Some Thoughts on the H&K MP7A1

What with the recent article in RECOIL on the H&K MP7 and the resulting internet backlash, I figured I would give you guys a little insight into my experiences with that firearm. A few months ago I had the opportunity to fire an MP7A1 at the NDIA live fire demonstration (Joe Grine pictured above having some fun before I stepped to the line), and I have to admit that I came away with some mixed feelings . . .

Not mixed feelings about civilian ownership — you’re talking to a guy whose blood pressure goes up every time he remembers that the machine gun registry is closed — mixed feelings about the gun itself and its usefulness.

The MP7 was designed to fill a niche in the military and law enforcement market. There’s a grey area, specifically in close quarters operations, where a carbine is simply too big to maneuver and a handgun doesn’t have enough accuracy or speed to properly engage the target. It’s also handy to issue to troops who work in cramped spaces (such as a helicopter or tank) and only really need something that can be used in an emergency that’s slightly better than a handgun.

This is a niche that’s traditionally filled by the SMG or Sub Machine Gun, a small firearm that is designed to be fired from the shoulder and typically uses pistol caliber cartridges. In WWII, that niche was filled by the M1 carbine. But for the modern battlefield, many more options are available.

The standard option these days for the SMG is another design by H&K, specifically their MP5 (video above in the SD variant). Its compact size, easy operation and ammunition compatibility with currently issued firearms (9mm) lets it slip into the arsenals of the world relatively easily and without much new gear having to be ordered or any special ammunition to be acquired.

The MP5 and its variants have been used since the 1960s by everyone from the U.S. Special Forces to guerrilla fighters, and is currently being issued to U.S. troops in combat as well as one of the weapons of choice for SWAT teams across the country. But that’s not to say that the MP5 doesn’t have its downside.

Thanks to being designed in the 1950s and 1960s, the MP5 doesn’t use the latest manufacturing procedures and processes. Best example: the body of the gun is traditionally made by stamping a piece of sheet metal and twisting it into shape. It’s a very simple process which leads to a relatively heavy SMG that can develop problems over time and with repeated use.

The other issue is the ammunition. A 9mm round is great for soft tissue, but for body armor it doesn’t really cut the mustard. Rounds such as the 5.7mm ammo developed by FNH for their P9o and FN Five-seveN was originally developed to be a high velocity/low diameter round that put a TON of force on a small area and penetrated low level body armor better than straight handgun ammunition. H&K, naturally enough, wanted to follow suit.

In 2001, they began producing the H&K MP7. The gun was designed to be their response to the P90, which came out in 1991 (a decade earlier). It was compact, lightweight and had a high rate of fire. It took advantage of newer manufacturing processes making the gun weigh half as much as either the MP5 or the P90. And, most importantly, it looked dead sexy.

Seriously, I would buy one of these in a heartbeat just for how awesome it would look in my collection. If there’s one thing H&K does right every time, its getting their guns to be visually appealing in addition to being functional. That’s why it’s been featured in games like Half Life 2 and series like Battlestar Galactica.

But there’s a problem: the ammunition.

FNH’s P90 had been on the market for a decade when the MP7 came on the scene, and civilian sales of their rifle AND their handgun that take the 5.7 ammunition had created enough demand in the market for the ammunition to be widely available and relatively cheap. Heck, most Walmarts still sell the 5.7 ammo. But what they don’t sell is H&K’s 4.6×30 ammunition.

When we were handed the MP7 and a magazine at NDIA, the H&K rep made sure to tell us to go slow on the ammo. “This is expensive stuff, don’t waste it” he admonished us. And the reason is clear — there’s only one gun that shoots that ammo, and there are no civilian models available. H&K had been working on a UCP handgun that fires the same rounds (like FNH’s offerings), but in 2009 they shelved the project. And while there are caliber conversion kits to allow some other SMGs to take the round, there are no other firearms that are native 4.6×30.

The effect that this has had on the popularity of the gun is substantial. Imagine if you were buying new firearms for a police department or military unit and had to choose between new MP5s or MP7s — which would you choose? The tried and tested design with readily available, cheap ammunition, or the technically superior firearm with ammunition that’s more expensive and hard to find than modern production 7.62 Nagant? It doesn’t make sense from a financial perspective and for that reason it isn’t gaining any popularity.

But the real question is how well the gun shoots and if it’s any fun. And the answer to that is it’s loud and generally uncomfortable. The EXTREMELY short barrel means that most of the powder in the case is wasted as noise. And positioning the muzzle so close to the vertical foregrip means the shooter needs to keep a close eye on where his hand is lest he slip and get singed by the escaping gasses.

Is the gun cool? Hell yes. Sub zero cool, even. But it’s nowhere near practical from a modern LEO/Mil perspective, and the ammunition costs (plus the fact that it’s generally impossible to get) mean it’s not really a good option for civilian shooters either. The MP7 is trying to compete in the same space as the P90 and MP5, but there aren’t enough benefits of the weapons system to make it a better choice than either of them.