Recently, several of our staff instructors were discussing new course material and one asked what I think is the tactical niche of the pistol-caliber carbine.
They were surprised to hear that I think it is a viable and useful weapon system.
The pistol-caliber carbine (as current gun press calls it), or the machine pistol, (as Jeff Cooper and the Germans in WW2 called it), or the submachine gun (SMG) as I like to call it, has its own niche in the tactical scheme of things, just like any other weapon system does. In that niche, the pistol caliber carbine works great, but outside of it, it is at a disadvantage.
In the early days of maneuver warfare, the original submachine gun was intended to put down a great deal of firepower on a given objective at close range.
It’s interesting that I could say that for just about every small arm out there. All tools have an intended purpose, and there is not a do-everything weapon that will do everything as well as a purpose designed weapon.
In the early days of maneuver warfare, the original submachine gun was intended to put down a great deal of firepower on a given objective at close range. These weapons preceded the modern assault rifle and were never intended to reach out past a given short distance.
As submachinegun manufacture developed, we saw a move from the old world manufactured weapons like the Thompson (which is quite heavy by modern standards) to the WW2 vintage weapons like the Sten and MP-40. Later, more compact designs like the Uzi and Ingram were developed; some being very compact submachineguns like the Uzi, Mini Uzi and MP5. While others became little more than a big pistol with a stock attached, like the Skorpion, the M-10, and the Micro Uzi.
Although some authorities sneer at the SMG, anyone who has done any serious work with a Class Three SMG will never consider it a waste of time or a useless weapon, nor would he eschew it in a fight if he had a choice.
The rifle’s best attribute is power. This can be taken to extremes, so we will say “adequate power.”
But Class Three weapons are costly and out of the realm of most people’s armory. While I can afford a Class Three Uzi, and legally own it in Free Arizona, I find it hard to justify the expenditure of several thousand dollars, especially since the use of full auto is a very limited attribute of the weapon.
I recall doing much more work with single shots—maybe bursts of no more than three rounds with the MP5 while in SWAT—than with full auto, and many of the teams I trained in the old days worked exclusively on semi auto.
Recently, I discussed UZI deployment with some friends who are former IDF Special Operators, and they told me virtually all their work was in semi auto. In fact, after some thinking, my friend could not remember a time when they ever used full auto capability operationally.
The inevitable question is: why an SMG instead of a pistol if you will only work on semi-auto? And by extension, what about the semi auto only varieties that are far more available to everyone today? Before I get into the advantage/ liability discussion of this, I want to lay out what I see as the role of each category of small arm.
The pistol does nothing exceedingly well other than being small. Being small, it can live on your person every day and be at hand and ready in the blink of an eye. It is sufficiently powerful to handle problems inside arm’s reach to about the distance seen in most homes. In trained hands it can reach much farther, but in most hands it is good to about 25 yards.
All things being equal, a pistol will not do well against a rifle or a shotgun, nor a submachine gun wielded in capable hands.
The rifle’s best attribute is power. This can be taken to extremes, so we will say “adequate power.” One would not consider, for example, a 500 Nitro as an infantry weapon. Excluding sniper/ marksman’s activities and focusing on CQB, the rifle also has the attribute of high volume of fire, the ability (in many calibers) to penetrate cover, and the ability to reach out several hundred yards.
But along with that comes larger size, which in turn creates difficulty in concealing, carrying, or using in confined spaces. Additionally, the ability of the rifle to penetrate and reach may be advantageous in some cases, but a serious liability on other cases. Even an AKSU (also called a Krinkov or Suzchka) may not be the best answer for home defense in an apartment, or to deploy inside a car.
The other consideration is if minimally trained people or small people were going to use the gun. For example, due to its size our kids can run an UZI far better than they can run an AR-15 or an AK.
The shotgun’s role is as a close range power tool that can provide a response in rapidly moving situations, in reduced light, and against superior numbers. Its utility is in its use of buckshot, but its liability is a lack of reach, penetration, precision, and the same size issues as the rifle. Not to mention it is difficult for small personnel to use well.
Now please don’t fall into the typical American gun guy mentality of “all or nothing” and begin writing on the internet that Gabe hates rifles, pistols and shotguns because it is not true. But I understand (and hopefully you will too) the characteristics of these various weapon systems and where they are good and where they are not.
With that in mind, let’s examine the pistol-caliber carbine that I call the submachinegun. If left in its, NFA/GCA68 condition, it will yield no size advantage over any “rifle length” weapon. If I must have a 16 inch barrel with a folded stock that opens up to probably 25 or 26 inches, why would I bother with this when I can have an AK-47 or an M4? The only situation would be if I anticipated all my shots being needed inside of 50 yards, inside a house, and I had serious concerns about penetration and the problem of missed shots overreaching my comfort zone.
The other consideration is if minimally trained people or small people were going to use the gun. For example, due to its size our kids can run an UZI far better than they can run an AR-15 or an AK. Interestingly, and also notable, they can shoot better with the UZI than with a pistol. For that matter, so can I, and I think I am a very good pistol shot.
The addition of two more contact points at the cheek and shoulder over the “hands only” pistol is a boon to accuracy outside the close range envelope. Can it compete with a full-size rifle like an AR, an AK, or a FAL? No, it can’t. But neither can a Glock or a 1911. But other than constant carry issues, once the weapons are in hand, the SMG will always outshine the pistol when used by operators of equal skills, for the reasons I described.
Now, let’s add another factor: Length. If one takes his 16-inch barreled UZI or HK-94 or whatever, and has the barrel shortened to original specs (yes, yes, with all the evil paperwork completed and guvmint approval in hand), you have a whole new animal.
Since we have been talking about the UZI, a non-NFA UZI with a 16 inch barrel (and stock folded up) is 25 inches long. This is as long as an AK with the stock folded. With the barrel shortened to 9 inches the UZI is a very compact 17 inches long. Seventeen inches long! This is something you can take with you all day everyday, where even the folded-stock AK may be left behind simply out of convenience. It’s also something you can clear your home or business with, or hand to the wife to use.
What we end up with is a weapon that is short enough, (17 inches long) light enough, (eight pounds) with a serious capacity, (25 or 32 rounds) and the capability to easily hit out to 100 yards in the hands of minimally trained personnel, a caliber that likely can be the same as the main defensive carry pistol, ballistics that will not yield the penetration of a rifle, nor the distance traveled of an errant rifle round, and a low sound and flash signature that will not be disorienting in a close range interior fight.
Those are some very interesting attributes that are not provided by pistol, shotgun, or rifle. Thus, there is in fact a role and a purpose for the semi auto, pistol-caliber submachinegun. It fits in a narrow niche between a reactive handgun and a proactive shotgun or rifle, but the interesting thing about that narrow niche is that it still falls squarely in an area where most private citizens end up defending themselves. I think we will see more in the study of this weapon system in the future.
CEO, Suarez International, USA