Developed primarily as military ammunition in the last days of the Cold War, FN Herstal's SS190 5.7x28mm armor-piercing round was designed to defeat Soviet-made body armor in combat. Now more than a dozen years later, this ammunition and the P90 submachine gun and Five-seveN pistol that fire it are growing in popularity among American law enforcement agencies.
The Five-seveN pistol and the P90 subgun were introduced to the U.S. military market in 1996, and they became popular with special units, but law enforcement greeted the guns and the armor-piercing ammo with a shrug. Then came the North Hollywood bank robbery in which a couple of thugs wearing body armor withstood the combined firepower of dozens of Los Angeles police officers firing 9mm pistols. And FN started to get a lot of phone calls from cops.
Only one problem. Because of arcane federal gun laws and the way that FN classified the weapon for import, agencies had to buy the Five-seveN sight unseen and unfired. Consequently, there were not many sales.
Still, despite its apparent failure, FN's U.S. marketing execs believed that the Five-seveN pistol could be a great tool for American cops. They believed in the weapon and they convinced the execs in Belgium to reclassify the pistol, making it available to the American sport shooting public and to American cops.
Since last fall when the red tape was cut, the Five-seveN has been selling like Belgian waffles to both civilians and law enforcement agencies. It is now an authorized sidearm on the hips of cops in several agencies and in the arsenals of many SWAT teams.
Recently, FN sent a Five-seveN to me for testing. And I have to say that shooting this unusual small-caliber pistol was an eye-opening experience.
Designed around a polymer frame, the Five-seveN is a delayed-blowback-operated, semi-automatic pistol that's available in two versions. The Five-seveN Standard is intended mostly for military users, and the Five-seveN Tactical is intended for Law Enforcement users who carry a handgun as their primary weapon.
Pretty much the only difference between the Standard and Tactical models is the trigger actions. The Five-seveN Standard is equipped with a double-action-only (DAO) trigger with a long pull and no external safeties. In contrast, the Five-seveN Tactical is configured with a single-action (SA) trigger that offers a short and light pull.
There are some feature differences as well. The Five-seveN Tactical sports an ambidextrous safety switch that is located on the frame above the trigger. This is great placement because it puts the safety just about where we law enforcement officers are trained to normally index our trigger fingers.
But beyond the trigger actions and some other features, the Five-seveN Standard and the Five-seveN Tactical are dead ringers for each other. Both variants are striker fired, with an internal firing pin safety. Both have a built-in accessory rail that can accommodate lasers and lights. And both are available with optional night sights.
To understand the power of the Five-seveN pistol, you need to know a little bit about the special 5.7mm ammo that it fires.
The first thing you need to know is that it comes in two versions: one for law enforcement and the military, and one for civilians. SS190 is the designation for the LE-only rounds. SS192 is the designation for lead-core, non-armor-piercing civilian rounds.
FN's 5.7x28mm SS190 ammunition was designed to bridge the gap between 9mm ammunition and the 5.56x45mm NATO round known in the United States as .223 Remington. The 9mm FMJ round is one of the world's most popular handgun and subgun rounds but it and other heavy handgun bullets, including the .40 S&W and .45 ACP, will not penetrate modern body armor. While .223 rounds punch through soft body armor with no problem, they also have drawbacks. A .223 achieves its potency with velocity and it has a lead core, so it often hits its target and keeps going, raising overpenetration concerns in close combat or in an urban tactical situation.
In contrast, FN's SS190 armor-piercing 5.7mm ammo has a unique design that prevents overpenetration despite its high-velocity impact. The tip of each SS190 bullet has a steel penetrator followed by an aluminum core that is heavier than the forward tip. This causes the bullet to tumble in soft body tissue after two inches of penetration, creating a large wound cavity and virtually eliminating the risk of overpenetration and subsequent unintended casualties.