After some of the work we did at the Submachinegun Gunfighting Class I wanted to revisit the discussion of the PDW.
Sometimes things get confused due to the meaning of words being different for one man than for another. It is easy for a modern day Jeremiah Johnson living in the middle of nowhere Alaska to point to his full sized G3 as his PDW, but that is not what we are working with here.
What we are discussing in this article is typified by the UZI SMG or the FN P90 type of weapon. It is a weapon that is as compact as possible so it can be carried with some discretion in any urban environment. It would be suitable for work inside a house, as well as for work out to 200 yards.
There may be a need for some compromise in these areas but we will see about that. It would allow for eye socket accuracy inside a house, as well as have enough power to overcome armor, cover, or minor vegetation. It would provide greater speed, rapidity of fire, and accuracy than would be found with a typical service pistol.
First, we will discuss the weapon itself. The PDW Concept, or Advanced Personal Defense Weapon, was first officially discussed in 1986. The United States Army Infantry School based at Fort Benning issued the reference document Smalls Arms Strategy 2000, which defines the APDW (Advanced Personal Defense Weapon). The earliest weapon marketed as PDWs was the Heckler & Koch MP5K-PDW.
The PDW is intended as a non-combatant's weapon. In other words, it is not something with which one goes and picks a fight. Rather, it is something with which one gets away from a fight. Similar weapons have been developed in the past for support personnel, such as the M1 Carbine. That such weapons have attributes that lend them to the used in special functions is often ignored.
The PDW is defined as a compact semi-automatic or fully automatic firearm similar in most respects to a submachine gun, but firing a rifle round, thereby giving a PDW better range, accuracy and armor-penetrating capability than submachine guns. The class of weapon as it exists today evolved as a hybrid between a submachine gun and an assault rifle, retaining the compact size and ammunition capacity of the former while adding the ammunition power, accuracy and penetration of the latter. PDW are often seen in proprietary calibers such as the FN 5.7x28.
The P90 in 5.7x28 is truly a hybrid weapon that bridges the gap between the SMG and the Assault Rifle. There are those that want to argue the point about the validity of the 5.7x28 round as hard as the modern technique guys want to argue against the Glock in 9mm. Suffice to say that if they think so poorly about the 5.7, they should simply allow a P90 shooter to shoot them two or three times in the chest and then comment on the results. Moving on.
The P90 is exceedingly compact in its civilian form and if one pursues the SBR road he will end up with something that has little competition in the civilian market.
I spent some time with the P90 in South America and I must say having such a weapon at one's side in an urban environment would only make a fool feel outgunned. The P90 cannot reach or penetrate as well as a full sized rifle round such as a 5.56, nor is it as quiet as a 9mm out of an UZI, but it does much of the PDW role quite well.
Whether it is an UZI, an MP5, a Beretta Storm...or even a Swedish K, it can be run like a big handgun rather than as a small rifle. It is extremely fast to bring into action, scary accurate when using the correct ammunition, and as easy to carry as a laptop. Staffers John Chambers and JD Lester gave us some demonstrations of bagged SMG deployment that amazed us.
There are several things however, that the SMG is not great at. One is distance. While we had the class hitting steel at 200 yards with their UZIs (yes...200 yards), the impact of a 9mm out there would not be conclusive. Two is penetration. And by penetration I am discussing ammunition similar to what one would carry in a CCW handgun, not the FMJ one uses for training on the range. The 9mm will not penetrate armor worn by bad guys. Is that an issue? Maybe. One member at Warrior Talk correctly noted that hard plate armor is very common now making even a 5.56 ineffective against it, thus head shots should be the order of the day regardless. It's hard to argue that point and head shots are easy with an SMG. Third is that unless one goes the SBR/NFA route, a semi auto SMG is as long as anything else. Nonetheless, there are many who will have an SMG by the bed as an immediately accessible PDW.
Finally we look at the rifle as a PDW. A full length rifle is a poor choice for this role simply due to its size. Remember that a PDW is intended in this context as an urban weapon, and must be of a size that it can be commonly taken along discreetly. Such a thing is difficult with a rifle unless it has both a folding stock and a shorter-than-standard barrel. An SBR rifle can work well, but has the drawback of a lessened ballistic effect due to the shorter barrel coupled with the exceedingly loud muzzle blast and report. You have no idea of the magnitude of this unless you have fired a short rifle with unprotected ears inside a house in the middle of the night. As well, not everyone has the ability nor desire to go the NFA route, and for them, the short rifle will not be a choice.
Those issues are what drew us to the bullpup rifle as a study project. The bullpup is as short as a short rifle with stock extended, or a full sized rifle with stock folded. Keeping a full length rifle (16" in the AUG and 17.5" in the FS2000) they wind their way past the NFA requirements and legal anyplace the typical assault rifle is legal. Balanced like a submachinegun, they are almost as fast as something like an MP5 or UZI, a fact we demonstrated repeatedly at the class. And firing a rifle cartridge, can reach out as far as one can see an adversary, penetrate anything which may need penetration (within reason), and yet stalk through a house, or in a vehicle with the fluidity of an MP5. The only problem we could see with this is that it's advantages are also its disadvantages...just like the SMG. Its cartridge will not suffice for SMG problems anymore than an SMG will suffice for rifle problems.
Like most other things in life, there is no "single best answer". The SMG and the Bullpup are far
more similar than different. The only distinguishing issue is the caliber. If you believe you will need more rifle than SMG, yet still want a PDW weapon, the Bullpup is the best choice based on what I have seen. On the other hand, if you perceive less rifle needs and more SMG needs, the simple choice is the SMG. A thorough and honest evaluation of your AO as well as likely patterns of encounter should be done before choosing. In the land of the pistol, the SMG is the king. But in the land of the rifle, the SMG is a janitor.
One very capable man in the recent class said this. "By my bed is an SBR'd UZI with 50 rounds in an L-clip. But in my car is a Steyr AUG".