A Comparison of Personal Defense Weapon Ammunition

PDWs2

Anthony Williams, small arms theorist and co-author of the book Assault Rifle with Maxim Popenker, wrote an article in February of 2006 on the development of the Personal Defense Weapon and its ammunition, which he amended in late 2013. He includes in the article two photos which together represent one of the most complete collections of PDW cartridges I know of:

PDWs

Current and past PDW rounds. The caption from Williams’ article reads: “PDW cartridges: 1 = 5.56×45 NATO; 2 = .30 Carbine; 3 = 9×18 Makarov; 4 = 7.65x17SR (.32 Auto); 5 = 9×19 NATO; 6 = 5.7×28 FN; 7 = 4.6×30 HK; 8 = 5.8×21 Chinese; 9 = 9×19 Russian AP; 10 = 9×21 Russian AP; 11 = .40 S&W; 12 = .45 Auto”

PDWs2

The caption reads: “Experimental PDW cartridges: 1 = 5.56mm NATO (for scale); 2 = .22 APG; 3 = .221 Fireball (IMP); 4 = 5.56mm Colt MARS; 5 = 6×35 KAC PDW; 6 = .17 Libra; 7 = .22 SCAMP; 8 = .224 Boz; 9 = .225 JAWS MicroMag; 10 = .250 JAWS MicroMag; 11 = .224 VA; 12 = .22 TCM; 13 = .223 Timbs; 14 = 6.5×25 CBJ; 15 = 9×19 (for scale)”

Mr. Williams left off some rounds that could arguably be considered PDW rounds if only by convenience, such as the 5.45×39 (used in the PDW-like AKS-74U), but in terms of rounds designed specifically for PDWs and PDW-like weapons, these two images are shockingly complete. Rounds like the 5.7×28 and 4.6×30 are from a collector’s perspective very easy to obtain, while rounds like the .22 MARS and .22 APG are attainable but uncommon. The real jewels of the collection are the Russian AP 9×19 and 9x21mm rounds and the 5.8x21mm Chinese PDW. These rounds are almost never seen for sale in the west, and are almost impossible to get due to import restrictions (in the case of the Russian rounds, because they are armor piercing, and in the case of the Chinese due to the ammunition importation ban in place for that country). Other notable rounds include the .22 SCAMP, designed by Colt in the late 1960s for a very slick select-fire semiauto/3 round burst handgun that would have replaced the 1911 in service, the 6.5×25 CBJ, a Swedish round firing tungsten-cored saboted ammunition with extremely high penetration for the size, and the 4.38x30mm/.17 Libra, an extremely obscure round from the Czech Republic designed for the ČZW-438 compact rifle. Interestingly, the .22 SCAMP and .17 Libra both share the unusual parentage of being based on the .22 Hornet case, albeit modified to the rimless configuration. Rounds that didn’t make it into the lineup that are still worth mentioning would be the 5.56×30 MINSAS, an Indian PDW round that is very similar to the 5.56mm MARS, the 5.7mm Johnson Spitfire, a necked down .30 Carbine designed by Melvin Johnson as a retrofit for .30 caliber M1 Carbines to improve their performance, and the 5.56×22 and x30 GIAT, two rounds from a French program of the 1980s and ’90s that sought to produce a personal defense weapon.

The future of PDWs is uncertain. As long as carbines in calibers comparable to 5.56mm are standard issue, it’s unlikely that PDW rounds and weapons to fire them will very widely proliferate, as shorter barreled versions of standard rifles can easily fill that niche. However, in the event that a larger rifle caliber is adopted and replaces 5.56mm in NATO or the 5.45mm in Russia, the PDW cartridge may well see renewed interest.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Mike

    Lets stick with the Calibers we have.
    9mm. 5.56. 7.62. 50BMG

    • Bill

      …and training people to get good hits with them. It’s boring, but if all the money spent on wunderguns and cartridges was spent on markspersonship and individual tactics, we’d already have ever thing we need.

      • Nicks87

        I pretty much agree, I hate these ridiculous “boutique” calibers and I hate wildcats even more. If the military doesn’t use it and I cant buy it at the local sporting goods store then I don’t give a f**k about it. 9mm, 5.56, 7.62, and 50BMG, when properly applied, do exactly what they were designed to do.

        • Dan

          “When propey applied, do exactly what they were designed to do.” Go boom and make me giggle?

        • iksnilol

          But other things do it way better, and you don’t even need to wildcat. Look at .338 Lapua, way better than .50 BMG. Or look at 6.5×55 (or .260 Remington if you want to use 308 brass). Way easier to shoot with better range.

          • The .338 Lapua originated from a wildcat. It can directly trace its origins to the .338/378 KT, and was later updated to the beltless .338/416 USN. The late riflesmith Jerry Haskins had his hand in it from the very beginning.

          • iksnilol

            I did not know that, but nowadays it isn’t a wildcat anymore.

          • Nicks87

            Nope, Military calibers work just fine. The point is, that people just need to train more with what they have instead of always looking for the next best thing because they think it will make them a better shooter. You can have caliber pissing contests all day long but that’s what it boils down to.

          • iksnilol

            So you are telling me that .338 Lapua is bad? Despite the following:

            -ammo weighs half as much as 50 bmg
            -the rifle themselves weigh half as much (try carrying 5,5 kg instead of 12-13 kg)

            It isn’t really a pissing contest, it is just that people see what the millitary calibers lack and they make something to fix that. To dismiss those improvements simply because the millitary hasn’t adopted them is foolish. Millitary does a lot of things that aren’t smart.

            Also, am I mistaken for believing that a lighter rifle that recoils less will be better?

          • FarmerB

            .338 LM is awesome when compared to the .50 in man-portable anti-personnel role. For my thinking, that’s really only because the .50 isn’t ideal for the role rather than a specific problem with the .50 itself or its platforms. Applying it to that task puts it in the wrong job, so to speak.

  • Cornelius Carroll

    I really like the idea of 6.5×25. It would be nifty to have an AR with a 14.5″ barrel pinned/welded to 16″ feeding from glock mags chambered in 6.5×25 and a glock 19 chambered in 6.5×25 as well. I guess all you’d need is the appropriate barrels, right?

    • El Duderino

      I’ve read the long write-up on the 6.5 CBJ. Made me a believer. Issue these for CQB with a 50rnd quad stack mag and a high ROF. Bring the SMG back!

      • Anything is possible if you have an infinite supply of tungsten. :/

        • El Duderino

          Hey it’s only $10/lb! Mild steel is what, $0.90/lb (and waaaay easier to machine/form). Yeah…it’s a limitation.

        • Cornelius Carroll

          Oh man, they need tungsten? Pricey 🙁

        • Tassiebush

          Depleted uranium? 😉

      • CommonSense23

        Problem with the SMG for CQB is when you leave the building. Whats the ballistics of 6.5 CBJ look like past a 100 yards?

        • iksnilol

          It is good out to 200 meters IIRC.

          • CommonSense23

            But is it flat shooting.

          • iksnilol

            That’s what is meant by good out to 200 meters. The x-axis is in meters while the y-axis is in millimeters.

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ea0bbd9c42295715b149a3f13b51142b72f449fd9140128e2e860fc75e826d62.jpg

          • ostiariusalpha

            Translating here; it shoots about 4 inches high at 100 meters when zeroed for 200 meters. That’s not bad.

          • iksnilol

            It is comparable to 5.56 out of an M4. So at its worst it isn’t worse than the status quo while providing lighter and less bulky ammo.

            I thought 200 mm was closer to 8 inches?

          • ostiariusalpha

            Your trajectory chart puts the 6.5 CBJ & 5.56 NATO at around 100mm rise when shooting to 100m with a 200m zeroing, that’s where I’m getting the 4″ from. Still, it has to be pointed out that the little saboted projectile gets all it’s pumped-up performance from juicing on the miracle of tungsten, which is a no-go for widespread adoption in the foreseeable future.

          • iksnilol

            That is quite sad, the tungsten part. I wonder how the good the CBJ would be with solid steel projectiles? Or maybe powdered steel pressed into shape?

            I don’t know much about fancy bullet designs :/

          • Keep in mind that chart was published by Saab-Bofors and is designed to make the 6.5 CBJ look good. For example of how it’s a little massaged, they are using 850 m/s (2788 ft/s) MV for the M4. Actual nominal MV for the M4 is 890 m/s (2920 ft/s).

          • iksnilol

            Still, that their pistol bullet is even comparable to an M4 is good IMO. Besides, I doubt they’d lie about the performance of their own cartridge. Which is the most important thing in my eyes.

            Regarding the M4 velocity, there is conflicting reports. Some charts say that a 15 inch 5.56 barrel produces about 820-830 m/s (2700 feet). That was from Small Arms Defense Journal, they tested barrel length vs velocity for 5.56 (also they tested pressure at muzzle). I don’t know if they are a legit source, they seem like that. While others say that it is closer to 3000 feet per second. Honestly? I am confused as can be. Maybe difference in ammo?

          • You… Doubt they’d lie about the performance of their own cartridge? Really?

            I mean, consider that they’re claiming the round produces almost 700J from a 8″ barrel, with 45% less swept volume than 9mm, and full compatibility with existing 9mm locking mechanisms.

          • iksnilol

            Well, it’d hurt your credibility like a punch from Mike Tyson would hurt your face. That’s why I doubt they’d lie about their cartridge. Because if you do, somebody is going to find out (always somebody) and then you’re screwed. Because who wants business with liars?

          • You mean like Remington and the performance of 6.8 SPC? Or AA and the performance of 6.5 Grendel? Or Sharps and the performance of the .25-45 Sharps? Or Hornady and T/C with the .30 T/C?

            Misleading about the performance of new calibers you are trying to sell is standard business practice, Iks.

          • iksnilol

            Well, forgive a guy for trying to see the good in humanity. :/

            Okay, um, how much did they exaggarate?

          • Who?

          • iksnilol

            Me, I try to see the good in people before the bad. It has the countereffect of also making me see all the bad.

            Still, how much did those companies exaggarate their cartridges?

          • Well, IIRC Remington initially quoted 26″ barrel velocity figures for the 6.8 SPC (it took forever for people to stop claiming the 6.8 SPC performance was 115gr at 2,800 ft/s from a 16″ barrel), and AA insisted on using figures from long barrels early on as well. AA was more transparent about it, but their trajectory figures were still extremely optimists; you still hear people claim all the time that 6.5 Grendel is supersonic beyond 1200m which I don’t think is true with any load of barrel length.

            Hornady originally advertised their .30 T/C as being “.30-06 performance in with a .308 sized round”, but that was due to the propellant they were using (which later became Superformance), and not anything special about the round itself (which has more or less died commercially).

            Sharps is perhaps the worst one about this. I’ve seen multiple pieces of marketing materials where they have claimed exorbitant performance (like 87gr at 3,100 ft/s or something stupid like that) explicitly from 16″ barrels. That’s utter hogwash, of course, and in other sources those same numbers are quoted as being from 24″ barrels. So, where one could say the other companies were just deliberately misleading people, Sharps has actually lied in some of their literature.

  • Dracon1201

    PDWs are such a compromise…

    But not as much as intermediate rounds IMHO. Define engagement ranges and positions. Stop using “rifleman” as a catchall 0-as far as they can see meters.

    If we defined PDWs and a full power cartridge, it might not be a bad idea.

  • Michael R. Zupcak

    That 6.5 CBJ is the real deal Holyfield. Pretty much any 9x19mm weapon can be chambered for it and with the tungsten AP ammo, it has more penetration power than most 5.56 or 7.62 loads. They even have a subsonic AP round!

    • Unfortunately, the tungsten penetrator pretty much rules it out as a standard issue caliber. 🙁

      • Michael R. Zupcak

        Would I be correct in assuming that that’s due to the cost of tungsten?

        • Mike N.

          Armor piercing, not allowed for mere mortals. In addition to cost.

          • ostiariusalpha

            The U.S. military doesn’t give a hoot about that crap. It was indeed about the cost, but the strategic implications of the fact that most tungsten is imported from China had much to do with the decision to not depend on it for production of the standard issue projectile.

          • DIR911911 .

            all the more reason to go big , 2nd pic #12 .45acp please and thank you.

          • lucusloc

            Only if you are limited to ball. If you have the option for modern bullets there is no reason not to go with 9mm.

            What I want to know is the story behind those MicroMags.

          • iksnilol

            Even if you only have ball, 9mm is still better. Higher velocity, less chance of deflecting and whatnot. + more tissue disruption.

        • BlackTalon2000

          Civilians aren’t allowed to own armor piercing handgun ammo in the USA.

      • Then again, the original M855A1 LFS was going to use tungsten to replace its lead core.

        • It used tungsten powder, and was rejected due to that being a heavy metal.

          • The amazing thing is that the Army had to thoroughly pollute a few ranges with it until they realized that tungsten was worse than lead itself.

          • BlackTalon2000

            interesting, maybe they should have used solid tungsten instead of powder.

  • Lance

    Forget special PDWs and calibers. A M-4 or Mk-18 or AKS-74 would d the job fine. And face it all these small necked calibers can penetrate but they over penetrate. face it pistol calibers are not AP but they have better knock down power.

    • ostiariusalpha

      Knock down power? Cool story, bro.

    • Zebra Dun

      Hmmm, No.
      A Rifle of any caliber has more power to penetrate, injure, maim and kill that any pistol cartridge.
      Even the .30 Carbine has the power of a .357 magnum and hits at 100 yards like a .38 spl. That still out does most pistols.
      Knock down power?
      That doesn’t exist below 12.7 x 99 mm. Even a 12 ga. slug may not do that.
      because it’s a myth.

    • lucusloc

      That’s a lol right there. Rifles are better at getting stops, end of story. They simply deliver more energy to the target, even with a pass through (.223 has twice the energy of a .45 for example).

      Remember, a pistol is a tool you use to get to your rifle. The only reason I carry a pistol is because I do not plan on getting into a fight. If there were better than even odds of having a fight I would forgo the convenience and carry a rifle.

      • Dan

        Ever tried to conceal carry a rifle? Super inconvenient. 😉 I do carry a rifle in my vehicle at all times and like you said the pistol is there to get me (hopefully) to my rifle if need be.

        • Michael Mabey

          Yes my oil slicker works wonders for it

          • Dan

            Dang it! Never even considered that.

    • BlackTalon2000

      smaller ammo means smaller lighter guns, the better to arm your entire family with.

  • snmp

    French MAS 7,65 mm Long build for MAS 38 SMG (PDW) & Pistol MAS 35A (PETTERS) & MAS 35S

    • gunsandrockets

      Or how about Czech Skorpion redesigned for 7.65 long?

      I don’t know about a PDW cartridge, but with a modern hollow point bullet load that 7.65 cartridge has intriguing potential in a compact carry pistol with a double-column magazine.

      • iksnilol

        Why bother with 7.62 long? I presume that is the French cartridge? Its ballistics aren’t impressive at all . Lightweight bullet going slowly. It is marginally better than .32 acp. And .32 acp is way more available and cheap.

        • gunsandrockets

          It’s hotter than 9mm Makarov, and a double column mag might be practical within a thin grip. It’s a more sensible cartridge than .32 NAA.

          • iksnilol

            7.65×20 Longue!? It’s a 5 gram bullet going at 350 m/s. It is marginally hotter than Makarov. I mean, what’s the difference between 300 and 330 Joules? Not much. Only advantage I see the Longue having is that it is a smaller bullet so it should penetrate better.

            Besides, your accuracy isn’t going to be too good at 350 m/s due to it being around the speed of sound. It will go subsonic quickly and your accuracy will turn to crap. If you’ve shot .22 LR at 100 meters you know the reason why subsonic ammo is used for accuracy (in .22 LR).

  • ostiariusalpha

    What, no 7.62×25?! Way more PDWish than 9×18 Mak, and why is .32 Auto even on the list? Seriously, any cartridge can be used to defend one’s person, what makes a round fit into the (admittedly indistinct) PDW category is enhanced penetration over the standard pistol loads that a SMG uses and increased controllability compared to the intermediate rounds that assault rifles are chambered for. Personally, I look at the muzzle energy and max pressure rating of the cartridge to (arbitrarily) classify it’s type. If your really generous with your definitions, you can shoe-horn saboted or bottle-necked pistol rounds into the PDW camp, or 5.56 NATO & 5.45×39 too, since their on the low end of intermediate cartridges. If you go any further past either end though, you just make the entire concept of a PDW cartridge too vague to be useful. Which would apparently suit some people just fine, since they don’t care for the entire idea anyways.

    • gunsandrockets

      Think Czech Skorpion and Soviet Stechkin for why their cartridges were included in list of PDW.

      But I certainly agree that the old 7.62 Tokarev cartridge would be an excellent basis for a new pistol/smg/pdw cartridge.

      • ostiariusalpha

        Well, the Škorpion’s official military designation is Samopal vz. 61, which is Czech for Submachine Gun Model 61; and the Stechkin is called an Automatic Pistol by the Russians (and everyone else). Now, you can make the argument that Personal Defense Weapons are a subclass of SMGs, but almost nobody claims that all SMGs are supposed to be PDWs. The entire point of the PDW design was to give noncombat personal greater firepower than could be found in SMGs & Machine Pistols, but not saddle them with the size & weight of an assault rifle or the recoil of it’s intermediate cartridge. But how low can an intermediate cartridge go before it becomes a PDW round? How much more energy and velocity does a pistol round need to be effective in this class of weapons? Your guess is as good as mine.

        • gunsandrockets

          And an M1 carbine is called a “carbine”. Yet the M1 carbine still falls within the topic of what is being discussed as a PDW.

          Most people consider the topic of PDW considerably broader than your definition of “The entire point of the PDW design was to give noncombat personal greater firepower than could be found in SMGs & Machine Pistols, but not saddle them with the size & weight of an assault rifle or the recoil of it’s intermediate cartridge.”

          • ostiariusalpha

            The P90 is a bullpup carbine, carbines can be fine PDWs and the original concept behind the .30 Carbine exactly fits into the intent of a PDW. People broadening the definition to squeeze their new pistol caliber subgun or intermediate chambered short-barreled rifle into the PDW market is the cause of much of the confusion about how to define these cartridges. My definition is really nothing but FNH’s stated intent behind the first cartridge to get labeled specifically as a PDW round, it still seems like a good fundamental premise that leaves plenty of room for innovations. There is vast number of possible case designs and projectile combinations that fit between the accepted rifle and pistol classifications.

          • NDS

            The M1 Carbine today may seem as more of a typical “carbine” but in its time remember everyone was fielding full-tilt rifle cartriges like 30-06 and 8mm Mauser. The M1 was a tiny featherweight by comparison.

      • Coolhand77

        the .223 Timbs is a 7.62×25 Tokarev using a sabot and a .223 bullet. Just FYI.
        I agree with you, which is why I have an AR pistol chambered in Tok and am working on a 2011/m1911 varient in the same chambering.

  • Zebra Dun

    Dang! You would think a genuine “KILL-O-ZAP” round would have been invented by now, certainly not for lack of trying!

  • derfelcadarn

    Other than the.45 Auto none of these are worth a damn. If you are defending yourself from woodchucks or possibly coyotes you might stand a chance.

  • Marcus D.

    Fixed stock M4 in .300 blk with a 10″-11.5″ barrel, in semi-auto only with a good 4 lb trigger. Enough power for PDW, light weight, small enough to be easy to carry, and no need for new mags. Perfect replacement for the M1 Carbine.

    • iksnilol

      Why fixed stock? Wouldn’t the collapsible stock be preferable?

      Also, with 300 BLK you can go shorter, it was made for 9 inch barrels after all. So going with an 8 inch barrel should be no problem.

      • Marcus D.

        The essential idea is to make it as compact as possible, e.g., a big pistol, thus the idea of a butt pad on the end of the recoil tube. I know the round does well in very short barrels, but I don’t know enough to evaluate muzzle blast and loss of accuracy. I simply assumed that a bit longer would make it accurate and lethal out to 100 yards.

        • iksnilol

          Ah, you meant a short fixed stock. I thought you meant one of those A2 fixed stocks.

          It burns all its powder in 9 inches, so I doubt the blast would be bad. Accuracy has very little if anything to do with barrel length so chop away. A short barreled 300 BLK would be similar to a short barreled AK. Good to 300 meters.

          • NDS

            My 300Blk SBR is 9″ and I can attest to minimal difference in muzzle blast compared to my 16″ 300Blk bolt gun. Accuracy is identical. Both are 1MOA with 110Gr and 125Gr supers, around 2MOA with 208Gr and 220Gr subs. Depending on the loading there is very little difference in velocity as well. Comparing my 14.5″ and 10″ 5.56’s however… ouch.

          • iksnilol

            Just as I suspected, thanks for the confirmation.

  • Marcus D.

    What’s the story on those bizarre looking micromags? Wouldn’t they have an issue with mag capacity, being so thick around the middle?

    • ostiariusalpha

      They’re a Jordanian design, JAWS is the acronym for Jordan Arms & Weapons System which was to be based around some super pistol called the VIPER. Basically, cut back and necked down .45 Win Mag (a lengthened .45 ACP with thickened brass), so the same as any .45 as far as capacity goes.

      • Marcus D.

        OK. the pictures make it hard to judge scale. There is a 9 in the picture, but the .45 is in the other picture.

        • ostiariusalpha

          I didn’t really grasp the scale of the casings at first glance either.

  • Dan

    When I first started dating my ex she looked like the #6 cartridge in the first picture, 7 years later she ended up looking like #9 in the same picture. Sorry as soon as I saw the line up of rounds the short stubby ones reminded me of her. I’m gonna go read the article now.

  • BlackTalon2000

    i’ve never heard or seen this one!

  • BlackTalon2000

    .22 scamp and .17 libra are my favorite among those, second place is 6×35 kac.

    There is a new cartridge called .223 short, better performance than a .22 hornet, but uses less powder. and shorter than 5.7×28, based on the .223 rem cartridge. American made too. That can probably be used as a PDW cartridge for penetrating soft armor , range is around 200-300 yards.