The PDW

Lately I’ve been looking at a few certain weapon platforms that I was be interested in learning about and maybe acquiring but started to question their use; especially compared to platforms I already have. What have caught my eye are the firearms that are classified in the Personal Defense Weapon (PDW) line. How I’m evaluating this concept is taking it from the stance of a civilian, with civilian training, with practical civilian uses and at the same time compare it to other weapons available to civilians.

First a little history just for gun fun:
It seems that at some point there was a movement or perceived need to develop a weapon for close-range defense. This would be a weapon offering easy concealment, good range and good terminal ballistics. The concept is not really a modern one and began a century ago with the stocked pistols and early submachine guns. Fast forward 50 years and similar weapons like Pistol Caliber Carbines (PPCs) and machine pistols began to show up, both of which were designed to fill similar roles. Somewhere in between the two came the U.S. 30 Carbine which fired a cartridge sized like a pistol round, but performed more like a light rifle cartridge with an extended range of 150 yards. This is really the material basis for the recent PDW concept. The tactical (I hate that word) concept is what I have in question.

The idea is a weapon that is easily concealed and maneuvered for support of troops that have other responsibilities than being “shooters.” I accept the premise that troops do need a compact weapon that can protect them from an enemy but we need to realistically consider what this weapon needs to do. Being able to kill or injure an enemy would be best, but they may realistically have to settle for simply spoiling the enemy’s aim or forcing them to take cover rather than shoot. When working on a team this should give you time to get to cover and bring in the reinforcements to help handle the threat.

Now in civilian world there may not be dedicated infantry support and everyone is a support troop but there is still a need for a weapon that can easily be concealed and maneuvered and handle a threat. My question is, isn’t this a pistol?

Without going into the same old triad of a pistol is to get you to a rifle (which I don’t agree with), the pistol’s role is in fact a defensive one. It is concealable and maneuverable, but lacks the hard hitting caliber and range a carbine or rifle brings. The plain fact is that there are times when a rifle or even carbine are just too big to have strapped to you 24hrs a day and still be quickly put into action – think driving, carrying other loads and being in a group of people where you don’t want to express you are armed. The PDW tries to bridge that gap.

A folding stock carbine is an option but with 95% of civilians bound to having barrels of 16+ inches if it has a stock, then a “machine pistol” style gun is what we’re looking at if we are trying to stay within the parameters of weight and conceal-ability, but there may be an exception here or there.

Now may be a good time to give a few examples of some guns that may fit in this role I’m referring to as PDWs. Weapon platforms such as the MP5, UZI, Stckless AR pistol like the PLR-16, and the VZ61 Skorpion come to mind. Although the P90 is popular in the press as being a PDW, the problem is that the civilian P90 or PS90, has a nice long barrel to stay legal. The MP5 is nearly out of the running if we are at all considering cost, but I’ll leave it in there for now.

So lets build a good PDW and see where that gets us. First and foremost, I want to Keep It Simple! That means light weight, not a lot of bulk and decent iron sights although I would allow the provision to mount a scope or other devices such as tactical lights, but on my PDW I wouldn’t have a light or laser. I prefer a handheld light myself and I would choose to not add weight or snagging prone appendages to the gun. Others might prefer to add a light, laser or even an optic. This I will leave to the user’s preference as what works for me or others, won’t work for everybody. Where I am in probable uses and my training, accessories are a lower priority.

I think a PDW is one of the few platforms that benefits from a single point sling. A single attached to the “butt” of the gun is used as another point of stability when you shoot the gun in an off hand stance. You extend to the full length of a properly adjusted sling and your support hand can or will be utilizing the mag/mag well as a support grip while firing. You are basically extending the gun to a point where the sling is nice and taunt nearly to the point where it is pulling on your body. The other necessity of having a sling is so it can be slung! Under a jacket the gun should disappear and be out of the way, but still easily employable should you need it. – Again how is this not a pistol? Or yeah, magazine capacity!

The caliber of our PDW is possibly the most varying option. I personally would utilize a pistol caliber to reduce size/weight, noise, and not to put ballistics at risk like firing a 5.56 from a 7 or 9 inch barrel like the PLR-16 does. Although the size of the 5.56 round still keeps its velocity up to respectable levels in the PLR-16, it is bigger, heavier, and near unbearable to shoot without good ear protection. Over all I don’t see much use in a rifle round out of a short barrel ballistically, or with 2nd and 3rd and 4th shot controllability in mind.

So far our PDW is pretty straight forward with not too many frills. It’s chambered for a pistol caliber, has a sling, and to make it better than a regular pistol, has a high mag capacity. But not so high that it compromises size, lets say 20 rounds. Well shoot I have 15+5 round mags for a total of 21 rounds (1 in the chamber) for my G22. Or 30 rounds is just one mag change and a few seconds away for a pistol with two 15 rounders and a little training and practice. Or if 9mm is your flavor of choice then by now everyone knows about the Glock 33 round magazines. Hmm.

I can see 20 rounds in a VZ-61 that is most popularly chambered in .32ACP as you are going to be firing multiple rounds for insurance sake of trying to quickly put down a threat with such a small round. I actually kind of like the .32ACP and even more so out of a longer barrel like the Skorpion has. If I owned one though, even on head shots I would be practicing firing controlled pairs… A LOT. Still I don’t see a big benefit over a larger calibered pistol. Range isn’t going to be much different between a (relatively) short barreled, and thus short sighted, pistol, and a round that will lose too much energy like the 32ACP to be effective at long range even if it has a slightly longer barrel. And yes this is where optics could come into play on a larger calibered PDW.

The stockless version of the MP5 could step in here with its longer sight radius and availability of easily adding optics if civilian versions didn’t cost $1200 and have questionable reliability issues in half (one of two manufacturers) the available field.

Many proponents of the PDW prefer not to base the weapon on a pistol, since this would create the impression that it is a weapon suitable only for close combat and defense. A machine pistol would probably be their basis (and here comes the ‘but’) BUT that is for non-civillians who do not have to jump through loads of legal paperwork to own a weapon whose most suitable offensive use is killing everyone in a given space without predigest by spraying and moving on. A stocked weapon is the next best alternative, but we are trying to avoid stocks with our PDW.

In my mind, in the civilian or military world, the PDW would be a weapon for breaking contact rather than a close combat weapon. Its defense vs. offense. If forced to use the weapon at close range in an emergency, then controllable fast fire will compensate partially for the low stopping power of the individual rounds.

Over all, I think too much emphasis has been placed on having a PDW. Even in the theoretical world, all I have created is a big pistol. It is such a niche weapon that a pistol or a carbine can cover the same bases that a PDW does, while still having more to offer. This is coming from a guy who really likes pistol caliber carbines which are often touted negatively as a niche gun. PCCs and PDWs are fun to shoot, if still not very practical. The PDW in both civilian and military worlds is a battle of compromises that doesn’t quite cut it. Proper pistol selection and training will take care of any realm a PDW would.

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