At present, personal defense weapons (PDW), are replacing the traditional submachine guns in Counter-terrorism units, SWAT teams, and close protection units (Secret Service) on a global scale. The term "personal defense weapon" is muddy, and leads to different interpretations, some believe that PDW refers to weapons like the P90 and MP7 only, while others believe that it is a wide term, encompassing everything from pistols, to submachine guns, to the P90. Things are just as confusing when it comes to PDWs in sci-fi.The first weapon to be called a "personal defense weapon" was the FN P90, while some historians believe that the US Army M-1 Carbine (.30 caliber) was the real first example of an PDW, because it replaced pistols for noncom officers, and allowed mortar crews, and paratroopers to defend themselves against threats that a pistol could not, while still being light and portable.
The Difference between PDW and SMG
9mm compared to 5.7mm
According to several sources, PDW and the good old submachine gun (SMG) are only separated by their ammunition. The SMG shoots common pistol ammunition like the 9mm, .45, .40 S&W, and even the rare 10mm, in contrast the current crop of PDW is armed with specially developed armor-piercing rounds that are normally just used in that specific gun, like the 5.7mm for the P90 and the MP7's 4.6mm.For example, the apex of the SMG world is the H&K MP5 that fires the uber-common 9x19mm NATO pistol round, that most current body armor stops, the FN P90, fires a specially designed high-velocity 5.7x28mm round that is designed to tear through body armor. Recently, to capture more market share, the FN and H&K have developed high-capacity pistols that fire the small PDW rounds, like the FN Five-seveN, and the H&K P46 (if it is ever made).
The Death of the H&K MP5 and the Rise of the FN P90
The second world war opened military thinking to the use of SMGs, and by the 1980's, every military, SWAT teams, and action stars were using SMGs for counter-terrorism operations, VBSS, hostage rescue, and saving the day.
Despite the massive popularity of the SMGs like the patriarch H&K MP5, are being replaced with PDWs like the FN P90, and "commando" short carbines, like the Colt M4 CQBR and the AKS-74U. The fall of the traditional pistol-chambering submachine guns was caused by the rise in body armor that pistol-ammunition cannot penetrate within a few shots. This is critical in the close-quarters combat role that most SMGs operate in, where life-and-death are separated by a few heartbeats.While the PDW fires specially designed high-velocity ammunition that defeats body armors and hits the soft stuff in a controlled burst of about three rounds, taking out and killing the target. This video from Discovery Channel's Future Weapons, shows the difference between the old 9mm H&K MP5 and their new 4.6mm PDW, the H&K MP7:
PDWs...pistols, carbines, or next-gen SMGs?
The term "personal defense weapons" is filled with ambiguity, does it refer to the modern upgraded SMG concept that fires special ammunition, or to pistols, or even carbines? If we examine historically, pistols were the developed as personal defense weapons that were much shorter range than rifles, and typically were carried by officers, artillery, and horsemen. The best example of pistols being used as PDW was the pilot's special .38 revolvers. This trend of pistol being used as PDWs continues today, if we look at pistols in the military, police, or even civilian life, they are used to defend yourself, and not a tool of offensive warfare, well, unless your Jack Bauer. The subject of pistols became more muddy when the development of fully automatic pistols, like the Glock 18 and Beretta 93R, which can also be concerned PDWs.
Then, there is the compact "shorty" or "commando" carbines, like the AKS-74U, the old CAR-15, and the M4 CQBR, which have been used by military personnel like a personal defense weapons over the 9mm pistol or .38 revolver, like the helicopter pilots during Vietnam, and today, after the 1993 Blackhawk Down incident. These commando carbines are also used by Special Forces units for CQC operations, like the killing of UBL or street-fighting in Mogadishu during Blackhawk Down. This allows these commando carbines to be extremely flexible at performing both defensive and offensive operations.Then, we come down to weapons like the MP7 and P90, which are the very definition of the personal defense weapons;compact weapons that fire specially designed ammunition. But are these PDWs really just the continuation of the SMG concept for the next generation of firearms?Bottom line as someone told me today at work, every weapon, even helmet or shovel, can be used defensively or offensively. Now...where's my tomahawk?
PDW in Science Fiction
The vast majority of sci-fi creators spend little or no time, effort, imagination, or creativity on their weapons. If I had a dollar for every time I read or saw a raygun or blaster, I'd be at the Porsche story ordering an 911 C4S! That brings up major problem to this lover-of-sci-fi-guns, and this blogpost. Do I count every use of the FN P90 in sci-fi as a PDW in sci-fi? Were the producers of Battlestar Galactica or Stargate SG1 intending for their futuristic and cool-looking P90's to be used as a personal defense weapon?
Is every raygun, phaser, and general pistol used by spacemen, explorers, or away missions personal defense weapons, or just were they just designed to look cool and futuristic? These are the questions I have dealing with when in comes to PDWs in science-fiction. So, below, I've compiled a list of guns being used in the role of personal defense weapons....just because a creator of sci-fi uses a P90 or MP7, does not mean its being used in a role as a PDW.
Examples of Real-Steel PDW
Before the start of World War II, the US Army discovered a need for a "light rifle" that could be used by crew-served weapons, vehicles, and officers to defend themselves, possibly making this, the first purpose built defensive gun. The M1 Carbine had smaller .30 caliber bullet specially developed that allowed to hold 20 rounds, but had a lower lethality than the .30-06 of the M1 Garand, issues with .30 caliber round would pop up during the Korean War, but would remain in use until Vietnam. My grandfather carried one of these during the Pacific Campaign and Korean as an Army infantry officer.
Seeing the end of their SMG workhorse, the MP5, H&K was not going to be undone by the likes of FN, so they developed their own PDW, the MP7. This pistol-like PDW fires the exclusive 4.6x30mm round that is similar in role and purpose to the FN 5.7x28mm bullet. Counter-terrorism units in the German Army have bought the MP7, along with some international SWAT teams, and (rumored), DEVGRU.
H&K MP5 PDW
The "K" or Kurz version of the MP5 9mm SMG was modified with a foregrip handle, and retitled a PDW in 1991. This became a favorite among close-protection units in the 1990's, until commando carbines and the FN P90.
In the late 1980's, NATO requested a replacement for the 9mm submachine guns, and this replacement was to be used tank crews, SOF units, and crew-served weapons. In 1990, the FN 5.7x28nn P90 PDW was introducted to the world, and sounded the death note for the traditional SMG. The P90 and its massive 50-round magazine of specially designed rounds allow for vehicle crews, SWAT teams, and close protection guards to have a great deal of firepower at their hands without having to change magazines or even if they are left or right (shells inject from the bottom). The first time I'd heard of the FN P90 or the concept of PDWs was from an issue of Marvel's Punisher War Journal around 1989.
This concept next-gen PDW from Magpul, called a personal defense rifle (PDR) is a futuristic bullpup that chambers the 5.56mm NATO round, it is another hybrid of the carbine and PDW. It does seem to borrow heavily from the FN P90 and H&K G36.
Beretta M93 Raffica
This fully-auto machine pistol based around the Beretta 92 series 9x19mm pistols was developed for military and police use. The raffica was a sales failure in the world of firearms, but is a favorite for Hong Hong shoot'em and shooter video games, like COD:MW2.
This is a prototype pistol-like PDW that fires the unqiue 7.92x24mm round and borrows elements of the Beretta 92F and Glock pistols.
KAC PDW Concept
Knights Armament Company built their own PDW concept in 2006 based around the Colt M4 carbine, but being a full ten inches short, to allow users to be instantly familiar with the PDW. This eight-inch barreled PDW burls the line between PDW and commando carbine with its design being proximal to the M4, but having a custom designed body armor defeating 6x35mm bullet. The KAC PDW failed to be approved for wide US military usage, and is not going to be released to the general public.
Examples of PDW in Sci-Fi
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Starfleet, per Mr. Phoenix, is an schizophrenic organization that attempts to combine defense with space exploration. Per this mandate, the weapons of Starfleet are designed to appear less "gun-like" than weapons used by the Klingons or even early NX-01 crews, to allow more relaxed and peaceful contact during away missions. This role was normally filled by the handheld Type-I phaser, and due to the micro-size of the Type-I phaser, it could be tucked into the uniform, becoming a concealed PDW. Unlike other sci-fi shows that hinted at their PDWs, Star Trek presented the Type-I on-screen and in print as the personal defense weapon of ST:TNG. Okay, I really hate to say this, but the tiny Type-I phaser (sometimes referred to as "the cricket") used in the ST:TNG may be the best example of a sci-fi PDW
Battlestar Galactica (2003)
In the 2003 miniseries of Battlestar Galactica, when the Galactica arrives at Ra several of the crew and Leoben carry an odd-looking PDW, that is actually an Seburo MN-23 developed for the Shirow Dominion: Conflict This gun is never seen again in the series, and replaced with the FN P90, yet another PDW. So, the question begs itself, is the FN P90 in BSG being used as an PDW or just a cool-looking gun? If I was on the Galactica, I'd want a P90 for CQC. Even odder is the fact, that FN Five-Seven pistol is used as the main sidearm, which also could be concerned a PDW. Odd.
Ghost in the Shell
The fictional firearms company of Masamune Shirow universe, Seburo , outfits most of the characters in Ghost in the Shell and Apple Seed special police units with rapid firing, small HV caliber PDWs...mainly the C25 5mm PDW. For many of us, Mr. Shirow was our introduction to the concept and usage of PDWs in sci-fi.
In the HALO universe of 26th century, the UNSC uses the "C" variant of the Misriah Armory M6 12.7mm Magnum as a PDW. This is the stripped down verison without the 2x scope, and is mainly seen in HALO 2, HALO WARS, and HALO LEGENDS: Homecoming. The idea that a .50 caliber pistol is being used by normal humans as a PDW is nearly funny. I've fired a .50 caliber Desert Eagle, and I would not carry this into combat, despite the fact, that I use a Tiberius T8 paintball pistol (similar size). The 12.7mm round is massive, heavy, and wears down the shooter after only a few rounds. I would much rather have my SIG SAUER P229 .40 S&W than a Desert Eagle .50 caliber, unless I was facing an pissed off Elite.
Much like Section Nine in Ghost in the Shell, the ESWAT police force of Olympus, outfit themselves with Seburo made PDW-like weaponry that fires specially developed ammunition.
The Cellular Ammunition Rifle Base or CARB are the modular caseless firearm system of the RDA on Pandora and manufactured by Matanza Arms Corporation. Among the dozen or so verisons of the CARB is the PDW, which fires the same 6.2x35mm caseless round, but is fitted with a eight inch barrel. This is used by "inside the wire" personnel and crew-served vehicles (possibly the AMP suits.) The odd thing is, besides the blue people, the Avatar Wiki refers to this as "submachine gun".
Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis
Jack O'Neil said this of the FN P90: "this is a weapon of war. It's made to kill your enemy." This weapon replaced the H&K MP5 to deal with the body armor that is worn by many of the aggressive species that SG1 and Atlantis personnel are forced to deal with. Since the SG1 and Atlantis personnel mount off-world expedition missions, similar to the away missions in Star Trek, the usage of the P90 could be in its role as a PDW. However, other times, the P90 is used on purely offensive combat operations, where a carbine would have been better.
First appearance of the P90 was the SG1 episode: The First Ones.
Gene Rhoddenberry's Andromeda
The personal weapon of choice for the Systems Commonwealth was the Force Lance, a small rod-like weapon that fires both defensive or offensive munitions, and can be extended to two meters and used as a melee weapon. Give the small size, portability, and limited range, coupled with interception munitions, its a good bet that the standard Force Lance are a futuristic PDW. During the Magog boarding of Andromda, Hunt gets to a arms locker, and seems to take a different Force Lance, this could be a more offensive model than a standard F-Lance.
Enemy Mine (1985)
In this forgotten sci-fi classic of 1985, 21st century pilot played by Dennis Quaid fighting in an deep space war with the Dracs. During a fighter battle, he crash lands on a planet, and hunts a downed Drac pilot with his silver PPK, a great sci-fi example of pilot PDW, and one of the few I know.
The PPG pistol of the Earth Alliance could be counted as an DEW PDW, it seems from the examples of the PPG being used in the series, could be counted as a defensive weapon.