FN Five-SeveN Pistol: Future of Things to Come?
by: T.J. Mullin
At the turn of the century when military handguns first were being chambered for
smokeless cartridges, there was a tendency to make them in the same bore size as
their military rifle counterparts. This is why we have .30 and .32 caliber
revolvers in Sweden, Norway and France among other places as well as Switzerland
and Austria. Some military thinkers of the period thought that future handguns
would even be of smaller bore such as .25.
Of course, these small-bore, smokeless cartridge military handguns turned out to
be seriously deficient in stopping power and while smokeless rifle cartridges
got high enough velocity and bullet weight to give good stopping power where you
did the same thing to a revolver cartridge, you ended up with a lower powered
cartridge. The cases were not long enough to hold an ample quantity of powder
and the bullets were both too heavy to be very fast and of conventional design
resulting in small holes being put into the medium.
With the arrival of the 9 mm cartridge on the scene in World War I, the
small-bore revolver and its cartridges were merely viewed as badges of office
not as serious fighting tools. The 9 mm was certainly not as good for a
fighting handgun as a .45 but it was available in a sophisticated auto loading
design of convenient size and weight which also held a lot of cartridges. There
matters rested for many years. When a desire for increased penetration arose,
mainly to permit the SMG which was popular to compete with the manually-operated
rifle, the cartridge makers responded with steel core, steel jacketed, or very
heavy copper jacketed bullets fired at conventional velocity or sometimes
slightly faster. Those improvements made the 9 mm cartridge a better
penetrator, but this very feature also decreased it wounding or stopping power
in some cases as the bullets began to more and more completely penetrate a torso
with little stopping effect.
In the years since the end of World War II, flexible body armor has become more
and more common. It was first seen in the Korean War where nylon ballistic
armor was used to stop bullet and artillery fragments but not actual direct
bullet strikes. Later, thanks to Richard Davis’ efforts using Kevlar body
armor, ballistic vests became common first in police work where they could be
used to totally defeat conventional handgun rounds commonly found on the street.
Later, Davis developed vests capable of stopping rifle-powered rounds for raid
teams. This had the effect, I believe, of ultimately getting the military
interested in obtaining rifle proof vests to protect their soldiers. Of course,
rifle cartridges used by military forces are very hard to totally defeat with
any type of vest that can be comfortably worn by combat troops. Still vests
coupled with web gear containing steel-cased ammunition in magazines can
certainly stop fragments from artillery shells, glancing rifle rounds, and
direct conventional handgun or SMG-powered projectiles.
With the advent of improved armor being encountered on the battlefield, it was
natural that armies would want to adopt a weapon for their troops that would
allow them to defeat this armor. Merely punching a hole in the armor was not sufficient,
however, as you may well encounter a non-armored target and when
that happens, you want to be able to effectively engage it also. Additionally
you want a weapon that is safe to handle, easy to shoot, simple to maintain,
rugged and reliable, and it if held a lot of ammunition, so much the better.
Ammunition such as the French THV, which used a 9 mm 46 gr. bronze material
projectile loaded to 2400 fps. in a handgun, would accomplish the task presented
and allow the shooter to use a weapon that typically already was in the
inventory and familiar to the shooter. However, it did introduce another
munition into the chain of supply and the THV rounds also had some limitations
in that they were so light and shaped in such a fashion that they went to ground
within 200 meters. This was not bad for a military handgun, of course, which
typically is going to be used at ranges of 50 feet or less but when the
ammunition was used in an SMG, this imposed greater limitations since an SMG
using will be called upon to perform at ranges of 200 yards or more.
Additionally the goal of getting a weapon into the system that bridges the gap
between a handgun and rifle but had greater power and efficiency than a pistol
powered SMG was always something to consider.
The FN 57 pistol was designed around the 5.7 x 28 mm cartridge. That cartridge
was specifically designed to perform certain tasks such as penetrating ballistic
vests and helmets at a variety of ranges while still giving adequate stopping
power on non-armored targets. It was also to be flat shooting, have a low felt
recoil and flash, and be of size that a large quantity of ammunition could be
contained in the weapon to prevent unnecessary down-time reloading.
Originally the P90 was developed. This was rather like an SMG. It fired from
a closed bolt, used a top-mounted magazine, and was designed to be carried
across the back or chest and issued to personnel whose jobs prevented them from
a typical rifle but who needed something better than a conventional-style
handgun to defend themselves. It was an interesting piece of kit and adopted in
a variety of places mainly for police units tasked with anti-terrorist-type
duties. Although it was handy in comparison to a military rifle of traditional
design, it certainly was not handy like a pistol.
The cartridge developed by FN proved to be so interesting and potentially
useful that people clambered for a pistol chambered for the cartridge. The FN
57 pistol was thus born.
It is a polymer-framed weapon of concealed hammer construction. The overall
length is 8.2 inches, height of 5.4 inches, and a barrel of 4.82 inches. It
weighs 1.36 pounds (or 22 ounces) with a loaded weight of 27 ounces. While the
long length of the cartridge and high capacity of the weapon might well cause
you to think that it is awkward in the hand like such high-capacity, thick
weapons as the Glock M20/21, the SIG P226 or ParaOrdnance P14 but this is
incorrect. It is quite comfortable in the hand feeling much like an M1911 in
that it is long through the grip not wide. The edges are rounded also which
helps improve the whole feel of the weapon as those awkward, sharp angles so
commonly found are missing.
The FN 57 comes in two versions currently, the long trigger or what might be
called DAO-style where the trigger must be pulled through a long arc to fire and
the tactical version. On the tactical version, the trigger works through a much
shorter arc. Unlike a Glock-style trigger, it does not have a jolt at the end
causing it to disturb the shooter’s arm. I would most liken it to a poor M1911
trigger feel. Of course, that is much better than what is common with many auto
The standard model lacks a safety. The tactical model has a safety located
immediately above the trigger. It is awkwardly placed and difficult to remove
or apply with any certainty or speed. I assume it was placed there to either
meet some military organization’s demand or to “make points” to help it be
imported into the U.S. I think it makes about as much sense as a safety on a
S&W revolver. Of course, the French police had a special run of M12 revolvers
made years ago with exactly such a thing. However the French police have gone
beyond that today and so should you if you utilize an FN 57 Tactical pistol.
Field stripping is easy but a full, detailed stripping is much more involved
and FN factory representatives stated that only someone who went to the factory
armorers course was authorized to detail strip it. I find it rather troubling
that the factory thinks it is so complicated you cannot be trusted with a
manual. Fortunately, it is fairly open and made of polymer so some carburetor
cleaner and an air hose should solve most problems.
The sights are nicely shaped and offer a good sight picture. They come with
both night sight and standard three dot sights. Unfortunately in my hands and
with my eyes, it was regulated to hit 5-1/2 inches low at 25 yards. Changing or
modifying the sights is thus necessary. Groups were under three inches at 25
yards off hand for 10 shots and sometimes, five of those were within one inch.
Five shot groups at 50 feet were typically two inches off hand or less so the
weapon has sufficient accuracy for its intended purpose, always a problem with
some exotic ammunition and weapon combinations.
The weapon itself is dark in color, except certain parts such as the safety and
slide release are grey in color, interestingly enough. While it makes a nice
contrast, I am unclear as to why it is so as all black would seem to be easier
to achieve. Still it looks nice.
The magazines are made of plastic but unlike a typical high-capacity magazine,
the FN 57 magazines have double feed lips like a Thompson or H&K MP5, not a
double column going to a single-feed system. Accordingly they are quite easy to
load unlike some that get to be quite a handful as they get to within 90% of
their load. The magazine release is located under the right thumb and,
interestingly enough in light of developments such as the Walther P99 and H&K
USP, is not ambidextrous. The pistol also lacks a magazine safety which I think
is an excellent feature on any military or police weapon and I think, especially
with a high capacity weapon such as the FN 57, it would be very unlikely to
create any real life tactical concerns. Oddly enough it also lacks a lanyard
loop which I think can prove quite useful on a weapon that could easily be
carried by pilots or on night / seaborne operations where losing the weapon can
be readily done. A lanyard in such situations can allow you to retrieve the
otherwise lost forever piece of equipment.
Overall I was quite impressed with the FN 57 and would find it to be a very
nice- handling, military-style weapon if only it held less than 10 rounds and
shot 10 mm or .45 ACP ammunition. It is the ammunition it handles that turns it
into the star performer.
Ammunition is available in four different vintages – a training round of 31
grains which has a large, hollow point and no steel penetrator. It goes just as
fast as standard ammunition at 2133 fps. It would seem to me to be very
effective against non-armored targets especially on frontal shots. It would no
doubt be excellent on varmints also. There is also a 31 grain standard
armor-piercing round that contains a steel penetrator and a similar AP round
that also has a tracer element in the butt. Both weigh 31 grains and go 213s
fps. so they hit at the same point of aim as the training or T194 rounds.
Accuracy of the standard AP rounds and the T194 is similar. The tracer round
seems to be about equal but I cannot confirm that for certain. Typically tracer
is less accurate since it is constantly losing weight as it burns. This makes
it less consistent and hence less accurate. There is a sub-sonic round also
and, while it is perhaps useful in the P90 which can be remarkably effective
with a suppressor on an FN 57, it seems superfluous. I would avoid the
sub-sonic ammunition in an FN 57 pistol absent extraordinary situations.
In actual shooting into gelatin according to my friend, Ed Sanow, the bullet
track was very similar to that of 9 mm +P+ 115 gr. JHP, a proven fight stopper
at 92%. The bullet seems to tumble quickly releasing its energy in a short
distance. When I shot a 4-1/2 pounds, 3-1/2 inch thick pork shoulder through
the bone, I found that AP ammunition completely penetrated the shoulder and
exited the shoulder just barely, sticking out of the fat.
The bone, however, was shattered and bone fragments were thrown out into the wound channel making
the diameter of the pulped meat wound channel over two inches. Quite impressive
I thought and it would seem to verify that the round can be effectively used
against non-armored targets. Testing it on a military Kevlar vest established
it went through three layers of material (front, back and another front to put
it another way). Again quite impressive. Anyone wearing the vest clearly would
have been hit by the projectiles and seriously injured. Interestingly recovered
bullets showed only rifling marks, no expansion or other distortion.
Whether the FN Five-SeveN will be a successful military handgun is not clear to me.
Handguns are little used in military organizations today and the large stock of
World War II-style handguns has now been about used up in modern armies being
replaced with Beretta M92-style pistols, Glock 17, and H&K P8-style 9 mm
pistols mostly. All of those pistols are long-lasting pistols and use an
ammunition type that is currently readily available. Thus there seems to be
little real need to replace those little-used items which are long lasting, have
lots of ammunition available for them, and ranges that are set up and suitable
for the weapons with such forward stepping items as the FN 57.
I see the FN Five-SeveN being adopted by military organizations who perhaps are still using pre-World
War II-style revolvers or auto loaders and who are looking for replacements as a
possibility. But since such organizations are pretty low in the sophistication
order, those sales will be limited. Most likely they will become popular with
those at the extreme sharp end of military units and law enforcement
organizations tasked with high-intensity, short duration raid and anti-terrorist
activity or personal security teams. Whether that number of people will be
sufficient to maintain the production line for the FN 57 and its unique
ammunition remains to be seen. Certainly the market for high-end sniper rifles
seems to be able to sustain lots of high-quality, expensive makers and there are
obviously much fewer users of sniper rifles than handguns. The same can be said
for high-quality sniping ammunition especially things like the 338 Laupia and
other oddities. So perhaps I am pessimistic. I hope so as I really like the FN
Five-SeveN and would hate to see it become an orphan. But I suppose if it did, it would
still have a home with me as I still shoot my M53 .22 Jet four-inch Smith &
Wesson from time to time.
About the author: T.J. Mullin is a well known writer in the firearms community, and has an extensive background in federal law enforcement. He currently practices law in the St. Louis area.
Editor’s Note: Defense Review would like to personally thank T.J. for being so generous in providing this article and the accompanying photographs for our launch.