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In the line of fire

FN Herstal's 5.7 System has proved itself through an extensive series of tests overseen and verified by organisations and authorities from around the world.

Much has been said about the choice of NATO not to take a decision about the standardisation of the new PDW caliber. The story goes back to 1990 with the publication of NATO Doc D296 defining the requests of the personal defence weapon as a replacement for the caliber 9mm, declared obsolete and ineffective in the face of new threats and the emergence of new ballistic protections.

Based on those requirements, FN Herstal launched its 5.7 System, comprising a submachine gun - the P90® - and a pistol - the Five-seveN®. Both of these shoot a revolutionary cartridge of 5.7x28mm calibre - the SS190, defeating the new CRISAT target defined by NATO. The inherent qualities of this system gained it immediate interest all over the world, particularly from special forces.

In 1999, other competitors had come on the scene such as the 4.6x30mm caliber. Blocked in its decision process due to a change of standardisation rules, NATO decided to launch a competition between interested candidates. The first tests were made in the UK but the main evaluation was performed in France in 2002 by the ETBS (where six-month tests, comprising 22 different tests took place) and by a quick reaction team (QRT) designed by Nato NAAG in 2003.

Although the QRT clearly mentioned its preferences for the 5.7x28mm caliber, the standardisation process seems to be definitively interrupted.

Brief analysis of ETBS testing
ETBS testing has underlined the following positive points:

  • Greater effectiveness of the 5.7mm calibre against unprotected targets and equal against protected targets; energy deposit much higher for the 5.7mm
  • Level of perforation of the CRISAT targets superior to the 150m NATO threshold (> 200m)
  • Better internal ballistics of the 5.7x28mm system; leading to a more restricted sensitivity of the 5.7x28mm system to variations in firing conditions (extreme temperatures) compared to the 4.6x30mm
  • The 4.6x30mm system is much more aggressive in relation to the weapon: higher internal pressure, variations and deviations are more important
Results of the ETBS evaluation have been analysed by a group of experts from France, USA, Canada and the UK, to determine the calibre that has the greater vulnerability (effectiveness against personnel).Their conclusion was that the 5.7x28mm calibre was undoubtedly more efficient.

An ad hoc working group consisting of technical and operational experts from France, Belgium, Switzerland, USA, Germany, the UK, Italy and the Netherlands met in order to establish a final classification between both calibres. Six criteria were selected, namely incapacitation, hit probability in test tubes, hit probability in weapons with shooters, reliability, internal ballistics and penetrating power. The final outcome based on the results spoke for itself (see table).

Synthesis of the results and QRT analysis
In a first stage, the QRT selected three testing criteria and their respective weights: effectiveness (80 per cent), cost of ammunition (15 per cent) and barrel wear (five per cent).

The results of the QRT analysis (taking into account different remarks made by the competitors on the calculations of lethality have shown that the 5.7mm is 27 per cent more effective (Pi/h) against unprotected targets at 100m than the 4.6mm and 11 per cent more effective than the 4.6 against CRISAT protected targets at the same range.

Regarding the barrel erosion, the conclusion of the QRT was that despite the fact that no significant erosion had been highlighted by the ETBS tests (5,000 rounds), the design of the 4.6x30mm ammunition would suggest a greater potential risk of barrel erosion.

In addition to the abovementioned analysis, the QRT also integrated the calibre potential and its design maturity into its analysis.
  • The 5.7x28mm is close to the 5.56mm NATO calibre both by its design and manufacturing process. It can therefore be manufactured easily on the same production lines as the 5.56mm
  • The 5.7x28mm system is much more mature than the 4.6x30mm system
  • A 5.7x28mm pistol family exists whereas the 4.6x30mm pistol project is only a paper concept
Despite some remaining minor errors in the evaluations, it is clear that at the end of the complete ETBS testing (a six-month intensive testing, more than 20 different tests performed), the 5.7x28mm calibre won this technical competition and the victory was confirmed and amplified by the complementary analysis and tests performed by the QRT. Some countries seem now to question those results or even the evaluation process.

It should be noted that this latter had been clearly defined and was accepted by all actors, industrials as well as national representatives before testing. Unfortunately, NATO policies imply that a general consensus has to be reached before making any decision. Any country can veto any decision anytime without even having to provide acceptable reasons. With such a process, economical or political interests can easily make any project fail miserably.

Finally, let us not forget that at the present time more than 20,000 5.7x28 mm systems are really in service throughout the world, including some NATO countries like Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, the USA, etc… and that in the end, the major factor of success is, and will remain, customers' satisfaction.
Reliability test
Total score = 127
Total score without taking into consideration the Belgian and German values = 96

Total score = 107
Total score without taking into consideration the Belgian and German values = 83
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