5.7x28mm Versus Body Armor

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Every time the 5.7x28mm cartridge comes up in a discussion, you always hear someone talk about its ability to penetrate a row of Abrams tanks and then continue on into the next county, but there is not a lot of information out there to prove the manufacturer’s incredible claims about the round’s ability to penetrate armor. Of course the commonly available sporting rounds, such as the hollow point SS195 or the blue tipped SS197 are not touted as armor piercing ammo by FN, but the mean little SS190 FMJ round is. So for this test, both SS197 and SS190 were used in a Five-seveN pistol and an AR57 rifle with a 16 inch barrel against a surplus kevlar helmet and a level IIIA US Palm vest to see if the 5.7x28mm round can in fact defeat armor.

Here are some mean little SS190 rounds. These rounds are restricted for sale to government bodies and law enforcement agencies by FN, which is why I conscripted my friend Chris to help with the test. Chris is an Army reservist, an FFL/SOT, and owner of Campbell Defense so I was happy to have him out there to help with this experiment.

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So first we loaded the blue tipped SS197 sporting ammunition in the pistol. Chris is here standing and ready to fire. Again, this is not the armor piercing ammunition…

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…and as such it did not penetrate the helmet:

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What about SS190 FMJ from the pistol?

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Consequently, it also failed to penetrate the helmet!

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Well what about a rifle? The 16 inch barrel surely helped the velocity of the round. Here is the sporting ammunition:

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And again, it failed to penetrate:

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Next up is the armor piercing stuff from the long gun:

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And boom, the round did make it through the helmet!

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So the helmet held up surprisingly well to the round, but what about a new, unexpired IIIA vest with 4 years of life left? Well I was really excited about this one and I set the armor up on a cinder block. We would be shooting through the block’s hollow cavity to see if we could penetrate both sides of the armor:

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So first up, Chris took aim against the rocky security guard with the pistol and sporting ammunition:

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And we had a direct hit:

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However the sporting ammunition failed to penetrate and was successfully stopped:

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Next up is armor piercing ammo from the pistol:

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Another good hit this time:

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And with the armor piercing ammunition, the round DID penetrate the armor on one side, but flattened out against the backside!

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So with SS190 armor piercing ammo, the round did in fact defeat the armor. As for the long gun, we first decided to try the sporting ammuntion:

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And the armor did not stand a chance. Even with sporting ammunition, the round went through both sides like butter:

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So that is that for the 5.7x28mm penetration test. To surmise:

  • SS197 sporting ammunition from a handgun will not penetrate IIIA armor
  • SS190 armor piercing ammunition from a handgun will defeat soft body armor
  • 5.7 from a 16″ barrel will slice through body armor, but only FMJ will defeat stronger stuff
  • Surplus German helmets are really, really strong

Pretty cool stuff. All in all the 5.7x28mm round when used with ammo not readily available to regular folks has some really nifty armor defeating capabilities, but be wary of those who exaggerate its performance.

Related

Alex C.

Alex is a writer for The Firearm Blog who was born and raised in Texas with years of experience in hunting, shooting competitions, and general collecting. A degree in History from Baylor University with an emphasis on the Age of Imperialism and a minor in English have contributed to his love of both early and modern firearms technology. Alex is most fond of machine guns and other NFA toys.


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  • blueorison

    FYI you are correct in that ss190 is restricted by FN. NOT otherwise. It is legal to own.

    • Risky

      Better clarify that it is ‘legal to own under federal law’ as the bullet’s construction doesn’t meet it’s definition of ‘armor piercing’. I can’t say for certain, however, that it’s legal to own in all fifty states and I’m willing to bet there are several nanny states out there that have made its ownership illegal in some way or another.

  • Charlie Taylor

    To be fair, pretty much anything out of a rifle will penetrate soft body armor, Colt AR’s in 9mm notwithstanding.

    • Anonymoose

      Maybe if you use Russian 7N31 you will have better results with the 9mm AR. :3

      • Michael

        Is this round, or something similar sold here?

        • Anonymoose

          Unfortunately only Russian government troops have access to it afaik. :

          • Guest

            There’s plenty of Israeli surplus Uzi ammo out there marked “subgun ONLY”. It’s probably the hottest 9mm you can easily get your hands on. And it will probably kaboom just about any 9mm pistol in short order.

        • Blake

          There’s plenty of Israeli surplus Uzi ammo out there marked “subgun ONLY” (or similar). It’s probably the hottest 9mm you can easily get your hands on. And it will probably kaboom just about any 9mm pistol in short order.

      • John Doe

        I read about a test with 9×19 ammunition and soft body armour a few years back. The cheapest Russian FMJ with steel core was the only one that did penetrate the armour. They used a pistol. I do not recall the rating of the armour used.

  • Azril @ Alex Vostox

    Ja, You they say, Germany makes a really good helmet..

    • mrr

      yes, but the helmet is really made by a spanish company (INDUYCO S.A.) that provides helmets for many armies in Europe, althought in the helmet you can see the data of the german subsidiary.

      • noob

        It’s interesting to see the complex shapes helmets can be made in and still give great ballistic performance. I wonder how heavy a composite laminate version of medieval plate armor would be? would it be practical to stand in the gunners cupola of a humvee and shrug off pistol rounds and fragments or would you overheat?

  • Tony Williams

    The 5.7×28 SS190 ammo when fired from the P90 was designed to penetrate the NATO CRISAT target (1.6mm titanium plate plus 20 layers of kevlar) out to at least 150 metres and still have enough energy left to inflict a disabling injury. The 4.6×30 from the HK MP7 was designed to meet the same requirement. They both officially passed the NATO tests.

    It would be interesting to see how both types of ammunition perform against various higher grades of armour when fired from the P90 and MP7 length barrels.

    • bbmg

      According to published data, the P90 pushes the SS190 just 200 or so fps faster than the Five-seveN, so I doubt there would be much difference for single rounds.

      At 15 rounds per second though, the chances of landing several rounds in very close proximity firing in bursts are high, which would be more representative of a real world situation.

      If I recall correctly from your excellent PDW article you had the opportunity to fire this weapon so are in a better position to comment on the above.

      • Colt

        P90 yes, PS90. no because of the 16″ barrel the SS197 is about 2,480 FPS.

  • JT

    A better question would be .22 TCM FMJ VS Body armor. I’m sure that they will create a loading for that or that people will start legally or illegally producing ammo in that config. it’s basically a cut down .223 bullet

    • bbmg

      The TCM fires a 25% or so heavier bullet, but at significantly lower velocity (1000 fps less!) than the 5.7 round. Velocity is a significant factor in penetration because the faster a projectile is going, the less time the target media has to deform and absorb the blow.

      On the other hand, if the lower impact velocity makes it less likely for the bullet to disintegrate, it might prove to do better.

    • Risky

      More accurately described as a necked down 9mm.

      • JT

        well yeah, 9mm case cut .223 bullet. : P

        • Giolli Joker

          Well the TCM case is NOT a necked down 9mm, but a cut down .223 Remington.

  • Hedd Wyn

    I’d like to see how well 7.62×25 does, apparently czech ammo can really penetrate a lot.

  • mechamaster

    yes ! finally I found good review about the penetration power of 5,7x28mm from 2 different platform !

  • bbmg

    Supporting the vest with concrete is a little unfair, clay or ballistic gelatin would have been the more conventional backing and would also have given some indication of the sort of damage the wearer would have suffered.

    An informative assay nonetheless, more of this sort of testing please TFB! Science before conjecture :)

    • Alex C.

      Man I am just a redneck with a paycheck so I figured using the block to support the vest aught to work if I didn’t hit concrete!

      • bbmg

        I hope you started each test with “Hold my beer!” ;)

        • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

          Who told!

  • Anton Gray Basson

    Bullet construction and velocity plays a huge factor in penetrating anything. I understand that 3a vests stop up too 44 mag. A big blunt bullet will do worse than a small, hard, high speed bullet.

  • Troy

    SS190 has a Black Tip, it looks like you have ss192 LEOhot FMJ rounds there. Unless the AP is not black tip anymore, I think you have the wrong stuff.

    • Alex C.

      It is available with both a black painted tip and unpainted tip. This is the old unpainted type.

      • Matt

        Alex what you have pictured is AE TMJ rounds. Bullet profile is all wrong. If they don’t attact magnet then it’s not ss190.

      • Slvrwrx

        To further, SS190 can be sold by Dealers, however you need a LEO/MIL department letter head, and the dealer can only place the order. When the order ships, it goes straight from a customs warehouse to the department who placed the order. So that means your friend would have had to buy it second hand just like civis, and even then what you have pictured is American Eagle 5.7x28mm TMJ rounds. They are a total copper jacket with lead core round..

        • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

          Then why do they attract a magnet? And why does the box say SS190 on it?

          • Slvrwrx

            If you indeed have them, 2.jpg shows an incorrect bullet profile for SS190. 20.jpg also shows the jacket to have a cannelure, as to which none of the factory rounds you tested have.

          • Slvrwrx

            Alex, 2.jpg per the article indicates that that is your SS190. Bullet profile is all wrong. 20.jpg you said it penetrated but flattened out. The bullet jacket you show in the picture has a cannelure. SS190 doesn’t have a cannelure..

  • dan citizen

    17 hmr zips cleanly through most soft armor too, even with varmint fodder, though I wouldn’t trust my life to it or 5.7 making a serious wound afterwords. 17 hmr, 22 wmr, 7.62 x 25 are all really a pain to reliably stop with soft armor only, though a very thin obturating plate (strike plate) is usually enough to foil the rimfires 7.62 x 25 frequently defeats those as well.

    I make custom armor and have shot a lot of armor with a lot of different cartridges and there are usually a few surprises.

    Another thing I’ve found is that soft trauma plates are junk, 80% I have tested failed miserably to rounds not normally known to be good penetrators, even the top of line examples failed to perform at their rated level.

    I know this article wasn’t a scientific test, but the concrete backing greatly helps the round to penetrate. Still a good read though.

  • Ian

    Where is the helmet from?

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      Germany

  • gunslinger

    what was the range? 10 feet?

  • jose

    how did the ss190 do against the helmet with handgun?

    • gunslinger

      6th picture
      “Consequently, it also failed to penetrate the helmet!”

  • phuzz

    I’m impressed that the helmet stopped the pistol rounds, but man, imagine the headache you’d have!

    • Callum King-Underwood

      Perhaps someone should stick an accelerometer inside the helmet, get an idea of the G force the wearer would have subjected against their head.

      • Risky

        It wouldn’t be much more than the recoil of the weapon. Just imagine an Five seveN taped to your helmet going off… not that bad.

        • Callum King-Underwood

          Yeah, I didnt think at the time, newtons 3rd law slipped my mind. Still be interesting to see the data though, I doubt sticking the butt of a P90 against your head and firing is going to do any good, just wondering how much “bad” it will do

  • Lance

    Never was a fan of PDW ammo like 5.7 or 4.8 HK. Id rather use 5.56mm or 7.62x51mm is you have to have extra bang for your buck over 9mm or .45 Auto. Iam with Mr. Wyn and say give 7.62×25 a try. Over all like the P-90 the round and gun had hype from FN fans but never really became the death of the MP-5 like FN hoped it be. Stay with a Colt Commando if you need a small weapon with more bang than a MP-5 or M-3 can bring. .223 beats 5.7 any time any day.

    • José Pulido

      The AAC Honey Badger is set to replace the MP5, as well as the MP7 in the US. Turns out that being able to hear is pretty important.

  • st4

    Neat article. Can you find some of the elusive SS198LF red box for testing as well?

  • Steve Truffer

    Very Box O Truth style. I like it.

  • Tim Pearce

    Okay… and then what?

    It’s one thing to defeat body armor. But, what does the vastly decelerated .224″ bullet do to a body beneath the armor? Is it a viable defensive round *after* losing what is likely a large percentage of its velocity getting through the armor.

    As far as I’m concerned, it’s still only a round for use against armored squirrels.

    • bbmg

      Here’s some more scientific testing by brass fetcher: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WrokNC3Clc

      The SS190 goes through plenty after penetrating the armor.

      I’ll wager that someone with a P90 with a 50 round magazine firing bursts at 900 rounds per minute is far more likely to strike a target in a vital area than someone with a 45 acp M1911.

      • Tim Pearce

        I’m surprised, but do consider Brass Fetcher pretty fair with testing. I’ll still call the blue tip “squirrel ammo” though. ;)

    • 1Guy

      The 60′s called. They need your expertise to denounce Eugene Stoner for submitting a plastic .22 squirrel gun in attempt to dethrone the M14 (AKA the Epitome of Manliness).

      • Tim Pearce

        Yeah, thanks, troll elsewhere.

      • Blake

        The AR10 Stoner submitted was chambered in 7.62x54N…
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AR10
        It was the Army brass that requested that he redesign it to shoot the new .223 varmint cartridge & resubmit it.

  • T

    German helmets are pretty stout. . . They were made to a ballistic standard similar to our MICH helmet by MSA for the Bundeswehr back in the mid-90′s. . . (They have much greater protection than our older PASGT Kevlar helmets from the 80′s-90′s, and some would argue better coverage, similar to the USMC issue helmets versus the USA/USAF MICH. . . )

  • Pi

    BUT, will it go thru level 2a, which is commonly worn because it’s light an easy to conceal?
    I want to know if the 197 shot from the pistol will go thru that!
    Next time . . .

  • Chuck Norris

    So where’s the beef here?

    A normal round doesn’t pierce a body armor or a helmet, but an armor piercing round does.

    Is that all this article had to say?

    • Alex C.

      The purpose of this test was to either prove or disprove the claims out there that 5.7x28mm ammunition has over the top armor piercing abilities.

      • Chuck Norris

        I see. Many think that the standard 5.7 round is armor piercing, but it’s not.

        • Slvrwrx

          By Federal law, not a single FN produced 5.7 round is Armor Piercing. AP ammo is defined by construction, not what it will or will not penetrate.. Recently the ATF did release a FTB (last year), stating that SS190 was indeed AP, but most are very curious as to how they can claim that when it fails to meet definition (It’s core is aluminum)

  • Sid

    The problem with this weapon and ammunition is that it is not in common use. It has advantages. 50 rounds in a magazine, low recoil, good penetration. It fills a niche.
    And it will probably never see adoption by large organizations. The US Army is not buying a weapon that fires a different ammunition. Police Depts might. But I cannot see spending the money on a new weapon that uses an expensive ammunition when they already have weapons firing more common bullets.
    Would I have felt comfortable carrying one in Iraq? Yes. I only needed to shoot within visual contact range. A quick burst is all that would be needed. What if they are wearing body armor? In case you have not participated in current training, soldiers shoot until there is no threat.
    Bigger bullets? Find a weapon that is light and small enough to be operated as easily and can be controlled on burst/auto. 7.62 x anything full powered is not going to work in any existing weapon. A controlled burst in 5.7 can be held on target by a Boy Scout. Chuck Norris cannot hold a controlled burst of .308 on target.
    Honey Badger? Maybe. But that is a new ammunition and the logic is less sound. We would lose the advantage of more ammunition in the magazine and still have a new round.
    I like what they were trying to do. But it is a solution that does not fit.

    • Alex C.

      Funny, I can hold a G3 on target on feuerstoß with no problems. You just have to concentrate and brace for impact.

      • bbmg

        How big a target and at what range?

  • Michael

    So how do the various 5.7 rounds perform against people not wearing body armor?
    I own a FiveseveN pistol and carry it sometimes with ss198 ammo. I would like to see comparisons with 9mm and .40 hollow points.
    How about a 5.7 bolt action rifle, 16in barrel

  • Sulaco

    Actually we did recently test a 7.62×25 pistol against standard issue police patrol under uniform shirt armor and it did not get through, trama plate or no.

  • Tojo

    Curious how Elite Ammunition T6 or S4M would have performed on your test? It would be an interesting test.

    • AmendmentNo2

      Here’s the S4M, T6 is also available on the same channel:

  • Charles Adams

    I’d like to know if the 5.45x18MM lives up to the claims.

    • Karina

      The claims are people wearing body armor surviving multiple direct hits of the 5.45mm PSM in the chest, then dying one hour later of internal bleeding without them even noticing that they were hit.

      I don’t want to see if it does. An enemy that has one hour to live after I shot it, is not an enemy that will let ME live.

  • DocScience

    Now, how about the REAL killer issue with the 5-7.

    Hard to find and expensive to buy.

  • James McClansor

    The rounds shown (and possibly used in the test) were FMJ target rounds, NOT SS190. I am not sure if your friend got his hands on the wrong ammo, or what – but SS190 rounds have a steel penetrator, with a copper wash. The main point is that every SS190 round (which are only manufactured by FN) has a BLACK TIP. What you show in the images is a Federal branded 40gr sporting round.

  • James McClansor

    Here is an actual test of the SS190 round; as you can see IT CLEARLY shows that your testing was inaccurate. You were not using an SS190 round, as this round WILL DEFEAT a Level IIIa vest – IN FACT, IT WILL GO THROUGH TWO (2) OF THESE VESTS and STILL have enough energy to do damage. In that test, it went through THREE IIIa vests (same type as you tested, but using actual SS190 ammo),

    Please don’t put “articles” like this out on the Internet. I don’t know what your agenda is, but it makes no sense to just make things up like this, it really doesn’t.

    If you would like to obtain some real SS190 ammo, please contact me – and I can set you up with a few rounds to do this test accurately/without lying.

  • SJ

    That’s not SS190 ammo – as you can see, this video shows that SS190 can defeat IIIa armor easily. In fact, it passes through two of these vests whilst still having enough energy to go through clay and a water jug. He then shows the SS190 (from the Five-Seven pistol) defeat THREE layers of IIIa armor.

    I think you weren’t testing this right maybe? This comment seems to get removed very quickly – so adding this comment, and taking a screenshot to put on your Facebook page just to ensure you see it. Don’t want any false information out there, right?

    Thanks!

  • 2A

    Very interesting test. Clearly that high velocity out of the rifle is the biggest factor.

    Have you seen the video on http://www.guardiandefense.org? They pit a .500 S&W against Level IIIA armor.

  • n_djinn

    in my (very similar) tests the SS197 penetrated both the front and back of IIIa.

  • http://196800revolutionsperminute.blogspot.com/ Nathaniel F.

    The ammunition captioned as “SS190″ is not SS190. They appear to be some sort of reload with a lead-cored FMJ bullet.

    SS190 does come in plain-tip varieties, but even that variation does not resemble the ammunition you are calling “SS190″ very much at all. SS190 has both a finer ogive and meplat, as well as having a lacquer sealant around the neck, usually with a black tip denoting “armor piercing”. Further, with the exception of the very rare SS191 tracer and SB193 subsonic rounds, neither SS190 nor any of the other factory FN projectiles have a cannelure, while we can very clearly see a cannelure on the distorted “armor piercing” jacket removed from the vest test.

    Here is a picture of plain-tip SS190 ammunition so that others can compare the two:
    http://picturearchive.gunauction.com/5422154836/8019163/e12099da08f219fafe884283eb8d0064.jpg