A few years ago, I was struck with a nervous disorder. I spent most of 2007 and 2008 in excruciating pain, in and out of the hospital, undergoing test after test, trying to determine why my lower back and leg muscles would not stop twitching, spasming and cramping. I spent the better part of three years regaining my strength, teaching my legs and lower back how to work together again. I’ve come a long way since then, but I can no longer physically protect myself, my wife and my four daughters. One thing I’ve learned from this ordeal: Buy a firearm that you can use instead of one that “looks cool” or “packs a lot of punch” . . .
Getting to know the FN PS90
Before buying the PS90, I shot several AR-15 rifles. Some were stock from the factory, some were decked-out with custom uppers and lowers, stocks and accessories. In every case I found myself struggling to support the weight and bulk of the AR-15 for more than a few minutes of shooting. I couldn’t maintain a tight grouping at 50 yards, let alone 100 yards.
After 30 minutes I was tired, sore and bitterly disappointed. A weapon I couldn’t fire accurately for extended periods of time, a rifle that made practice a chore, wouldn’t do me any good at all.
I happened upon the PS90 quite by accident. One afternoon a local range was hosting FN’s “pistol and rifle rental program.” They were renting a brand new PS90 USG with plenty of 5.7x28mm ammunition behind the counter. The FN rifle was an ugly duckling to be sure, but my wishlist included a long gun powerful enough to stave off my personal swan song. So I bellied-up to the ballistic bar.
The instructor showed me how to load the PS90’s 50-round translucent polymer magazine. In 30 years I’ve never encountered a rifle magazine that was so easy to load. The 5.7x28mm rounds feed through a ramp which rotates them 90 degrees and stores them “sideways” in the magazine. It sounds complicated, but the ramp system is a simple and elegant design. In months of testing, it’s never failed to feed properly.
Next, the instructor demoed the weapon’s safety (1 = live, S = safe) and showed me how to insert the magazine correctly. Despite YouTube videos of folks slamming home the PS90’s magazine, it takes surprisingly little effort to insert the mag and seat it correctly. A quick pull on the ambidextrous charging handle and you’re ready to rock and roll.
The first thing I noticed when shooting the PS90: It’s small size and light weight. The FN PS90 measures 26 1/4 inches from end to end. When loaded with a 50-round magazine, the rifle weighs little more than 7.5 lbs. Whether or not you’re physically challenged, that’s a huge bonus. In close quarters combat in an enclosed space, a tactical shotgunner or AR shooter runs a grave risk of the bad guy stealing the weapon. The bullpup FNH rifle is easier to retain and negotiates tight spaces like an NFL cornerback.
The PS90’s unique shape and ergonomic design fits my smaller hands and shorter arms perfectly. I can operate this weapon for several hours of target practice without fatigue or muscle cramps.
PS90 Triple Rail
Narrowing down my choices., I tried the USG version of the PS90 with its MC-10-80 optic reflex sight. I was disappointed by the reticle’s small size and apparent field of view. One of my key criteria for a personal defense weapon: A wide field of view and both-eyes-open optics. I contacted my favorite gun shop — Able’s Ammo — and ordered the PS90 TR (Triple-Rail) in ODG (olive drab green). This optics-free variant includes a long top-mounted M1913 Picatinny rail.
Optics for the FN PS90
Unlike the AR-15, the PS90 triple rail has no real option for backup iron sights; selecting the right set of optics for this rifle is vital. As you can see in the two images below, the EOTech XPS series of HWS (holographic weapons systems) fits the top rail of the PS90 like Nut’n Fancy at a Soldier of Fortune convention.
For those of you not familiar with EOTech products, they utilize a “heads up, both eyes open” holographic display reticle. The shooter has an unhindered field of view for maximum situational awareness. It took me a while to get accustomed to the red dot sight. But once I did, traditional scopes were dead to me.
I chose the EOTech XPS2-2 model for its versatility. It’s good for engagements from a few feet to 50 yards. I added the G23 FTS 3x magnifier to improve my accuracy at 100 yards and 200 yards. With the magnifier’s ARMS throw lever, I can transition from CQB to a medium-range engagement in less than a second.
In my less-than-expert opinion, it’s the perfect setup for a personal-defense weapon. EOTech optics are built for combat conditions. They’re waterproof, fog-proof and shock-proof to a whopping 1600 G’s — far beyond anything my PS90 can throw at it. [See below] They’re not cheap by any measure, but then neither is my life, so I buy the best that I can afford.
PS90 5.7x28mm Round
The PS90 (and its cousin the FN P90) fires the 5.7x28mm round, a cartridge with a short and controversial history. It was originally intended as a body-armor-piercing replacement for the NATO 9x19mm parabellum. FNH’s SS190 cartridge met that criteria. Civilians got a slower version. Even so, when the PS90 and FiveSeven pistol were first released to the commercial market, the “gun control” lobby labeled 5.7x28mm “cop killer” ammo.
Ironically, the 5.7x28mm round also faced opposition for its lack of stopping power. Many ballistic experts condemned the 5.7x28mm round as “under powered” compared to the 5.56x45mm NATO round used in the M-16/AR-15 rifles. And no wonder. The 5.7x28mm provides about two-thirds less “impact energy” (velocity x mass) as the NATO round.
But comparing the PS90 to the AR-15 is like comparing an M&P 9mm pistol to a .45 caliber 1911. Head-to-head against 9mm, however, the 5.7x28mm round offers 50 percent more “impact energy” — thanks to increased velocity (2300 fps vs. 1200 fps). Yes, but thanks to 5.7x28mm round’s lower mass, penetration is an “issue.” Or not, if you’re looking for a round that won’t over-penetrate in, say, a domestic environment. Anyway, the 5.7x28mm round is designed to tumble upon impact, creating a larger wound channel.
Generally speaking, it’s best to deploy the largest round you can comfortably carry and fire. For myself and others who can no longer handle the big bang theory, the 5.7x28mm round’s minimal recoil is more important than “stopping power,” the price of the gun or ammo availability issues. With such little recoil, I can hit a target accurately at 50 yards with the PS90 when standing or kneeling (I can’t shoot from the prone position anymore). I can create very tight groups at 50 yards with rapid-fire multiple shots.
On the negative side, the FNH PS90’s 50-round capacity magazine is one long son of a gun. Carrying a couple of spare magazines for the bullpup rifle is a logistical problem worthy of a prospective buyer’s consideration. There are tactical vests for the PS90, but if you’re not girding for battle, keep in mind that you can’t just throw a FNH PS90 magazine in your pocket.
It’s worth highlighting again: the most effective personal-defense weapon is one with which you can hit the target quickly, accurately and repeatably. With the PS90 and the EOTech optics I can achieve a level of speed and accuracy far beyond what I could with an AR-15. The lightweight, low-recoil PS90 is perfect for short-statured people, the elderly and other physically challenged shooters.
There are, of course, downsides. You can run through three or four 50-round PS90 magazines in less than 15 minutes — provided you pause between strings. Even with a one-second count (my local range prohibits rapid firing) I filled the center of this bullseye target at 50 yards (free hand) in a little under five minutes.
As you can from my 100-yard target below, I’m no marksman when it comes to defensive shooting from a standing position. Due to its unique design and light weight, it’s very easy to get a good cheek weld with the PS90 and with the right sling attached, most shooters will have no trouble achieving good accuracy at 100 yards.
5.7x28mm Ammunition Choices
When the 5.7x28mm round was first released to the civilian market ammo choices were strictly limited. All were hard to come by and extremely expensive. Today, FNH offers two unrestricted cartridges for the civilian market — the SS197SR sporting round (2100 fps/381 ft-lbs) and the SS195LF lead-free (2500 fps/384 ft-lbs). Federal distributes the ammo stateside; you’ll find them in stock at most online suppliers like Able’s Ammo and Midway USA for about $25 per box of 50.
While either of these two rounds are a good choice for target practice, neither was designed for personal defense. Luckily, Elite Ammunition sells 10 different 5.7x28mm rounds for law enforcement and personal protection use. My favorite: the ProtecTOR II (2400 fps/680 ft-lbs) round.
It’s a 50-grain, fragmenting, ballistic silvertip bullet. This round [above] is perfect for CQB situations like a home invasion, where you want enough “firepower” to stop the bad guys without stray bullets penetrating into other rooms of the house.
I’ve put more than 2,000 rounds downrange with this rifle in the past few months. No problamo. I’ve fired more than 2,000 SS197SR and SS195LF rounds without any failures of any kind. No jams, no failures to feed, nothing.
The FNH PS90’s four-piece design is one of its most unique features. You can field strip this rifle faster than a 1911. In fact, you can disassemble the PS90 into its four parts groups— polymer stock, barrel/optics group, moving parts group and hammer group — in less time than it takes to read this paragraph.
Once disassembled, it’s a simple matter to run a Bore-Snake through the MIL-SPEC barrel, brush off any carbon dust on the moving-part group (I use pipe-cleaners to remove any dirt from the springs) and the hammer group and lubricate the nine recommended spots. Ten minutes later you’re done. Cleaning the PS90 is so quick I do it at the range after target practice. Once a month or so, I’ll also disassemble and clean each magazine.
The FNH PS90 semiautomatic carbine is NOT an AR-15 replacement. It’s a small, lightweight rifle that’s perfect for shooters who are more concerned about weight and accuracy than out-and-out stopping power.
FNH PS90 TR Specifications
Barrel length: 16″ long/1 in 9″ rifling. (Cold-hammer-forged, chrome-lined. Ported muzzle brake)
Receiver: Bottom ejection port. Alloy upper receiver and barrel support
Stock: Matte black. Synthetic thumbhole bullpup design. Forward handstop. Molded-in rear sling attachment point
Sight: MIL-STD 1913 accessory rail and back-up iron sight
Size: 26.23″ overall length x 6.9″ height.
Weight: 6.39 lbs. empty/7.23 lbs. fully loaded
Operation: Semi-automatic only. Blowback operated. Closed bolt system.
Finish: Molded polymer stock. Black oxide coated alloy steel upper receiver.
Capacity: 10-, 30- and 50- (version of the P90) round magazine capacity.
Accessories: Three MIL-STD 1913 Rails.
Price: $1,300 – $1,800 depending upon model.
Ratings (Out of Five Stars)
Accuracy: * * * *
Great accuracy from both standard (FNH) and custom (Elite) ammunition.
Ergonomics: * * * * *
Completely ambidextrous cocking handles, magazine release, safety switch inside the trigger guard and other controls and a bottom ejection port. Small and lightweight. What more could you ask for?
Ergonomics Firing: * * * * *
Small and lightweight. All the (ambidextrous) controls are right where they should be. Minimal recoil. A joy to shoot.
Reliability: * * * * *
Zero failures in 2,000 rounds.
Customization: * *
This is not an AR-15. The only customizations possible are different optics, lasers, lights that fit on standard rails.
Overall Rating: * * * *
A great personal-defense weapon for the average citizen shooter — NOT an AR-15 replacement. Final star withheld for the price of the gun and ammo, but for those whom the gun suits, it’s a bargain.
About the Author
Jeff Lynch is a commercial, landscape & nature photographer, blogger and author based in Sugar Land, Texas. Jeff’s passion for photography extends to his love of teaching and he can be found leading groups of serious amateurs each spring and fall during the Texas Landscape Safari workshop.