Where did this cartridge come from?
Starting in the late 1980’s, NATO sent out a request to partner nations for a unique weapon cartridge. There was a supposed need to arm rear echelon troops, peacekeepers and counter terrorist teams with a compact and lightweight weapon system which could be used in place of the then popular Heckler & Koch (HK) MP5 and Beretta M9. The parameters were for a replacement of the 9x19mm NATO cartridge commonly used in service pistols and submachine guns. It needed to be more accurate, provide greater range and be capable of defeating soft body armor and helmets of the time period. Belgian company Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FN Herstal) came forward with a radical new cartridge design and a unique weapon system for it.
Enter the 5.7x28mm cartridge
FN Herstal released the 5.7 x 28 cartridge in 1991. Smaller, lighter and much faster than 9mm NATO, the round proved it could defeat Kevlar armor of the time. It was specifically developed for the FN-P90 PDW, which featured an innovative, top-loading magazine that holds 50 rounds. At the time, the gun and ammunition were touted as being capable of defeating soft armor out to 200 meters. FN called this a new breed of weapon system a PDW (Personal Defense Weapon). Neither submachine gun or rifle, yet it offered important attributes from both. Specifically, the extended range and penetration a rifle round offered in a submachine gun sized package. This was at least the theory behind the development and use. Real-life use cases and testing has unfortunately found both weapon and cartridge don’t quite have the reach and terminal performance at distances past 150 meters.
Does 5.7×28 penetrate soft armor?
No – unless you somehow managed to obtain the SS190 load. FN produces two lines of ammo, one specific to the military and law enforcement, and another for commercial sales. It is very difficult to find the ‘duty’ rated version of 5.7x28mm as sales are restricted. Most of the production of 5.7×28 is geared towards law enforcement and military customers. The ammo they receive is a purpose made cartridge, dubbed SS190. It is a 30-grain solid projectile, intended to travel at 2350 fps. The designers wanted a round that would penetrate the woven fibers of soft armor using speed combined with a tiny dimensional cross section. It will also tumble violently upon impact. This is in comparison to the larger, heavier and slower 9mm, which can’t accomplish this feat.
So, what am I actually getting?
True Shot customers will find ammo made by either FN Herstal, Federal American Eagle (produced by Fiocchi) or Fiocchi, with other manufacturers rumored to be manufacturing 5.7×28 ammo in 2023 and beyond. The commercial FN 5.7 ammo is a 40 grain FMJ bullet, travelling at roughly 1900 fps. This specific load will neither penetrate soft armor or helmets, as it contains a solid lead core and is relatively slow moving in comparison to the SS190 cartridge.
FN 5.7 Ammo Types?
The 5.7×28 rounds comes in several different types of projectiles with the most common being; Full Metal Jacket, and Hornady V-Max (blue in color). The 40-grain Hornady V-Max bullet travelling at 1900 fps was designed for hunting varmint. Regardless of projectile type, the 5.7 round is very pleasant to shoot because of the low levels of recoil, and very accurate within their designed use range (150 yards or less).
FN Brand 5.7 Ammo Types
- SS190 (Ball), 31.2 grain, full metal jacket projectile
- L191 (Tracer), 31.2 grain, red tip tracer projectile
- Sb193 (Subsonic), 60.2 grain, white tip projectile
- SS192 (Soft), 27.8 grain, green tip projectile
- FR199 (Frangible), 35.5 grain projectile
- SS197SR, 40 grain, blue tip Hornady V-Max Projectile
Federal American Eagle 5.7 Ammo Types
- 40 grain, total metal jacket projectile
Fiocchi 5.7 Ammo Types
- 35 Grain, red tip (this is different from the red tip tracer from FN) jacketed frangible projectile
- 40 Grain, black tip, tipped hollow point projectile
Why would I want 5.7x28mm?
FN 5.7 is a very fun cartridge to shoot. Its relatively low recoil and flat shooting characteristics make it a comfortable round to fire out of a handgun such as the Ruger 5.7 or FN Five-Seven pistol. Its even more fun when you get to fire it out of a FN P90S (civilian version of the PDW). Its accurate, and combined with its pleasant shooting characteristics, the round allows for quick and relatively precise follow-up shots. Lastly, it’s hard to ignore the increase in standard magazine capacity. Conventional 5.7 magazines are typically 20 rounds, while remaining flush fitting to the handgun frame. Likewise, FN P90 magazines hold an exceptional 50 rounds. The round can even be handy for dealing with varmints or hunting small game. Beyond these aforementioned positive attributes, there are some drawbacks.
Why you might not want 5.7 x 28 ammo
We’ll just start with saying that this ammunition is pricey in comparison to most common pistol or rifle rounds. It typically retails for around one dollar per round, regardless of manufacturer or bullet design. This can translate into expensive range visits if you aren’t willing to dedicate your resources into owning a firearm chambered in this unique cartridge. Speaking of which, the ammo isn’t always easy to find in general. Even for us, keeping a consistent supply is a bit challenging during periods of tight ammunition supply like we felt during the pandemic. There isn’t a great supply of good self-defense ammo either.
Self-defense use of the cartridge is difficult to suggest. While there are some real-life use cases that point to the round working as intended, realize there are some contextual differences when these are mentioned. The users are almost all military or law enforcement in each instance, and they have access to the SS190 cartridge. The author found mixed reviews of the actual performance of the round despite all of the alleged positive design attributes listed on paper. What can be said is that the low-recoil, accuracy and magazine capacity seems to help the little 5.7 round work against bad guys (this is again assuming you have the SS190 cartridge).
What is the 5.7 x28 round good for?
The 5.7×28 cartridge, designed by FN Herstal, looks like a small rifle round and can shoot flat out to 150 yards. The Hornady V-Max projectiles were designed with varmint hunting in mind. 5.7x28mm ammo is a great round where high velocity is required. The round is easy to control as there is less felt recoil than a typical 9mm pistol. So if you’re looking for the ability to shoot longer range with a pistol such as the FN Five-Seven pistol, this is the round for you.
Conclusions on FN 5.7x28mm
The FN 5.7 cartridge is unique, fun to shoot and fulfills a niche role. While it may not be as ubiquitous as the 9mm it was intended to replace, there are some positives to owning a firearm chambered in it. Since coming off patent, more and more manufacturers are making firearms chambered in 5.7×28. With more ammunition manufacturers rumored to be making 5.7 this year and and next, we are hopeful the price should decrease in the near future and the availability should increase as well with greater adoption of the cartridge and increased supply.
But the round is not for everyone, especially those of us who are on a tighter budget these days. If you’re looking for something different and cool to show off to your buddies at the range, perhaps 5.7 is for you.