In a breakout from the “5 Best Submachine Guns Of All-Time,” individual submachine guns deserve a closer look. We are covering an SMG that multiple readers pinged me about following the round-up: the FN P90 5.7x28mm SMG.
Semantic Clarification: “P90” vs” P90?”
Some of you might be reading this and thinking, “What a minute, didn’t you already write about the P90 in an article awhile back? Well, yes and no. Y’see, back in June 2023, I wrote about the American-made Ruger P90 .45 ACP traditional double-action (TDA) semiautomatic pistol; a very fine gun in its own right, but an entirely different breed of animal from what we’re talking about now.
FN P90 Early History and Specifications
The FN P90 we’re talking about was initially designed in 1986 and indeed went into production in 1990, hence the digital portion of its alphanumeric designation. It’s manufactured by Fabrique Nationale (FN) Herstal of Herstal, Walloia, Belgium, which also makes the FN Five-seveN pistol in that same oh-so-controversial 5.7x28mm cartridge, as well as more time-honored and less controversial gun and cartridge combos such as the P-35 Browning Hi-Power single-action (SA) 9mm autopistol and the FAL 7.62x51mm NATO battle rifle.
According to the manufacturer’s official info page, “The FN P90 submachine gun is a compact, lightweight weapon with a magazine capacity of 50 cartridges in 5.7x28mm NATO calibre making it the ideal Personal Defence Weapon.”
From there, the page divvies the product into variants, the FN P90 Standard and the FN P90 Tactical. Of the former, the following virtues are touted: “fitted with an integrated optical sight without magnification … the user can therefore shoot with both eyes open … performance is fully retained in night/low light conditions thanks to a tritium capsule … available with an integrated visible (LV) or infrared (LIR) laser.” Of the latter: “fitted with an upper Picatinny type rail for optical sights … available with an integrated visible (LV) or infrared (LIR) laser.”
The cyclic rate of fire is 850—1,100 rounds per minute. Weight is 5.8 pounds, barrel length is 10.4 inches, and overall length is 19.9 inches. The standard magazine capacity is 50 rounds.
Real-World Combat Performance?
This SMG is reported to have been adopted by the military and police forces of over 40 countries. As far as I can ascertain, the first known usage of the P90 in combat was in April 1997 during Operation Chavín de Huántar, whereupon a team of 142 Peruvian Special Forces Group (Grupo de Fuerzas Especiales) troops stormed the Japanese ambassador’s residence and freed the hostages held by the terrorist organization Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). All 71 hostages were freed, and all 14 of the communist terrorists were killed.
Stateside, the first domestic law enforcement agency to use the P90 in a shootout was the Houston Police Department, doing so in 2003. As Sandy Wall, former president of the Texas Tactical Police Officers Association (TTPOA) reported: “In the one shooting we had with the P90, the bullet performed well. In fact, the bullet performed exactly as it was designed. The autopsy provided detailed information about the wound cavity and travel of the bullets. None of the 5.7mm rounds fragmented and as far as we can tell, none exited either. The shooting itself was a violent confrontation with many rounds exchanged between the suspect and the react team.”
FN P90 = Film Performances in the 1990s
The SMG’s cinematic appearances include the respective 1997 and 1999 007 films “Tomorrow Never Dies,” and “The World Is Not Enough,” 2002’s “Blade II” starring Wesley Snipes, and 2007’s “Rush Hour 3.”
Want Your Own?
To reiterate what I’ve said in my previous writeups about purchasing SMGs: assuming you’re willing and able to deal with the bureaucratic headaches and costs of the BATFE paperwork to own a full-auto weapon, be ready to cough up a few bucks (or Euros) … though granted, not as much money as you’d have to spend on a vintage SMG such as the MP-40, Sten, or Tommy Gun. Believe it or not, ArmsReach Gun Utility Store is currently selling one for $1,050.00, which is a real bargain for a full-auto weapon in this day and age.
Barring that, you can also purchase the semiauto-only FN PS90 version from Cabela’s for $1,899.00.
Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.