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NATO PDW trials: the forbidden saga of "MP7 vs P90"

***Trial report + documents at the end of article***

Many have said that the NATO PDW trials were a way for arming rear echelon Western-European troops in defense of Russian paratrooper invasions.

Today we are here to challenge current ideas on the NATO PDW trials… ideas that were based on rumors passed down. We obtained the actual NATO Army Armaments Group (NAAG) trial report from 2002, and our friend, fellow youtuber Oxide helped us run tests on soviet era body armor.

To fill you in:

Currently the belief within the firearms community that the NATO trials were held to find a weapon that was lighter, smaller, easily packable for rear-echelon troops and fired an AP cartridge to penetrate Russian armor for said rear echelon troops to defend themselves against the impending Russian paratrooper attack on W. European rear lines.

Most notably, the FN P90 was pit against the HK MP7 as a NATO quest for the best PDW and future weapon for special operations…

While there is a shred of truth where these misconceptions are based upon… they are inaccurate.

· The PDW trials were equally about the cartridges as it was about the weapons

· The cartridges weren’t great at piercing Russian paratrooper armor… well they didn’t.. at all.

· There was more than just the 4.6 and 5.7 in the initial NATO PDW trials

· It was not a fair fight from the beginning.

· It lacked US involvement.

· As a bonus at the end, we theorize an unlikely beneficiary of this PDW program.

In doing exhaustive research for our P90 and MP7 video, we found that nobody was able to reference first hand material.

So thanks to our friend Rasmus for digging and finding our key material in the NATO archives, we will examine the NATO PDW trials by referencing a 2002 summary on the PDW caliber trials by NATO army armaments group (NAAG), and the NATO standard AEP-97 for proof and inspection of small arms ammunition.

And through this, we’ll talk about the trials and break down some misconceptions.

0, The trials

First off, the trials were primarily designed to confirm and standardize a PDW cartridge, not a PDW weapon, and the cartridge testing consisted of two phases

The first phase of the trials were hosted at Ft. Halstead in the UK in September 2000. Phase 1 started off with 4 candidates.

The 5.7x28 and the 4.6x30 are the two that we generally know of, but the British .224 BOZ was a 5.56 projectile necked down into a 9mm casing, supplied by Civil Defense Supply to re-

chamber into standard 9mm weapons. (Remember this, we’ll discuss more in a bit)

And the German firm Sommer und Ockenfuss also submitted a .224 type ammunition that we could not find any data on, but since it was fired through a Thompson Contender, it was unlikely to be considered.

The second phase was conducted under the French Directory for Land Armaments Program at Bourges, and it was a detailed testing for the 5.7x28 and 4.6x30 after they were determined as the two final contenders.

We will delve into the conclusions later, but there are some highlights that we can clarify off the bat. Declaration here is that some of these were deductions made on logical conclusions based on trials results and historical timelines. So lets get into it.

1, The 5.7mm was set up to replace 9mm, not to pierce armor.

The program was not set up to pierce Russian paratrooper armor. The PDW program was a deliberate move to slowly phase out the 9mm cartridge as the new NATO standardized agreement (or STANAG).

I cannot underemphasize how this is a bigger deal than a weapon STANAG. In a time of war, using a standardized ammunition system amongst allies is exceedingly important for an alliance to support each other. Far more important than a standardized weapon that no alliance would ever agree upon.

In the NAAG report, it clearly states that the French and Belgians were wanting to entirely replace the 9mm NATO \ with the 5.7x28 over time. They actually got the cartridge proofed according to NATO MOPI standards (manual of proof and inspection), drafted the STANAG and were about to distribute the new STANAGt when Germany at this point blocked the initiative by announcing the 4.6x30mm in development.

This is to foreshadow a later point of political squabbles.

It is very clear to us that both the 5.7 and 4.6 fail to pierce Russian paratrooper armor, an NIJ Level4 equivalent. In working with Ben over at Oxide, he clearly demonstrates that both the NATO PDW calibers failed at penetrating the standard 6.5mm titanium Russian armor of its time.

Some may argue that maybe NATO didn’t know of Russian armor’s existence.

This is unlikely.

This same family of Russian armor had been in use since the first Chechen war and had its predecessor in use in Afghanistan in the 70’s. Even the Soldier of Fortune magazine did a penetration test on it in the 80’s, so it was quite clear what armor Russian paratroopers were using.

Now yes, according to Oxide’s sources, Russian paratrooper doctrine of that era was to airdrop their APCs with all their gear and armor, and Russian paratroopers would jump slick with no armor, to then kit up where the APC had dropped… meaning that there was a very small window to fight unarmored paras with a PDW.

It is unfeasible to plan an entire NATO alliance caliber with the hope that your troops can kill the enemy paratroopers within the 30-60 mins time they need to rally and kit up.

In Oxide’s test, even an M16 with M855a1, a much higher velocity 5.56x45 could not penetrate the paratrooper armor.

There is no free lunch, if a full 20in M16 pushing one of the fastest penetrator rounds we have in 2021 cannot defeat the armor, you cannot expect a smaller, slower and lighter PDW cartridge with a weaker penetrator to defeat the same armor.

The myth that the PDW program was designed to penetrate Russian paratrooper armor should be laid to rest.

However, the program did specify a CRISAT type armor that used 1.5mm titanium plates, one of the weakest Russian armors that would stop 9mm NATO cartridges…

Indeed it would appear that the initial requirements for a CRISAT armor penetration under the original solicitation AC/225 Panel III was more so as a barrier to weed out 9mm weapons, in seeking a new lighter caliber that relied on velocity rather than mass to wound…

In summary, the French and Belgians sought to replace the 9mm, and presumably designed the PDW ammunition trials with a weak armor that could block the 9mm but designed a cartridge that would barely penetrate, but failed standardize and replace the 9mm when the Germans contested with the 4.6mm.

2, Francophone favoritism?

This report under the NAAG suggests political involvement in Brussels.

It’s well documented that the 5.7x28 does not penetrate armor as well as the 4.6x30.

This isn’t necessarily because the cartridge fails, but the bullet construction of the Belgian SS190 black tips are peculiarly designed with a steel TIP and aluminium core, whereas the HK 4.6 AP SX is a full steel penetrator with a copper jacket.

We should emphasize that the 5.7 only has a STEEL TIP that performs base penetration on armor, while the 4.6 APSX is purely a penetrator with a jacket, providing little to no expansion or fragmentation.

One could presume that the Belgian 5.7x28mm SS190 was designed to barely penetrate the CRISAT armor that was designated by the committee to bar the 9mm from being re-adapted.

Whereas the German 4.6 APSX was designed by someone who only wanted to penetrate any armor that they envisioned a trial would throw at it, because they didn’t really know the CRISAT specifications…

The trial report on the two caliber also corroborates that the 5.7 was better at causing flesh damage while the 4.6 was better at penetrating armor.

I’d like to remind you again that neither calibers penetrates the standard issued soviet armor, but a test on the CRISAT armor would be more effective to weed out 9mm than to find a good AP cartridge.

3, The lack of US involvement.

As Project 90, or the P90 by FN took ground in 1990, the US had just adapted the 9mm Beretta M9 in 1985 and was engulfed in the war on terror by the NATO PDW ammo trials in 2002, so it had no time nor interest in switching calibers to fight Russians who weren’t invading.

As an editorial note, I realize my background as a US Army Officer may seem like it would skew my perceptions, but in working deeply under and with NATO when I was in Europe I realized many NATO actions are done with the blessing of the USA.

Like it or not, the initial standardization agreement (STANAG) of the 7.62x51 NATO was due to the US. The British, French and Belgians who favored the .280 Brit were promptly shut down.

The STANAG of the 5.56x45 NATO, also directly due to the US.

Throughout the trials, and the proving grounds for the trials, there seemed to be a serious lack of American involvement.

All the testing was completed at Ft. Halstead, UK and at Bourges, France. The initial requirements for AC/225 June 1997 were based on a European Staff Target for the PDW in May of 1996.

A major lack of US involvement suggest that they would likely not receive US support for preparing NATO to use a 5.7x28 PDW cartridge merely 12 years after the US refitted it’s arsenal to use 9x19mm Luger.

Remember, typically the US sways NATO to use America’s cartridge, not the other way around.

So who won?

This is an interesting outcome. The NAAG report discusses at length that the 5.7x28 wins in terminal ballistics, but the 4.6x30 is a better penetrator and is slightly more accurate…

Which makes sense when you delve into the bullet construction.

The 5.7’s multi alloy construction gave it “superior incapacitation capacity”, where as the 4.6’s jacketed penetrator is… well… a penetrator, but also is more uniform in material so would likely have less centripetal force to aid in it’s accuracy.

Small notes were that the 5.7 failed in a chemical submersion test. So basically when the study group submerged the 5.7 into fuel before firing, it would lead to malfunctions.

This is likely because the P90’s rotary magazine design requires the cartridges to have a dry lubrication applied, which would have been stripped by the chemical submersion and cause a magazine misfeed. The report also states that it is likely a [weapon] system problem and not the cartridge issue.

At the end of the trials, the NAAG chairman notes that the initial PDW specifications needs to be more realistic…

HOWEVER most importantly, he noted,

“Once national interests are at stake it is no surprise that a consensus could be difficult to reach knowing the consequences of such an important choice.”

Bottom line: The Europeans squabbled and the US wasn’t going to help make a decision. The PDW working group was disbanded and no STANAG was achieved for a single PDW caliber to replace the 9x19mm cartridge.

So what happened after ?

Following the PDW trials, neither of the PDW cartridges were ever standardized into the NATO supply system… until 2020.

Under STANAG 4509, both the 5.7x28 and 4.6x 30 calibers were standardized into the NATO logistical system. 18 years after the round 2 trials, NATO decided that it could not pick just one.

During the time in between, the FN P90 and the HK MP7 both found itself in roles that it was not designed to support. As a more traditional design with easier methods for attaching conventional accessories, the MP7 became more associated with special operations deployment… but we will look at these in more focused videos.

If we were to look back at the initial intent of the PDW program with an express objective to replace the 9mm with a single future caliber, it failed to replace the 9mm and failed to narrow logistical supplies to a single caliber.

So who gained the most? Benefitted

Ironically, the NATO PDW trials led the Russians to kick off their own PDW projects, developing the PP2000… a 9x19 PDW that the Russians were more importantly able to develop the new 7N31 9mm AP caliber to make up for the lack of penetration of the 9mm cartridge.

Remember how we talked about the other calibers initially considered in the first phase of the NATO PDW trials? The UK submission by Civil Defense Supply, the .224 BOZ, was actually submitted with a Glock 17 and MP5 that fired the .224 BOZ. In other words, this was designed to fire through 9mm base weapons with a barrel swap, meaning that NATO members would be able to retrofit their 9mm weapons with a barrel swap for it.

Although this has its inherent longevity problems, it would have been the easiest solution to give 9mm weapons an AP capability.

Well the Russians, who aren’t stupid, decided to accomplish the same by embedding the same weight penetrator in a polymer jacketed sabot core, so their 9mm PDW would not require a barrel swap to switch between normal or armor piercing 9mmx19 ammunition. Despite increased maintenance issues when deployed, the same 7N31 is still used by Russians in their Vityaz and PPK20 type SMGs to achieve much greater AP and barrier penetration results at shorter distances.

Good job, NATO.

This has been an exhaustive process to research, but in light of keeping the record straight I would like to send out a call for action.

As I’ve had continued chats with Ian over at Forgotten Weapons on this subject, we recognise that the first-person accounts on the NATO PDW working group are severely lacking. Contact us via the emails that we’ve listed under this video description!

This affects our understanding of it in the gun community. As a result, we’d like to open our communications to anyone who was in the NATO Army Armaments Group, or NATO Working Groups of AC/225 LG/3. Basically anyone who was involved in the project itself, or had worked with AC/220 LG/3’s chairman, Colonel Sana.

We’d like to hear from anyone who was around with insider information, exactly what kind of problems did the working group face? What exactly were the contract requirements put forward with AC/225 (LG/3) D/7 dated 12th June 1997 as the tender for the contract?

I hope you enjoyed this, and tune in again, when we finally finish covering the MP7 and P90. For now, we’ll see you on the range.

This has been a collaborative effort between us and various researchers. Most notable, Oxide:


NATO PDW Trials Report from AC225 LG/3 D7 (2002)

Download PDF • 52KB

MCMOPI report on the proof and inspection procedures (notice this already has the 5.7mm and 4.6mm PDW caliber listed, but was never published...)

Download PDF • 18.81MB

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