The H&K MP7A1 is, unquestionably, a lethal weapon. It’s killed many a terrorist. It has killed the career of Jerry Tsai. And it nearly killed Recoil Magazine. But the lethality of this gun isn’t what makes it so cool — it’s the design. Whether or not you’re a fan of Heckler & Koch, you can’t say that they make ugly guns. They are to the gun world what Lamborghini is to the car world, producing overpriced super
cars guns, the pictures of which are frequently pinned up on the walls of prepubescent boys. But is the gun functional as well as aesthetically pleasing? We just had to find out . . .
The MP7A1 falls into the category of a personal defense weapon or PDW. The idea is that you produce a firearm that’s as compact as possible, capable of being fired either single-handed or with a stock and has a massive magazine. The resulting PDW is ideally still capable of putting down the bad guys, but has the added bonus of being compact and portable — perfect for close quarters fighting or where size is a major consideration.
For decades, the MP5 has been the gold standard of PDW firearms. Its compact size and lightweight design (well, for the time) made it ideal for combat helicopter pilots and executive protection details all over the world. And the fact that it looked like pure tactical awesomeness didn’t hurt either.
But the MP5 has issues, namely that as the firearms manufacturing processes improved, the MP5 stayed the same. When most gun manufacturers moved to CNC-machined aluminum for their firearms, the MP5 remained a stamped and welded piece of sheet metal. When most manufacturers were doing pinned or screwed-on barrels, the MP5’s was still riveted in place. And while 9mm ammunition isn’t any less deadly than it used to be, new concepts in bullet design means that smaller and faster rounds can be substituted for the relatively slow and heavy 9mm cartridges. The world has pretty much left the MP5 behind and a replacement needed to be found.
H&K sensed that there was a need to update their PDW line, and so in 1999 they introduced the PDW. Yes, they really did just called it “the PDW.” Imaginative folks, those Germans. Two years later, no doubt after much ridicule, they changed the name to the MP7, and shortly thereafter the final version known as the MP7A1 was made available for sale to military and law enforcement organizations worldwide.
The best way to think of the MP7A1 is as a really short HK416 with some nifty features. The operating mechanism is pretty much the same — a short-stroke gas piston system is fed through a gas block (under the black body), which knocks back a bolt carrier with a rotating bolt. Even the cocking mechanism is similar to an AR-15, looking for all the world like a standard Stoneresque charging handle. But that’s where the similarities end.
While the MP5 used standard 9mm parabellum, the MP7A1 uses a proprietary 4.6x30mm round that’s similar in appearance and performance to FNH’s 5.7x28mm round. The idea is that the smaller diameter bullet travels at a fast enough velocity that the overall muzzle energy is as good as, if not better than, a 9mm round. At the same time it produces less recoil and allows the shooter to carry more of the lighter ammunition. It’s an attractive concept, and the reason FN’s P90 PDW uses a similar round.
My main issue with the MP7A1 stems from that choice of ammo. With the MP5, and specifically the MP5SD variant, you could take supersonic 9mm ammunition and (thanks to the integral suppressor) slow it down to subsonic speeds and nearly eliminate the report. With supersonic ammunition like the 4.6×30, the power of the caliber comes from its speed, not its size. So making a subsonic version would be like making a PG-13 edition of Penthouse.
All that speed has another drawback: sound. Without a silencer, the MP7A1 is somewhere between “uncomfortable” and “deafening” when fired. With a silencer the gun is hearing safe, but there’s no stealthiness at all to it.
Oh, and did I mention that since there’s only one firearm in the world that shoots this caliber of ammo? And that the ammo prices are sky high and chronically unavailable?
So, I don’t like the caliber. As for the gun itself . . .
There are some things I really love and some things I just hate. Let’s start with the plus side.
As far as the fire controls go, they’re great. The selector switch on this gun is brilliant, perfectly ergonomic and ambidextrous. Moving from one fire mode to the next comes with a tactile and audible click which lets you know when the setting has been engaged. Unlike the AK-47, slamming the selector all the way down in mid-panic will give you full auto instead of semi auto.
Another thing I like is the trigger. The latest versions feature a Glock-like split trigger that gives you a little more peace of mind, knowing that the trigger is unlikely to be accidentally pulled. Unless, of course, you’re a NYC police officer. Anyway, it’s an additional safety feature and I appreciate it.
While most of the levers and switches are nice, there are two that aren’t. The first is the bolt catch release, which is located above the trigger. It’s tough to activate and located in a really awkward position. I’m not sure how else H&K could have manufactured it, I just know that I don’t like it at all.
The other downer is the magazine release, which is the standard European style. That means the release button is located on the triggerguard and not on the grip. For the MP7 series, magazines are inserted directly into the pistol grip like any common handgun. That keeps the gun much shorter since you don’t need a separate magazine well. But the resulting system is tough to use, specifically when reloading a mag. Despite a lot of practice, I couldn’t find a simple and fast way to get my fingers to hit that release properly. It was intuitive with the MP5, but with the MP7A1 it just plain sucks.
One feature that doesn’t suck, however, is the built-in vertical forward grip. It’s a simple addition to the gun, but one that makes a ton of sense. It gives the shooter the option of trading a little extra bulk for a much more controllable hold, and that I applaud. Also not sucking: the telescoping skeletonized stock. These guns aren’t about pinpoint accuracy at distance. They’re made for hosing down close range targets. Which makes getting a solid cheek rest irrelevant. However, if you’re looking for accuracy, the gun delivers that in spades.
We had a plate rack set up about 50 yards away and every time we shot it with the MP7A1 we hit it. The PDW also reliably set off the little packages of tannerite that we had placed at the end of the range, making a rather nice ka-boom sound. Even with iron sights, it was pinpoint accurate.
In short, the ergos of firing the gun are excellent. It feels right in your hands and conforms to your body perfectly as you take your shots. The trigger is crisp and light, and the reset is present enough for government work. As for recoil, its practically nonexistent.
But flip that gun over to full-auto and throw a can on it, and you start having some problems. The gun produces an enormous level of back pressure, which causes a small cloud of exhaust to form right under your nose. After about 10 rounds its bad enough that you can’t really breathe anymore. In short, it blows.
Despite the epic blowing, the lightweight projectile makes for an extremely soft-recoiling firearm which is perfect for small kids. In semi-auto mode, that is. Until they’re big and strong.
Is the MP7A1 perfect? Nope. Far from it. But its slick design, light recoil and high rate of fire make it excellent for taking out bad guys and looking cool at the same time. The MP7A1 is currently in service with the Navy SEALs and other special forces groups, and for good reason. But if I had my choice, I’d probably pick something else.
Heckler & Koch MP7A1
Caliber: 4.6x30mm HK
Weight: 2.65 lbs. empty
Operation: Short stroke gas piston
Capacity: 40 round box magazine
MSRP: No gun for you!
Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
All ratings are relative compared to the other weapons in the gun’s category.
Accuracy: * * * * *
It’s amazing the level of accuracy you can get with a grain of rice shot through a 7-inch barrel.
Ergonomics: * * * *
Mostly great, but the magazine release is annoying and so is the bolt catch.
Ergonomics Firing: * * * *
I hate to admit it: perfect. Right up until the point you can’t breathe any more.
Customization: * * * *
Tons of rail space for your tactical pleasure, but not so much on the aftermarket.
Overall Rating: * * * *
Despite my personal gripes, it’s a good gun. It works, it kills bad guys (and bad journalists’ careers), and looks stunning. But it’s not my cup of tea.