What is it? That is the most common question when people unfamiliar with the original FN HerstalP90 submachine gun first see the new PS90 carbine. The question is easily understood. The weapon does look like a ray gun from a science fiction film. In fact, it used as a prop weapon in many current films and TV shows such as the Science Fiction Channel’s Stargate SG-1.
The weapon is actually a state-of-the art firearm originally designed by FN Herstal as a person defense weapon for military personnel who require a something more than a pistol but don’t have the space or required duties for the issued rifle.
The FN P90 and the newer PS90, which is the semiauto version of the weapons system, are both chambered for the 5.7x28mm round. This round, developed especially for the P90 family and its companion Five-seveN pistol, use a 31-grain projectile in the “duty” configuration, which is from the P90 short barrel at over 2,300 fps.
While this is not truly a rifle round, it falls squarely between true rifles rounds and pistol calibers. The SS190 5.7mm round will penetrate body armor out to impressive distances, but the projectile has been designed so as to minimize over-penetration in the human body.
The round generates almost no recoil and has a very muted sound and flash signature in comparison to other rounds of this class. Clearly when FN set out to develop this round, the company took every need into account and attempted to address them in the design phase of the cartridge rather than mitigating them with technology attached to the weapons system.
When the P90 was introduced, many questioned the wisdom involved in the radical styling of the weapon as there is no true pistol grip, no true fore end and the weapon is fed from a horizontal magazine that lies atop the weapon while at the same time ejecting empty cartridges from the bottom of the weapon.
The safety on the weapon is a circular disc that is manipulated by the operators trigger finger in such a manner that leaves no question as to the weapons status. While the weapon may have a very unorthodox look, it handles like a dream. The controls are easily accessed and can be manipulated well by both right- and left-handed shooters.
As the weapon began to be shown and demonstrated to law enforcement and military organizations, it quickly began to gain devotees. Agencies that tested the weapon found it to be a highly reliable firearm that possesses some of the best overall handling qualities of any weapon currently on the market. SWAT units found that they like the weapon for entry duties due to its ease of handling, high magazine capacity and ballistic capabilities. As a result, Houston Police SWAT, for example, quickly adopted it for that use.
Reportedly, the United States Secret Service has also adopted this weapon as a replacement for the submachine gun in many circumstances because of very similar factors. The weapon has also found a home in some nations’ hostage rescue units as was demonstrated during the rescue operation at the Japanese Ambassadors residence in Peru several years ago. Prominently pictured in several photos from the rescue are operators using suppressed P90s.
While the P90 is making in-roads into the tactical law enforcement and military world, FN felt that police departments not wanting a select-fire weapon would find interest in the PS90. The same goes for sales to individual officers and civilians. All could benefit from the unique properties of the weapons system. Thus they created the PS90, which is legal for civilian and individual law enforcement officer ownership and is geared to semiauto-only police departments.
Just as is the P90, the PS90 is constructed in a bull-pup configuration where the action has been placed in the stock making the overall weapon very short and handy. Even in its civilian legal PS90 guise, the weapon is extremely compact, measuring just 26.2-inches in total even though the weapon is equipped with an integrally flash suppressed 16.4-inch barrel. Weighing in at a little more than 7 pounds, the weapon is extremely quick to the shoulder with movement between multiple targets very sure and positive.
The PS90 comes standard with FN’s proprietary 1X optic mounted above the magazine. While not a bad optic, per se, it represents the only significant criticism of the rifle. This optic is somewhat slow to acquire with many of the testers finding that its field of view is not what they would prefer. The reticle is best described as a modified cross hair configuration with an approximately 4-5 moa open circle located at the juncture of the crosshairs. The optic itself has a grey tint to the glass, which makes it sometimes difficult to acquire in low light, an environment where the PS90 could likely find itself.
FN has recognized these problems and makes a version of the fully automatic P90 known as the P90 Triple Rail, which comes without the optic attached. Instead, the optic has been replaced with three separate Picatinny rails set at nine, three and twelve o’clock. These rails allow for the attachment of many of the current red-dot or other electronic optics such as the excellent Aimpoint and EOTech offerings, along with facilitating the mounting of laser devices and tactical lights.
To date, this modification has not been introduced for the PS90. Because the PS90 is aimed squarely at civilians and officers who may use this weapon in self-defense, FN should strongly consider a version of the PS90 such as this that would allow for end users to customize the weapon to their specific needs and tastes.
While the P90 military and law enforcement agency weapons come with a 50-round magazine, the PS90, which is capable of accepting the larger magazine, comes with a 30-round magazine, this by ATF requirement. The magazine is mounted horizontally along the top of the weapon with dual magazine release switches located along the top of the weapon nearest the operators shoulder.
The magazine feeds in a somewhat normal profile until it reaches the rear of the weapon where it begins a spiral 90-degree turn so that it can be fed into the breach and ultimately fired in the weapon. While this sounds more than complicated in print, in actual operation, this is a very smooth, fluid operation. To date, with almost 750 rounds fired through the test PS90, there have been no malfunctions, this with no cleaning and no lubrication other than what was provided from the factory.
While one weapon is statistically a very small sample from which to gauge a weapons system, reports from police and military organizations that use the P90 indicate a very high degree of reliability in operational environments, and there is no reason to believe that the PS90 will not exhibit the same characteristic.
Where the PS90 shines, like its full auto P90 cousin, is in close-quarters engagements. Whether working in tight structures or working out of a vehicle such as would be the case for a patrol rifle, the overall compactness of the weapon allows for very good handling and maneuverability. Especially in this use, the weapon is in dire need of mounting points for the almost ubiquitous white lights and other assorted accessories that go hand in hand with tactical operations.
With the PS90, not even sling attachment points are provided. This in and of itself is a huge oversight, as a sling is a must-have accessory for any long gun, particularly in a law enforcement setting. There are slings on the market capable of being used on the PS90, and there are ways to mount accessories; but on a weapon such as the PS90, they should be provided straight from the factory.
In addition to the lack of mounting points, there are relatively few other significant criticisms of the weapon. Both the 30- and 50-round magazines could benefit by being provided with some type of loading system. Once the round count inside the magazine begins to accumulate, the spring tension begins to make loading a slow process. By no means should this be taken as a criticism of the weapon system or the magazine as they both seem to work very well. Instead, this should be looked at as institutional knowledge in regard to the weapon should one be considering its adoption.
As the 5.7mm is a somewhat proprietary round, FN provided a good deal of ammunition for this test including the SS190 and SS196/SS197 rounds. The SS190 round is the duty round, which uses a 31-grain projectile and will penetrate body armor. This round, which achieves more than 2,300 fps when fired from a P90’s barrel, exhibited almost zero recoil and no muzzle flash when tested in the PS90.
The weapon was tested at 50 yards, the limit of the range, where it produced a 5-shot group of just 1.75 inches. This round is reported to produce terminal ballistics on par with the best 9mm +P+ rounds, while at the same time being able to punch through most levels of body armor. This is very good performance, particularly in the American law enforcement arena.
The SS196 and SS197 rounds both use the superlative 40-grain V-Max projectile and are listed as sporting rounds in FN’s literature concerning ammunition. These rounds will not penetrate level IIIA body armor, but the penetration potential of the rounds against lesser threat levels of armor is listed as questionable in FN’s own testing. Both rounds, however, offer similar terminal ballistics on unprotected targets.
Both of these rounds, when fired for group, were similar to the SS190 in terms of accuracy, recoil and muzzle flash. All of the groups could most likely be improved as the officer who tested the weapon thought the provided optic hindered accuracy testing. Groups could perhaps shrink significantly should a better optic be mounted.
Currently, there are eight different rounds available for the 5.7mm. These include the SS190 round, which is intended for law enforcement and military duty purposes, the SS191 Tracer round, and the SS193 Subsonic round for use with a suppressor. For commercial and sporting purposes, FN provides the SS196 and SS197 rounds as well as the SS195LF, which is a lead-free round.
Also manufactured are blank and dummy rounds, both of these for training purposes. It is important to note that the ATF restricts the sale of the SS190 and other “Class III” rounds to the military and law enforcement agencies, so individual officers and civilians will be limited to the so called “sporting rounds.”
Rumors continue to abound concerning the manufacture of 5.7mm ammo by several major ammunition companies, but as of yet, 5.7mm production has only been achieved in small, test batch quantities. A significant amount of resources are being devoted to the manufacture of American military calibers such as the 5.56x45mm round.
When ammunition is available in quantity from a domestic source, the cost of such should be reduced significantly. Currently, 5.7mm ammunition is priced somewhere between $.35 and $.50 a round. This cost is out of the range of many police departments, individual officers and civilians, which will no doubt influence the sales of the weapons chambered for this caliber.
Overall, the PS90 is a very good weapons system that offers some unique potential. It is so small and compact that it rivals the best of the small submachine guns, and it offers the range and power of a rifle. While both the weapon itself and especially the ammunition it fires are on the high end of the price point spectrum, both remain at a level where the cost may be offset by the capabilities of the weapon.
The future for this weapons system is bright. It has only just begun its lifecycle with many improvements and variants sure to come about as a result of operational experiences. Once domestic ammunition is available in quantity and at a price consistent with other common duty or self-defense rounds, all concerns about the price of ongoing training and operations will be resolved, leaving law enforcement and civilians with a very capable weapon.
Scott Oldham is a supervisory sergeant with the Bloomington, IN Police Department where he is assigned to the Operations Division as patrol supervisor, as well as being one of the team leaders for the department’s Tactical Unit. He and his partner, Sergeant Mick Williams, provide contract instruction on a wide range of subjects, including tactical and patrol-based skills. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.