By Trampas Swanson

Over the past few decades, a handful of firearms have been invented to break the mold of the traditional rifle platform. The most popular example of this would be the 1960’s era AR 15 platform taking leave of the historical wood and steel for polymer and aircraft grade aluminum. In the late 70’s into the 80’s, the UZI had its day and the 1990’s belonged to the HK MP5 class for rifle and submachine gun. With the turning of a new millennium came even more firearms, but sadly mostly were new takes on old designs. Fortunately, Frabrique Nationale Herstal, commonly known as just FN or FN Herstal, decided to be the next manufacturer to take a step towards the future of firearms with the PS90 rifle.

Although technically a 1990 designed rifle in the form of a select fire model P90, its civilian friendly semi auto carbine counterpart, the FN PS90 arrived on the market in 2005. Listed under a fairly new term, Personal Defense Weapon or PDW, this is a full rifle in a submachine gun size package. Its design came about in response to a NATO request to replace the 9mm based weapon platform such as the previously mentioned UZI and MP5. FN decided to develop the P90 / PS90 design around their new 5.7 x28 mm ammunition. (Referred throughout the article more commonly as the 5.7 round)

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User Friendly

The PS90 action is set towards the rear of the stock in what’s commonly known as a bullpup design and uses a blow back operation from a closed bolt. Some of the things that make the PS90 unique are the ambidextrous cocking handles and safety for starters. Both are easy to reach and operate with the rifle shouldered. Additionally, the top loading magazine snaps down securely above the action. FN developed clear polymer 10, 30 and 50 round flush fitting box magazines to seamlessly fit into the top of the rifle’s stock horizontally. A special twist action feeds the rounds into the chamber and then uses gravity as its friend to allow spent rounds to fall straight down out of a center located bottom ejection port. Featuring a permanently fixed flash hider on a 14 inch barreled action, the overall length of the rifle is barely BATF legal at 26.23 inches. The mil-spec cold hammer forged chrome lined barrel offers superior performance out to an effective range of 200 meters. Weighing at approximately 7.5 lbs fully loaded, the PS90 is built to be comfortable to carry over long periods of time.

Given the fact that the flash hider does nothing other than extend the legal barrel length, it tends to defeat the purpose of the rifle’s original design. I decided to file for a ATF Form 1 and have the rifle registered as a Short Barrel Rifle as known as a SBR. Once the tax stamp arrived, I had the rifle sent to the great folks at www.trosusa.com, a class 2 NFA Weapons Manufacturer located in Dundee, Oregon. The shop’s gunsmith proceeded to cut the shroud off the barrel and cut it back to the correct length of 10.4” then thread the barrel M12x1 LH, just like the P90 SMG, and install one of their custom thread adapters. ½-28 threads. The end result was a beautiful, civilian legal PS90 with the appearance and size advantage of FN’s P90.

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One of the least favorite things a shooter enjoys with any firearm is breaking it down for cleaning. Often, this involves tiny pins or special tools to keep up with in the field. The beauty of the PS90 design is how simple this task is made just by using your hands. Six simple components including the magazine make up field stripping this rifle. After removing the magazine and clearing the firearm, a quarter size button on the top of the stock is depressed to remove the barrel assembly and bolt. Removal of the butt plate upward allows for the removal of the trigger pack to complete the field stripping process.

Originally offered with a factory optic built into the carry handle by FN, the HC-14-62 reflex sight was not well received by shooters. The demand from end users to have a rail system for attaching lights, lasers and other accessories was quickly satisfied. Forgoing the less than stellar factory installed optics, the PS90 TR hit the market featuring a three way Picatinny tactical rail. The freedom to install the shooters preferred sight made shooting the PS90 a much easier task.

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A New Round for a New Era

To fully appreciate the PS90, one must understand the 5.7 chambering first. Designed to operate in both the P90 / PS90 platform and the FN Five-seven pistol, its true potential shines in the rifle platform. With an overall length of approximately 4 cm and a bullet weight ranging from 28 grain training rounds, 31 grain tracer and hollow point rounds and the very effective 40 grain Hornady V-Max round, the 5.7 mm averages an impressive 2200 ft/s velocity from the PS90. The 5.7 mm round is more than capable of penetrating LEVEL III Kevlar ballistic pistol armor at a distance of 200 meters. With 40% less recoil and 30% less over penetration risk than the larger 5.56 mm round, the 5.7 mm caliber has most certainly found its niche in the tactical world as well as home defense.

HoloSun HS403A Red Dot

For testing purposes, I decided to try a new red dot sight on the PS90 from HoloSun Optics. Ever since last year’s industry only trade show in Las Vegas, the SHOT SHOW, I have been hearing about the model HS403A red dot from HoloSun. Having used red dots since the mid 1990’s, I usually don’t get too excited about the “latest and greatest” advertised red dot optic, but what really captured my attention was its advertised battery life. According to the manufacturer, their red dot optic will run approximately 50,000 hours before a battery change is needed. Given my luck with batteries dying just when I need them, the HoloSun sounded very promising with such a long battery life!

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With a retail price of $169.00, the model HS403A includes a tower mount for AR 15 platforms that can be quickly removed for flush fitting lower mounting on the FN PS90’s standard Picatinny rail. The sight’s crisp red dot and clear glass gave me a great first impression on my new set up. Using a laser emitting tool placed in the barrel, I got the HoloSun red dot bore sighted quickly and easily before heading out to the range.

On the Range

After packing up 200 rounds of 40 grain 5.7 mm ballistic tip ammo from American Eagle, my wife / photographer, Candace and I headed off to meet a friend to the private training grounds affectionally known as “The Swamp” to enjoy a beautiful morning shooting. To start things off, I set up a pair of bullseye style targets at 25 yards. Being a predominately close quarter firearm, I wanted to keep the range distances relatively short with a maximum of 50 yards by the end of the morning’s tests. With a slight bit of expected creep common with battle quality rifles, the shots broke clean and consistent as I sighted in the red dot. With a trigger pull ranging slightly between 7.5 to 7.8 lbs throughout testing, I was able to master the trigger to get the sight doped in within the first 9 shots.

At 25 yards, I could get my offhand shots to group together tight enough for most of rounds to touch. The furthest of these groups measured 1.2 inches. This was a consistent result with both three and five round strings of fire for the first 100 rounds of test ammo. Keeping the sights dialed in at that distance, I moved the target out to 50 yards to continue testing.

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With the first three rounds fired at 50 yards, I noticed the 5.7 mm round performed exactly like a 5.56 mm round on target. I was still center of the target perfectly, but roughly 5 inches high. My first rounds still grouped in a tight one inch pattern with two of the three touching. A quick adjustment on the HoloSun sight had my shots almost dead on, needing only a slight second adjustment to be dialed in on target. Throughout the 200 round morning of testing, the rifle ran without a hitch. Strings of two and three shots were quick and accurate throughout testing. Consistent groups averaged less than 1 inch at 25 yards and less than 1.5 inches at 50 yards.

Thanks to the simple design of the ejection port located on the bottom of the rifle, I did not experience any misfires or jams throughout the shooting session. (As with most range requirements, DO NOT wear sandals or flip flops shooting this rifle due to hot brass being delivered straight down near your feet.) All the provided 50 round magazines were reliable and easy to load into the open top of the frame. Movement drills consisting of shooting on the move, around barriers and elevated positions were a dream to shoot given the compact design of the PS90. With all the weight of the rifle being close to the body’s centerline, shooting offhand puts much less stress on the body than a traditional AR style platform. If carrying the rifle became an issue over long periods of time, FN had the foresight to include sling points molded into the frame front and rear on both sides.

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With the 50 round magazines loaded to full capacity, it seems like you are shooting forever before needing to reload. This would prove to be a good thing because trying to reload 50 rounds of the small 5.7mm rounds under stress into the awkward twisting mechanism of the PS90 magazines is a pain in the butt!!! As much fun as I had shooting the PS90 and as much as I currently love owning the PS90 in its SBR configuration, my suggestion to anyone looking to purchase one is to buy magazines; lots of magazines! Load them on a rainy day when you can’t go to the range, keep them all in a large range bag and enjoy your time shooting instead of loading.

Overall, the FN PS90’s performance was very good. I was impressed with the accuracy from such a small package and became a huge fan of the HoloSun optic due to its clarity and ease of use. Field stripping the PS90 without tools was so easy that I was afraid I missed a step. By simply removing the magazine, clearing the chamber and pressing the top mounted disassembly button, the entire barrel and upper assembly slide right off for easy access. By tilting the lower assembly forward, the guide bars and bolt slide out quickly out for cleaning. If you need to access the hammer grouping for a more detailed cleaning, this would be the time to next slide up on the rubber butt pad on the rear and by pressing upwards on a small lever, the entire grouping slides out as one self-contained unit. Using a standard 5.56mm brush, a clean tooth brush and a few rags, I could have the PS90 clean and ready for action in a matter of minutes. This scored major points in my book when it comes to a personal defense rifle.

Closing Thoughts

Usually when running a rifle of this nature, it’s not uncommon for me to wear a pair of tactical gloves, such as the “Ironsights” model from Outdoor Research. When shooting, a sure grip for quick, crisp charging of a firearm, clearing a jam or fast magazine changes are important. The PS90 provides plenty of clearance in the trigger guard and with its controls to allow for even thicker winter gloves if needed. I would not hesitate to use this rifle combined with the easy to use HoloSun optic in any climate as my personal defense weapon due to the great penetrate, terminal ballistics and easy to use controls. Over the past year, this has quickly become my favorite rifle / optic combo in my collection.

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With the compact, lightweight package the PS90 provides and the high capacity of its load out, it’s easy to see why over 40 countries have chosen its full auto counterpart in the P90. Elite teams such as the US Secret Service depend on its power and compact design in their rolls as close quarter protection for the President of the United States while discretely being concealed beneath suit jackets out in the public eye. With a secure fitting chest sling, the noticed weight of the PS90’s weight would be almost nothing for all day wear for duty.

Retailing around $1500.00 and roughly .50 cent per shot, the PS90 is priced within the same range as upper level production AR-15 rifles of the same quality and high standards as FN Herstal products. While the manufacturer does state the maximum effective range of their rifle is 200 meters, it serves primarily as a fantastic CQB firearm to its end user. As a former SWAT team operator, I would have loved to have had a P90 / PS90 issued on duty during my day. For power, precision, volume of fire and quality wrapped up in one small package, the PS90 is highly recommended. To find out more about the PS90 and other fine FN products, check them out at www.FNHerstal.com.