September 28, 2023


FN P90 Personal Defense Weapon, Tactical
FN P90 Personal Defense Weapon

“When you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting!” ~ Dave Young

PDW (Personal Defensive Weapon)

The term “PDW” has been conferred upon an ill-defined class of individual firearms that armies, including ours, have historically looked to for issue to “rear-echelon” troops.

Back in the Cold War Era, commanders imagined rear-area personnel having to confront Soviet paratroopers, who would be wearing some kind of personal body armor. To address this eventuality, the FN P90, firing its proprietary round, the 5.7×28, was introduced.

The 5.7×28 did indeed penetrate some kinds of body armor but was (and is) expensive and hard to find, and its performance in all other aspects of terminal ballistics is nothing special.

The P90 itself is a short, compact, light rifle, but still too big to carry in a holster, much less carry concealed. It’s small, but not small enough.

I’ve had students bring P90s to DTI Urban Rifle Courses, and in all fairness, they run fine. Nonetheless, the P90 never “caught on,” neither in the private sector nor in the police community, nor has DOD ever displayed any more than casual interest!

Other weapons, from pistols with shoulder stocks to “miniaturized” SMGs, have also been tasked to fill the role of “PDW” with varying degrees of failure and dispassion!

During WWII, the M1 Carbine was designed as a “PDW!”

The English term “carbine” is derived from a French word for cavalry or horse-mounted soldiers (who were expected actually to fight from horseback). It refers to a short rifle suitable for carrying by horse cavalry and that can be fired one-handed from horseback. By the 1940s, horses, of course, no longer occupied an important position in land warfare, but the term stuck.

The M1 Garand (chambered for “30-06,” or 7.62×63) was (and is) a superb infantry rifle for average-to-large-sized, young males in good physical shape, but it was never well suited for carrying inside vehicles, nor for use by the small-statured, nor for rear-area personnel (from secretaries to truck-drivers, to mechanics) who were not trained to expertly operate it, beyond a brief afternoon of perfunctory “familiarization firing.”

A brand new 1945-style M1 Carbine from Inland Manufacturing
A brand new 1945-style M1 Carbine from Inland Manufacturing

The M1 Carbine, firing what is little more than a pistol round, proved enormously popular in all theaters of WWII, including among front-line troops, but it still did not fit into a holster.

In our Modern Era, troopers are now herded into cramped armored vehicles and helicopters, all of which have demanded short, light, compact rifles, “carbines,” if you will.

Also, in our age of sophisticated optical sights, “sight radius,” the distance between rear and front, iron sights (the longer, the more inherently accurate the rifle), has become irrelevant.

Thus, modern military rifles have barrels between sixteen and twenty inches, just long enough to maximize bullet velocity (within the context described above).

So, do modern armies still need a separate “PDW” for rear-area personnel?


The argument rages, but while votes are still being counted, what about pistols, like our current SIG P320 (M17), or the old Beretta 92F (M9), or for that matter the even older 1911?

Isn’t the sidearm supposed to fill the role of “PDW?”

Modern pistols can be safely carried all day, fully loaded, in holsters, openly or concealed.

Recoil and noise are relatively mild (compared with rifles), and pistols can be brought into action quickly.

Modern pistol ammunition is as terminally effective at short range as pistol ammunition has ever been, and while most pistol ammunition is not “armor-piercing,” we are concerned today far more with rag-tag Islamic jihadis than we are with Soviet paratroopers.

A modern pistol, routinely carried in a high state of readiness, loaded with high-performance ammunition, in the hands of a seasoned Operator, is extremely fast, adroit, and lethal. Perfect for close-range, personal defense.

That’s why Operators in the civilian world carry them concealed, everywhere.

So, why haven’t we long since forgotten the entire “PDW” legerdemain and just started training troopers who need them how to carry and use their issue pistols effectively?

Why do we see, even in this “Age of Terrorism,” those few troopers (even officers and staff NCOs) who are allowed to touch pistols carry them with an empty magazine well, even in “combat zones?” Heaven forbid anyone would have a round chambered.

The answer is, of course, systemic “risk-aversion,” which invariably leads to fear-driven decisions, a pernicious, chronic disease that plagues all bureaucracies.

Auto Ordnance 1911GI 45ACP
1911. IMG Jim Grant

Civilian police officers, as well as CCW permit-holders, routinely carry fully loaded pistols, openly and concealed, every day, all day.

We don’t “turn them in” at the end of the day, either.

They’re in our homes and our cars. We keep and carry them, always in a high state of readiness, continuously.

Yes, there are UDs [unintentional discharges]. We note the procedural lesson and move on! We don’t take all the guns away in a panic because we’re frightened to death that we’ll have another.

Yet, our magnificent troopers, even today, apparently can’t be trusted with pistols, nor with legitimate, modern defensive pistol training.

So, we continue to spend millions in an unnecessary search for the magic “PDW” when a perfectly good one is right in front of us and has been since 1911.

“The ‘sunk-cost fallacy’ says that it is bad to lose something we have invested time, money, energy, and emotion into, regardless of whether or not that something is actually doing anything for us.

Humans are naturally risk-averse, so we stubbornly choose not to lose something, over potentially gaining something else, when we don’t even like what we would lose!” ~ Liz Powell

At the poker table, it’s called “… good money after bad!”



About John Farnam & Defense Training International, Inc

As a defensive weapons and tactics instructor John Farnam will urge you, based on your own beliefs, to make up your mind in advance as to what you would do when faced with an imminent lethal threat. You should, of course, also decide what preparations you should make in advance if any. Defense Training International wants to make sure that their students fully understand the physical, legal, psychological, and societal consequences of their actions or in-actions.

It is our duty to make you aware of certain unpleasant physical realities intrinsic to the Planet Earth. Mr. Farnam is happy to be your counselor and advisor. Visit:

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