has the ability to be configured with a stock, it could become a very attractive PDW solution on the military and law enforcement weapons market. It really would offer the most compact package for a PDW that does not sacrifice ammunition capacity or ballistics, especially for applications where burst or full-auto modes are not necessarily needed, although Kel-Tec may be able to add those. Furthermore, it would offer all this in a package that is just under two and a half pounds lighter than the P90 and just 15 inches in length compared to the P90’s 19.9 inches. Because of the P90’s fixed polymer bullpup stock arrangement, there is no folding option.
That being said, Kel-Tec isn’t really known for a big footprint in the military or law enforcement issued firearms space, although they have found some success with their somewhat innovative and exotic shotguns, such as the KSG, with some police and military units. So, the P50 would have to really prove itself if the Kel-Tec hopes to make this more than just a range toy for those with and loose $1000 to spend and significantly more money available to blow on ammo in the following months after purchase, but the potential certainly seems there.
And maybe, that’s just the plan. Considering their own webpage on the weapon states that the P50 is “Unique. Adaptable. Retro… Covert, Capable, Provocative” and “it doesn’t come with a white Ferrari and salmon blazer, however it does come with some other amazing features including two 50-round magazines. This 5.7 chambered handgun is sure to gather props from your buddies and range rats alike,” maybe they are focusing on the cool factor for domestic sales, at least for now, over marketing it to law enforcement or the military. Still, it would not be all that uncommon for far more ‘creative’ and hyperbolic language to be used in a firearm’s commercial marketing materials compared to its direct to military and law enforcement marketing materials.
If anything else, it will be cool to see this unique weapon as the new off-the-shelf ‘wow isn’t that cool’ futuristic blaster in the next gritty science fiction television series, and the next, and probably the next after that.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com