FNH PS90 Review by George Parsons
FN Herstal happens to be one of, if not the largest firearms manufacturer with over 100 countries using their firearms worldwide. Browning, Winchester, & FN companies fall within the umbrella of the Herstal Group. As an odd bit of obscure trivia, motorcycles, cars, buses, and armored vehicles are included in the company’s manufacturing history.
Adding to their rich production heritage are the P90 PDW for military and law enforcement use and the PS90 civilian carbine chambered in 5.7 x 28 mm and is one of the more unique weapons available to the civilian market today. It’s definitely one that draws substantial attention when displayed at various gun shops.
Are bullpup firearms a worthwhile option against conventional carbines? I suppose that’s a very individual question to answer, and certainly depends on the mission at hand. I’m personally a fan of bullpup designs provided they are completely reliable and are properly designed, which believe me can be asking a lot.
If one desires the compactness of an SBR or Short Barreled Rifle without all the paperwork hassles, this is certainly the best option. You get all the firepower and velocity of a full size weapon in a short, legal package. Ergonomics and ease of use definitely play a major role in the success of a bullpup as many have negative factors such as slower magazine changes due in part to a rearward position or clumsy controls, heavy trigger pulls since almost all of them operate with a linkage rod of some sort, and an overall strange feel when shouldering as compared with normal rifles.
While the P90 PDW was mainly intended for vehicle personnel requiring a compact weapon for defensive use, FNH has seen the majority of its sales come from special forces, law enforcement, and the counter-terrorist field as an offensive weapon. The U.S. Secret Service adopted the P90 and can be seen being worn on protective details around the world.
For civilian use, FNH offers the PS90 in a choice of two colors; either black (limited production) or olive drab green (standard). Oddly enough, the company offers the Five-seveN handgun which shares the same 5.7 x 28 mm cartridge in three colors. The additional color being Dark Earth which is not offered with the PS90. The stock chassis consists of two halves and is solidly built and cross bolted in ten locations. A horizontal slot provides the location for sling mounting at the rear.
The PS90 is in my opinion happens to be one of the best bullpup designs out there. I believe it’s about as compact as a carbine can get, mainly because of the cartridge it fires and how the magazine operates. I refer to the PS90 as a carbine as it’s the version legal for most ordinary people buying a weapon like this off the shelf consisting of a 16” cold hammer forged (mil-spec) barrel with integrated muzzle brake. The PS90 is actually a derivative of the P90 PDW (Personal Defense Weapon) that has a 10.4″ barrel.
Contrary to what many may think, the P90 is not a submachine gun. The PDW and submachine gun each serve a different purpose. Generally speaking, a submachine gun is chambered in pistol cartridges such as 9mm, .40 S&W, 10 mm, and .45 ACP. One classic example is the Heckler & Koch MP5 series of weapons. A weapon classified as a PDW has the capability of penetrating a certain level of body armor or ballistic helmet using an often proprietary caliber. In other words, the PDW is somewhat of a hybrid design between the carbine and submachine gun.
As with many FN firearms, the P90 and PS90 are fully ambidextrous, including the position of the safety switch located at the base of the trigger. Unlike other bullpup designs, the ultimate ambidextrous definition is achieved based on the fact that it dumps spent shell casings out of the bottom onto the ground, or into a small dump pouch that locks into the bottom of the ejection well. This is a very nice feature when firing nearby others in your team, or when up against a wall utilizing available cover. I’ve grown accustomed to the feel of the carbine which is deceptively comfortable despite how blockish everything appears to be. It’s also interesting to note how each person handles the weapon for the first time and where they attempt to place their thumbs and fingers through each opening, quite comical actually. But there is only one way to properly hold the weapon, and it forces you to tuck up tight with elbows in, which is always good tactical form.
Utilizing a magazine that can hold up to 50 rounds, the carbine is a real force to be reckoned with. Aside from the sheer agony of having to load several mags to prepare for the situation at hand, it takes some thought to appreciate the true brilliance of the system. In fact, the magazine is the heart of this entire weapon ( and I know what you’re thinking, the same is true of any weapon.) But I feel in this case it deserves special attention.
The PS90 depends on the flawless operation of a translucent 10, 30, or 50 round, sideways loaded magazine spinning each round 90 degrees into the chamber. They’ve achieved this in the most efficient manner possible and pulled it off without a hitch. Which is why I offer my “sage” advice to current and would-be owners; Experiment with aftermarket magazines at your peril! While I have several aftermarket magazines of one particular manufacture, I use those exclusively for range use only. The tried and true FN mags stay new and and are the only mags suitable for depending one’s life on. That being said though, the gun has been utterly reliable with absolutely no malfunctions or misfeeds of any kind.
There are several options when discussing the sights that come with the PS90.
The two factory options most commonly found on PS90’s are supplied by Ring Sights HC-14-62 with reticle pattern #131. Low light illumination is from red tritium. While many of the available reticles are frosted white in appearance, the PS90 USG was supplied with a black version.
In addition to these sighting systems, there are threaded mounts on each side of the receiver for short rails to be mounted for common tactical lights and laser aiming modules. The PS90 TR is offered with an optonal “tri-rail”.
As a sight of last resort, and in keeping with their dedicated ambidextrous design, there is a small notch and post cast into both sides of the upper receiver serving as non-adjustable auxillary iron sights.
Shooting the PS90 is like shooting any of your favorite small caliber rifles with considerably more “pop”. It’s very easy to control and hold on target during a rapid fire sequence.
The safety selector switch located below the trigger is simply operated with either hand with an (S) for “safe” and a (1) for “fire”. It’s very easy to operate and works well in my opinion. In fact, aside from the two small lugs used to chamber the first shot or chamber check, there is a distinct lack of protruding controls making for a very flat and streamlined appearance.
Magazine changes are a simple matter of gripping the exposed portion of the mag with your full hand while pressing rearward with your thumb on either side of the mag catch. Lift and pull to remove. It does force you to occupy your free hand though in removal of the magazine where you would ordinarily be reaching for the spare thus slowing down by comparison a typical mag change in say an M4.
At the end of a great day of shooting the PS90, the true genius is evident when it comes to disassembly. The PS90 is a home run in the category of field stripping requiring no special tools. It essentially breaks down into five components (six if you completely remove the butt plate). Upon removing the magazine and subsequently checking the chamber which requires cocking the bolt to the rear (which puts the hammer back in proper position), There is a single square button when pressed slides the upper barrel assembly forward and out. Set upper aside and tip the stock forward so the bolt slides out. It’s at this point where you slide upward on the butt plate exposing the trigger pack. Simply lift up on the plastic tab on the back of the trigger pack and slide out the back. Done.
With regards to the ammunition, the choice was determined based on an attempt by NATO to standardize PDW ammunition. Head to head was the 5.7 x 28 mm and the caliber designed by Heckler & Koch as the 4.6 x 30 mm. FN states that the effective range is around 200 meters.
In keeping with the PDW armor penetrating requirement, the original cartridge was designated the SS90 (23gr.) FMJ with a polymer core. Subsequently redesigned as the SS190 (31 gr.) which had a steel core and a color coded tip.
Among the many versions of ammunition ranging from the SS192 hollow point to the L191 tracer, there are currently three that are the most commonly available for purchase. These are the SS192 as listed above, the SS195 L.F. (lead free primer) which it replaced, and the SS197 40 gr. Hornady V-Max “blue tip”. Others can be found at much greater cost, but generally not on the store shelf.
Here are some of the specs you may find useful:
P.O. Box 697, Dept GW/LE
McLean, VA 22101
Barrel: 16.04 inches
Twist Rate: 1:9
OA Length: 26.2 inches
Width: 2.2 inches
Weight: 6.3 pounds (empty)
Stock: Green polymer
Sights: Non-magnifying optical
Action: Semi-auto blowback
Capacity: 30-50 shot mag
Price: $1892 (manufacturer’s suggested retail price)
The PS90 from FN Herstal is one of my favorite weapons. I also recommend it for female shooters as well seeking a gun that is well suited to smaller builds, has virtually no felt recoil, and packs a punch! If you get a chance to shoot one, I believe you’ll be convinced that this is a great piece of gear worth owning… and certainly a viable option to a full sized carbine.