Modern Personal Defense Weapon Calibers 012: The 5.8x21mm Chinese

Left to right: The 5.45x18 MPTs, the 5.8x21 DAP-92, the 5.7x28 SS197, 4.6x30 DM11 Ultimate Combat, the 6.5x25 CBJ AP, the .223 Timbs. The first one and last two in this lineup will be featured in later installments. Image credit: Maxim Popenker, used with permission.

It is not only the West that has developed small caliber, high-velocity pistol-compatible personal defense weapon ammunition; in the early 1990s, the People’s Republic of China also developed such a round. Called the 5.8x21mm DAP-92, it fires an 0.229″ caliber dual steel/lead cored bullet at a nominal 1,738 ft/s from the QCW-05 (Type 05) SMG, or 1,574 ft/s from the QSZ-92 handgun. It is shorter and less powerful than either the 5.7x28mm FN or the 4.6x30mm HK, making it a more suitable round for use in handguns than its Western counterparts.

We can see how it compares to some of its stablemates in the charts below:

Initially I was pretty lukewarm about the 5.8x21mm because of its relatively low muzzle velocity compared to its stablemates, but I now think I understand the rationale behind its design. The lower muzzle velocity allows the use of a higher weight and consequently higher BC projectile without incurring high penalties with regards to recoil and flash, and this higher BC bullet retains energy much better, meaning that although the 5.8x21mm starts with the lowest energy of all rounds on the chart, it ends with the highest amount of energy of all the high velocity rounds – though still significantly below the 9mm.

However, I think this strategy likely comes with the penalty of a lower maximum range where the round will penetrate certain kinds of armor. There isn’t a direct equivalence with which I can prove this, but the 5.8mm DAP-92 is listed as penetrating a 1.3mm helmet out to 100m, whereas the 5.7mm SS190 is rated to penetrate a CRISAT vest (a 1.5mm titanium plate backed by 20 layers of kevlar) at 200m from a P90.

By weight, the 5.8x21mm ranks very highly, being listed at a mere 6 grams per round in official Chinese documents. That is half a gram less than even the diminutive 5.7×28!

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 is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • ostiariusalpha

    Not impressed. This is the kind of compromise round that does nothing particularly well; either emphasize energy or velocity, nobody is interested in a low energy bullet that can’t penetrate a vest past point blank range even from a carbine.

    • Seems to me that’s exactly what you want for a handgun or machine pistol, actually.

      • ostiariusalpha

        No, that’s what you want in a kid’s pellet gun, not a military arm. Why the hell would you think that both less energy plus less penetration would be in any way desirable?

        • No one

          5.8x21mm will penetrate military grade helmets and police issue level IIIA body armor from 200m out of a PDW barrel.

          What in god’s name are you talking about?

          • ostiariusalpha

            Okay, apparently you can’t read so good, it says nowhere that 5.8x21mm can do any such thing.

          • Don’t be rude. He’s clearly citing another source. Which I am sure he will provide to us shortly, right?

          • ostiariusalpha

            Full of anticipation here.

          • Well, for point of reference, the SB193 subsonic 55gr Lead Core FMJ load from the 5.7×28 defeats IIIA.

            So a steel core 40gr FMJ should have no problem doing so down to 1,000 ft/s or bellow. Per the chart, thats out to 200 yards.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Have you actually shot a IIIA vest at 200m with this 5.7x28mm subsonic load? I’d certainly be interested in a video of any test like that.

          • noob

            this guy has on a youtube vid id A65bLxWH3kc (I link it in another comment awaiting approval)

            youtube user BuffmanLT1

            5.7x28mm, SB193, VS Level IIIA Body Armor, FiveSeven
            Buffman – R.A.N.G.E.
            Test Gun: FNH FiveSeveN, 4.75″ Barrel
            Distance: 10 Feet

            Temp: 55 *F
            Dew Point: 45.5*F
            Humidity: 70%
            Barometric Pressure: 30.03″ HG
            Elevation: 849 feet

            Ballisitc Vest is made by Rhino Armor Ballistics. Certified NIJ level IIIA. Manufactured 10/2011.

            Bullet Fired: Factory Subsonic SB193. Velocity averaged 989 fps

            Bullet penetrated the vest, the clay behind it, two water jugs and dented the third and was found laying 5 feet to the left of the test area.

            A Special Thanks to FSN forum member, dhpierre, the vest panel.

            Camera: iPhone4
            Edited with: Adobe Premiere Elements 10

          • ostiariusalpha

            I’ve seen it, that wasn’t exactly what I was asking. You do know that in another video Buffman had a 40gr FMJ doing about >1600fps fail to penetrate a IIIA panel, right?

          • The difference is that the 5.8×21 uses a hardened steel core, whereas the AE 5.7×28 uses a pure lead swaged core with a thin copper jacket, and is designed to be as un-penetrative as possible for a fmj. It’s a garbage round.

          • FulMetlJakit

            Was wondering how it pulled off that listed weight.
            Seems like .300 S&W

          • It’s funny how a slow 55gr FMJ is able to penetrate level IIIA. I think mainly because it’s lack of speed (thick copper jacket) allows it to retain it’s shape. I’ve shot IIIA from AR500 Armor and SB193 went through, along with a Highcom STP plate (that stopped FS pointed 9mm round).

            Crank up the speed on it, and it wants to deform, and ruin it’s ability to penetrate soft armor. – Think EA’s Penetrator 1.0 round (55gr FMJ)

          • Buffman has a test of the SB193 going through high quality IIIA armor on his Youtube channel, at a distance of about 7 yards, velocity of 983 ft/s. After defeating the IIIA, it penetrates a 10″ clay block and two water jugs.

            What I’m saying is that based on the performance of this 55gr lead core .224 FMJ at 989fps, we can make an educated guess that the 5.8×21 40gr, with it’s hardened steel core, will also be able to defeat IIIA at similar speeds (especially given that Steel is much more penetrative then lead.)

            Based on Nathaniel’s chart, it looks like 5.8×21 is still going 1,000fps or more out to 200 yards. Ergo, the claim that 5.8×21 defeats IIIA at 200 yards is entirely believable.

          • ostiariusalpha

            So Rhino Armor is considered “high quality IIIA armor” now? That’s news to me.

          • It’s rated for .357 sig at 1470fps, which means it is in line with the latest NIJ 0101.06 standard.

            I don’t understand why you’re skeptical that a pointy, hardened steel projectile will defeat IIIA easily, when the vests are designed to stop blunt, lead projectiles. Notably, arrows and icepicks with far less energy then a 40gr @ 1,000 fps also defeat IIIA by virtue of being pointy steel.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Ha ha, I probably am being too sceptical. Bi-metal steel cored bullets are pretty impressive as far as penetration, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt unless proven otherwise.

          • No one sent me his source to post here, since I am whitelisted:

          • ostiariusalpha

            Well, I went over it, but I don’t see any mention of 200m ballistic armor testing. Based on Buffman’s testing though, I’d say the circumstantial evidence is weighted heavily toward the 5.8x21mm being quite capable of handling unbacked IIIA soft armor at that range.

        • You’re penetrating armor out to normal combat distances anyway, and you have a much less blasty round that is also shorter.

          • ostiariusalpha

            PCCs ought to be effective a little past 100m, at the very least. The 5.8x21mm should be able to penetrate a IIIA vest at that distance, but how much energy will it have left to wound an opponent? I’m guessing it’s going to have a good bit less kinetic energy than the 5.7x28mm.

  • valorius

    Seems to me if you want to go PDW in the modern world, a 7.62x19mm based on the 9mm parabellum loaded to +P+ pressure is probably the way to go.

    • ostiariusalpha
      • valorius

        Isn’t 9x21mm just a European civilian round that’s a work around for 9x19mm ammo bans?

        • Alex Agius

          It was, however it does have a larger case capacity than 9mm para so would probably give higher velocity.

          • Jeff NME

            I doubt very much that the 9x21mm IMI round has any greater case volume, simply because the bullet is seated to make the same OAL as 9mm Luger.

        • ostiariusalpha

          Right, but the 7.65 Para is a military round.

          • valorius

            Is 9x19mm just a necked up 9x21mm, or a different case entirely?

          • ostiariusalpha

            9x21mm is an elongated version of the 9x19mm; the case head & neck are very similar diameters.

        • Jason Culligan

          No, 9×21 is Soviet/Russian military issue so any military bans that cover 9×19 should cover 9×21 as well.

          • ostiariusalpha

            IMI/IWI created a separate 9x21mm round for civilian use in European countries.

          • Giolli Joker

            Italy. 9×21 IMI or Italian 9 as mentioned in some American books, is a purely Italian reality. It duplicates 9×19 ballistics and OAL, and *guns chambered in it are obtained by simply reaming 9×19 chambers 2mm deeper.
            Unlike the Russian cartridge with the same denomination, it has no ballistics advantage on the 9×19 and it’s purely a civilian round.
            Some IPSC shooters however employ the longer case to duplicate .38 Super performance in suitable race guns.

            Edit:*corrected sentence

          • ostiariusalpha

            It’s a reality in South America also, of course. What’s the situation in Belgium and France for civilian use of 9mm Para?

          • Giolli Joker

            Good to know, indeed. I was under the impression that it was only in
            Italy as (AFAIK) most European countries actually allow 9×19, never checked
            about South American countries.
            By the way, before 9×21 was
            developed, in Italy 9×19 guns were made available to civilian by
            conversion to 7.65 Parabellum, that was then basically sent to
            obsolescence by the IMI round.

          • valorius

            7.65mm parabellum is basically what i was saying would be ideal as a PDW, loaded to +P+ velocity.

          • FarmerB

            I think it’s just Italy.

          • The brief popularity of 9x21mm IMI in USPSA was in response to rules banning the use of the 9x19mm case for Major Power Factor loads. IPSC shooters outside the US simply continued using 9x19mm cases.

            The popularity of 9x21mm IMI tapered off once widebody frames became widely available for the M1911. Now that IPSC and USPSA have reduced the threshold for Major PF in Open Division, Major 9x19mm loads are once again legal in USPSA.

          • valorius

            There is also a western 9x21mm that mimics 9×19 performance but is civvie legal in some countries with military caliber bans.

          • Kivaari

            Check Italy, where the 9×21 has been around for quite some time, just to be legal where the 9×19 is not legal. They produce the same performance. Beretta M98 is a 9×21 version of the M92.

          • Russian 9x21mm is too long to fit in the magazine of typical 9x19mm firearms. So I doubt it is seen as an issue in Italy for most firearms chambered in 9x21mm IMI.

          • Jeff NME

            No, it’s a different round.
            The 9x21mm Gyurza (Russian AP round) is 3mm longer in overall length, so it shouldn’t even fit into a magazine intended for a 9x21mm (IMI) weapon.

      • noob

        In order to preserve case capacity and OAL could you tolerate a fatter cartridge that was maybe case telescoped?

      • Per QuickLoad software, a .30 Luger +p+ @ 42,000PSI will launch a 85gr XTP at 1700fps from a 5.3″ Glock 34 barrel.

        With a 60-70gr AP projectile it could be contender as a PDW cartridge.

      • valorius

        That would work too, btw. The standard pressure 7.65x21mm achieves 1400 fps from a C96 pistol IIRC. At +P+ velocities it should clock between 1600-1700 fps and would make mince meat of IIIA body armor with jacketed flat nose ammunition.

    • Edeco

      Sounds like the hot 7.62×25 Tokarev. Is the shorter case important?

      • EC

        It’s pretty much an upgrade of the 7.62×25, which was the prior round that the PLA used in their older Type 77s. I guess the Chinese were pretty satisfied with their older pistols.

        It sort of makes sense instead of adopting something along the lines of 9×19, especially when you may be fighting armoured opponents.

      • valorius

        I’m thinking if it’s a 19mm case it’ll fit in all existing 9mm platforms and magazines.

        • Jared Vynn

          Problem is you lose bullet mass in order to maintain OAL and case capacity. A 100 gr 308 from Hornady is .562 inches long and would leave you with 10 gr of capacity (longer bullets wouldn’t seat because of the ogive without a sabot) and at roughly 59k psi pressures you would get roughly 1,600 fps in a 5 inch barrel and 2,000 in a 16.

    • Jared Vynn

      So a shorter 300 blackout?

      • valorius

        .300 blackout wont fit in a pistol.

        • Jared Vynn

          9mm and the .223/5.56 cases are very similar at the time and base, the process of making a 7.62×19 would be similar to how 300 blk is made after cutting the .223/5.56 brass down. Except you could load to higher pressure if you simply used the .223/5.56 brass as the parent case like 22tcm does. So instead of cutting the .223/5.56 case to 35mm you would cut it to 19mm than shoulder it to 7.62.

          • valorius

            Sounds like a winner.

          • Jared Vynn

            I would need to have measurements of the bullets to figure out what weight/lengths you could use for spitzer styles but for round noise the 100-110 gr used in 30 carbine should work but nothing above 125gr would work as it is as long as the case if not longer.

          • valorius

            100 grain jacketed flat nose would be ideal for a military PDW.

          • valorius

            I like this idea better than simply necking down the 9mm cause you can run higher pressures. You win the thread. 😉

          • Chris

            I’ve made 7.62 Tok substitute brass (way back before Star Line brass offered it for sale ) from shortened .223 brass… ! Brass was very thick ,
            Had to drill out neck(so .308 bullets would fit !)
            Very strong cases ! 60 & 85 grain .311 bullets worked
            as well !

          • Kivaari

            .300 black is the .221 Remington case necked up.

          • Jared Vynn

            You are thinking of the 300 whisper which is 221 fireball necked up, 300 blackout is a 2.23/5.56 case necked up.

          • Kivaari

            The blackout is first shortened to the length of a 221 case. It is why the two are interchangeable.

          • Jared Vynn

            Um no, the case is cut back to 1.3 for 300 blk and 221 fireball is 1.4 while 300 whisper is 1.374, however you can use both 221 and 223/5.56 to make brass for 300 blk or 300 whisper.

  • XT6Wagon

    I think you are ignoring that 5.7x28mm really likes longer barrels, so 5.7 out of a pistol is a pretty meh round. Its just there so that they could have a side arm that shared ammo with a P90

    • The ballistic charts were created with P90 velocities.

      • XT6Wagon

        just saying 9mm P is going to be a much better choice for a 4″ barrel than 5.7mm

        in fact I’d say 5.7mm is good not in ballistics, but its recoil and large magazine size for full auto use. Much rather have a P90 than a 9mm uzi

        • Not if you have to go through armor, it ain’t.

          • mig1nc

            Anybody remember .224boz? It was all over the gun magazines like a decade or two ago. I recall seeing an article in the early 2000s or very late 90s on an MP5 modified to fire it.

          • .224 BOZ is in the docket at number 18.

      • noob

        is the 221 rem fireball going to be reviewed? it might be a little long OAL for a pistol, but maybe it could fit into a p90 style magazine if the patent on that weird 90 degree turn ramp thing in the magazine runs out

  • Renato H M de Oliveira

    What could an “ideal” PDW use if not 9mm +P+? I think this 5.8×21, or 5.7×28, are on top or very very close to it.
    If we’re talking about pistols and SMG, I fail to see why you’d need something able to defeat body armour past 50m, or even 25m.
    If you’re fighting enemies beyond such ranges, you’ll need a rifle anyway, SBR if you wish, but rifles anyway.
    I think that 9mm has been kicking for some 100 or so years for good reason – it offers an excellent blend of energy, momentum, bulk, mass and report for a handgun / SMG caliber.

  • Stephen Paraski

    I think comments are ignoring the QCW-05 9.8 inch barrel. This is a sub machine gun barrel and chart shows comparable sub gun cartridge info. Considering the fighting in Mosul and Aleppo now (house to house room clearing urban warfare last seen in WW2) I think the sub gun concept, out of favor for last decade or so will see a resurgence in World Army’s. I noticed the TBF piece on Russian .45 acp pistol. That is surely not a long distance weapon they are working on.

    • Warren Ellis

      But wouldn’t assault rifle carbines be a quicker solution for that due to being able share ammo with a lot more firearms versus SMGs/PDWs that rely upon their own specialized ammo?

  • Oh, you found my forum, heh.

  • Sense Offender

    5.7 is still the way to go in PDW calibers