Just How Powerful IS 5.7x28mm?

Photo by: Bobbfwed at the English language Wikipedia

Just How Powerful IS 5.7x28mm?

A lot of people are interested in 5.7x28mm for home protection and/or for concealed carry. The argument goes that it goes through body armor (which, in fairness, it does; select loadings are known for penetrating up to Level IIIa) and that you get greater capacity, which means you’re MOAR ARMD!!! or something to that effect.

Just how true is the hype?

None of this is to say it’s a bad round, or that the guns it’s chambered in are bad guns. It isn’t. They’re not. This is to explore hype vs. reality.

5.7x28mm Ballistics

Be aware that not all published 5.7x28mm ballistics are necessarily equal. In fact, you need to take ANY advertised figures with a big ‘ole grain of salt.

Here’s why:

Ammunition manufacturers don’t always advertise what their test weapon was. As it happens, 5.7mm is also made for use in the FNH P90, which has either a 10.6-inch barrel or a 16.4-inch barrel. The 4.82-inch barrel of the FN FiveseveN and the 4.94-inch barrel of the Ruger-57 are going to produce less velocity and less energy than the P90.

From the P90, a 5.7mm projectile will achieve velocities in excess of 2,000 fps and muzzle energy in excess of 340 ft-lbs, and top out close to 3,000 fps and 400 ft-lbs. From a FiveseveN pistol or a Ruger 57, velocity in a 40-gr load drops to closer to a velocity of 1600 fps and muzzle energy closer to 220 ft-lbs.

Bear in mind that’s more like ballpark than gospel; there are a few different loads on the market, so you might find a bump in either figure. Regardless, the gist is this: faster than, but less powerful (in terms of ft-lbs of force) than 9mm.

But also, and this should be mentioned, with half the recoil. The 5.7x28mm also takes far longer to drop, not falling below point of aim until close to 150 meters.

Granted, you aren’t buying it for power alone, it’s for increased magazine capacity and penetrative ability, if practical purposes are why you bought one or are considering one.

Terminal Performance

The 5.7x28mm isn’t a magic bullet.

Ammunition testing by Dr. Martin Fackler that appeared in the Spring 2000 (Vol.4, No.3) of Wound Ballistics Review journal of the International Wound Ballistics Association (a professional society for people who study wound ballistics) found that even when fired from a P90 (the FiveseveN was not in production yet) a 31-gr loading – with an average velocity of 2329 fps – was capable of penetrating soft body armor, but average penetration didn’t exceed 10.6 inches even in bare gelatin, less than 9mm. Permanent wound cavities were roughly one-third the size of 9mm.

You can read it yourself here. It’s on page 21.

Among the YouTubers, arguably THE standard for ammunition testing is Paul Harrell, who subjects ammunition to the test of what he calls “The Meat Target,” which consists of pork chops (for pectoral muscles) over pork ribs (simulating a rib cage) which surround either a watermelon (if in season) or a bag of oranges to simulate lung tissue and organs, and backed up by a “high-tech fleece bullet stop” which is literally just a bunch of fleece blankets.

Watch for yourself. Skip to about 6:50 in to see the meat target.

The point here is that outside of certain attributes – a definite ability to penetrate body armor, flatter trajectory and greater magazine capacity – it’s not some sort of ballistic wunderkind. It performs pretty well for the size of the projectile, but it’s just not the great leap forward, some say.

But what about in the real world? After all, testing isn’t everything; what proves efficacy in the field is efficacy in the field.

5.7x28mm In Actual Use

Is there any information about 5.7x28mm in actual use?

Not much, but there’s some.

It’s in use with plenty of military and police units, albeit with the P90. Apparently, it works well enough for them to keep buying it.

It isn’t pleasant to contemplate, but the Ft. Hood shooter in 2009 used an FNH FiveseveN in the commission of his crimes. Thirty-two people were wounded, and 13 were killed. Lethality…is therefore established, including with center-of-mass hits. It’s alleged – if someone finds the autopsy reports or something else official that confirms it, let us know in the comments – that 5.7mm rounds tumble in tissue, leading to greater blood loss.

I haven’t found anything official about the round’s use in police service or used in defensive shootings. Some people on a number of message boards and forums ’round the interwebs have intimated or repeated second- or third-hand knowledge of agency use of P90s, and the results are said to be a mixed bag. Some found them effective, some not at all.

In short, it appears that the 5.7x28mm round IS effective in the real world, despite the deficiencies compared to traditional cartridges used for personal defense. 5.7mm has a flatter trajectory, meaning you can hit targets more easily at longer range. It is definitely effective against soft body armor, though it doesn’t overpenetrate when used on fleshy targets. You can definitely carry a lot more rounds. That said, 9mm is the default for a bevy of good reasons, and that isn’t likely to change.

But you pay for the privilege. The guns cost more. They aren’t the easiest pistols to conceal. The ammunition costs more and isn’t nearly as widely available. And do those costs totally justify the benefits? Well, that’s up to you.

Look, there’s no perfect cartridge. The question is what deficiencies you are comfortable living with.

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Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for Alien Gear Holsters, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. He also contributes a bi-weekly column for Daily Caller. In his free time, Sam enjoys camping, hunting and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.
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Rich M Bowman

good article!

Vince O’Brien

Enjoyed the article Sam. I just bought a Ruger-57 really for the fun of it; which for me means target shooting. I was however, wondering what it would be like for personal or home defense. A 12 gauge and a 9mm handle those duties for me. Good stuff!

Sam

Ever since the Ft. Hood terrorist attack every gun forum community or gun blog website that has discussed the 5.7 cartridge has mentioned the casualty ratio from Ft. Hood as an example of effectiveness. No one ever remembers that at Virginia Tech the numbers were 32+1 killed 22 wounded from a G19 and P22 or even Luby’s Diner with a P89 and G17. I am sure that are many other examples that out did what the 5.7 did. The Ft. Hood murder spree is not conclusive evidence that the 5.7 pistol is anymore lethal than any other more established handgun/caliber. Actually it probably hurts its case.

Anon

The 5.7 is likely roughly as effective as a 9mm HOWEVER it’s also capable of penetrating soft body armor. That’s the allure.

G. M.

My one major argument to the contrary of what you’ve said, and what Paul Harrel concluded in his videos, is that the range of performance varies by a larger degree than you seem to indicate, based on the ammo, and that Paul Harrel, in every video I know of that he’s done on this caliber, always uses the milder ammo. Typically, Paul uses the SS197 40 grain VMAX round, or else the cheaper and equally mild American Eagle rounds. This is near the bottom of the spectrum for that caliber. Paul likely uses that ammo because it is easier to find. FN limits what it will sell to civilians, although there civilians can legally buy any of the ammo that FN makes, except perhaps their one AP load.

So, just for comparison, here’s the difference in energies and velocities between what Paul used in the videos, versus what I would carry in real life. SS197 is 40 grains, and is rated at 2034 FPS, but out of the FN FiveSeven piston, the velocity is more like 1700 FPS, resulting in around 257 FPS. Although Midway and other retailers have the American Eagle specs listed at 2250 FPS and 40 grains. Don’t believe them. On the manufacturer’s webpage, it clearly says 40 grains and 1,655 FPS, which works out to 242 ft. lbs, far less than the 450 ft lbs listed on Midway.

This is a far cry from most of the premium, American-made ammo from Elite Ammunition, such as the S4, 28 grains at 2500 FPS, for 389 Ft Lbs (and yes, that is out of the pistol; it’s 3,100 FPS out of the P90, and 3,400 out of the PS90), or the T6B, 27 grains at 2600 FPS for 404 ft. lbs., and the Devastator, 28 grains at 2,390 FPS, for 355 ft. lbs. Those numbers put the EA ammo at the upper end of the spectrum of premium 9mm +P rounds, in terms of energy/power. Underwood’s 115gr +P 9mm Xtreme Penetrator, for example, is rated for 1,250 FPS and 400 ft.lbs at the muzzle.

It should also be noted that the above ammunition is also the best penetrating ammo on the market, and most of it is designed either to bend/fragment (T6B), or with an open tip (S4), which causes the round to tumble after entry, like a military 5.56 fired from an M16 (which tumbled because of the velocity out of the old 20″ barrels, and did not need an open tip to do so, but that being said, an open tip might cause the same rounds to tumble when fired out of a 14.5″ barrel on an M4.

Another important factor to consider is that, although the 5.7×28 projectile weighs half as much as a 5.56 bullet, the two are virtually identical in not just diameter, but also length. This means that, when the 5.7×28 tumbles, it leaves a wound track very similar to that of a 5.56 when it tumbles, which might explain the greater than expected lethality seen in the limited real-world use of the caliber.

While the SS198 in the Red Box is substantially faster than the SS197 in the Blue Box, 2.100 FPS out of the 5″ pistol, compared with 1,700 for SS197 in the same pistol, the SS197 weighs 40 grains, while SS198 weighs 27 grains, so the energy actually works out to almost the same for either round, around 250 ft lbs. Therefore, the EA ammo is roughly 60% more powerful than any of the FN ammo, even some most of the manufacturer-restricted FN rounds, and the EA ammo is much better at penetrating armor, for obvious reasons, and because it is made from hardened materials, has a sharper point, and greater sectional density.

If anyone can convince Paul Harrel to compare the T6B/S4 with the SS197 performance on the Meat Target, please do so.

Note that EA ammo can often be found on Gun Broker, when it is sold out on the manufacturer’s website.

Feel free to re-publish any or all of this information if you like, no need to credit the author (myself).

Best performing 5.7×28 ammo
https://eliteammunition.com/5-7x28mm-c72147003
https://eliteammunition.com/S4-p275577712
Fastest EA Ammo (T6B) Specs (See videos on Mfgr website for velocity data, consistently performs at 2,600 FPS in the 5″-ish pistol barrel, in all third party testing I have seen conducted.
https://eliteammunition.com/T6B-p275587071

American Eagle Mfgr. Specs
https://www.federalpremium.com/handgun/american-eagle/american-eagle-handgun/11-AE5728A.html

For comparison: Underwood 9mm +P Specs
https://www.midwayusa.com/product/1019462466
https://www.midwayusa.com/product/1021098391

boeing352

Bullets do not tumble. See Dr Fackler’s research on the M16/M193/M855 at the Presidio. Bullets yaw, but have never tumbled.

Tommy Delp

talking fort hood also every person that took a COM shot died the 11 dead took center mass shots the 32 wounded waz hit arms nd legs nd hips even broke ones femer so id says its more leathl than 9mm 100% death rate to center mass also the guy waz shot 5 times with 9mm to center mass and lived so IMO its way more leathl than 9mm

Joe Bright

Excellent article! Present the facts, leave subjective opinions to the reader.

Joseph Rietdorf

I feel a lot of people are underestimating the lethality of the 5.7 x 28. I purchased a Ruger 57 and I also reload for it and every pistol caliber I own, including the 9mm. If given a choice between a 9mm or my Ruger 57 to carry, It would be a very easy decision. I test all my pistols at 50 yds with water targets, It’s not scientific, but when comparing a constant with the variables of all the calibers, one can get a pretty good idea of what would happen in a real life scenario. I have loaded 36gr to 55gr bullets with 3 different powders so far. The lighter bullets can go well over 2000 fps and the heavier over 1600fps. I keep the velocity low for many reasons. My carry options are 50gr Barnes Varmint (1450 fps) and my own soft cast 37gr hollow points (1650 fps). So 20 of either one of those in a light pistol vs any 9mm, is a no-brainer for me. These bullets are explosive even at the lower velocities stated. Follow up shots are easier than a 9mm with less recoil. I’m really a Big Bore Guy. I carry 45s, but the Ruger 57 has definitely joined in that EDC rotation. Love this round!

boeing352

As soon as a “gun writer” refers to bullet yaw as “tumbling”, I cannot take them seriously anymore. Bullets do not tumble, but simply upend and YAW to the heaviest portion leading(i.e. the base of a spitzer bullet would become the part continuing through, after a short initial point first passage). Dr Fackler proved this ad nauseam.

Aria Repine

Two terms for the same effect.

Difference is someone hearing “tumble” will mentally think of a object moving around, sliding around, twisting around.

Someone hearing ‘yaw’ will either have 0 idea what that means, or will think ‘yaw’ in the form of the Rudder controls on an Aircraft, which is a altogether different effect than what is ‘actually’ happening.

The bullets are not ‘drifting’ perfectly even left/right/up/down (which is the effect most would think of when hearing ‘yaw’, but are in effect ‘tumbling’ up/down/right/left in a off-center wobble.

Aria Repine

I actually picked up a Ruger-57 to use as an Every-Day-Carry, and even put a AR-15 pistol together also chambered in 5.7×28 to keep around to either plink in the back-yard with (with the .22 conversion kit for it), or to use as an ‘extension’ of the Ruger-57.

While i did see a lot of the ‘hype’ for the 5.7×28, im not one of the ones who feels its a “magical bullet to end all debates”.

Granted, its ability to punch threw some/most soft-armor IS one of the factors i chose that as ‘my’ caliber (if i can buy soft-armor, than someone who wants to do bad can get it as well), i Also chose it because despite its ability to do so, the round is by design one that does NOT over-penetrate that much, if at all.

Sure it may only go 8-9 inches into ballistics gel ‘after’ punching threw armor… but then, How many people do you know are 2feet thick from chest to back? To me, the fact that it ‘can’ punch threw armor, yet stay within 1 foot OF that armor, eases my peace of mind (albeit slightly) in the off-chance i one day find myself having to defend myself or others from a threat. I have slightly less of a risk of hitting the threat center-mass, and then also hitting a person 10feet behind them, but can also be more confident that my round WILL defeat the armor the threat is wearing, where a 9mm would get caught. (granted, getting hit by a 9mm, even with armor on, likely would knock someone down… it wont ‘eliminate’ them as a threat).

The Primary reasons i got it though, were due to it being flatter-shooting and light, with much less recoil than a 9mm.

I want to be accurate (hit what i intend to hit), and be able to rapid-fire if need-be (which is likely what would happen if i ever had to defend myself or someone else), without having muzzle-rise/drift in the extreme.

So for me personally, while im not one to claim it ‘is the round that makes all others bow down’, i DO feel it fits in with what i personally ‘want’ in a round better than a 9mm or a .45 or such would.