April 20, 2020
By James Tarr
For a company many people thought was years late to the AR party, Springfield Armory has done an amazing job in seizing a substantial percentage of the AR-15 marketplace, and they’re not slowing down. Their latest addition is the Saint Edge PDW AR pistol, and I’m sure it will get its large slice of the AR pie.
At first glance, I thought the PDW was ridiculous in both appearance and performance. I’m sure some of the attention it will initially get will be negative from people who feel the same way. When I saw it, I wanted to hate it, specifically for what it isn’t. However, I ended up loving it for what it is.
What is it? For a full answer to that, we’re going to have to explore exactly what a PDW is, but before I do that, let’s look at the specs of this gun.
While many people often think of AR pistols as just short-barreled carbines, in this case, the pistol appellation is quite apt. While chambered in 5.56 NATO, the Springfield Armory Saint Edge PDW has but a 5.5-inch barrel. For a firearm chambered in a rifle caliber, that is shockingly short, especially when you consider the first 2.26 inches or so is the chamber. There is longer rifling in the barrel of the handgun currently on my hip than there is in this PDW.
The barrel has a 1:8-inch twist and is Melonite coated. The gas block is pinned in place. The barrel is tipped with a special version of Maxim Defense’s interesting Hate Brake. This muzzle device’s primary role is as a muzzle booster for short-barreled guns and PDWs. It has a “cone-within-a-cup” two-piece design reminiscent of the Noveske KX3. It provides added backpressure for reliable cycling. It also directs sound and blast forward, away from the shooter and provides some flash reduction. Installed with a 3/8-inch drive socket from the front, it can fit under handguards.
The aluminum hanguard is 6 inches long and has M-LOK attachment slots. Springfield provides a hand stop to keep your fingers from straying in front of the muzzle, but it is somewhat reduced in size. I found myself hooking my index finger around the front of it while shooting as opposed to actually using it as a hand stop.
The handguard does not have a rail on the top except for a very short section near the muzzle. The pistol is supplied with flip-up front and rear sights that sit relatively tall when folded and don’t take up much rail space.
With the Saint Edge series of ARs, you get nicely sculpted lower receivers machined from billet aluminum. On a full-size rifle or carbine, I think the relieved magazine well of the Saint Edge looks a bit small, but on this build it looks just right.
Springfield incorporates some nice accessories from Reptilia Corp. like the CQG pistol grip, which has a more vertical angle than the standard AR grip.
Reptilia sent me one of these compact grips late last year. I installed it on an AR carbine but ended up taking it off, because while it felt good in my hand, it just didn’t look right to my eye. It was too short. I’ve also thought the same thing about 20-round magazines in a full-size AR. However, on the PDW, the Reptilia grip and the provided 20-round magazines look perfect.
Instead of a GI-pattern charging handle, the PDW sports Springfield’s midsize charging handle, which is substantially larger than the GI model. The selector switch is bilateral and works just fine. I just wish the right-side lever was shorter so it wouldn’t bump my trigger finger when flipping it off.
The trigger is Springfield’s flat trigger, first introduced on the Saint Victor line. It has a nickel boron coating and provides a single-stage trigger pull.
At the rear of the receiver, you’ll see the Maxim Defense SCW brace. This five-position brace was specifically designed for PDW-sized guns and only hangs 4 inches off the back of the receiver when fully collapsed.
The SCW assembly isn’t just a short buffer tube; it includes a shortened, proprietary bolt carrier group (BCG), and the buffer and spring protrude into the upper receiver when the bolt is closed. To install (or remove for cleaning), you have to pop out both pins on the lower receiver and then slide the upper receiver back and forth. Bought separately, the SCW (with this H3 buffer) retails for $590.
One thing I would like to point out that seemingly even many owners of the Maxim Defense SCW and larger CQB braces and stocks don’t seem to know is that you only have to use the button to collapse it. To extend it, just give the brace a vigorous yank.
With the provided 20-round Magpul PMAG in place, the PDW weighs 5 pounds, 10 ounces. With the brace collapsed, it is just 18.75 inches long. With the brace fully extended, the pistol is 23.5-inches in length. That’s as short as ARs get.
So, What’s a PDW?
PDW stands for “personal defense weapon.” It is not a term that Springfield Armory invented. PDWs are an established, in-between class of firearm. They are meant to be easier to use and harder-hitting than a handgun but smaller and lighter than a rifle.
Modern PDWs are often designed to be able to penetrate soft body armor with armor-piercing (AP) ammo. The two most well-known modern PDWs are the FN P90 and the HK MP7. Both of them are chambered in uncommon, proprietary bottleneck cartridges, the 5.7x28mm and 4.6x30mm, respectively.
PDWs in the modern era see most use with government security details where large rifles are not needed. For example, I’ve seen U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service special agents wielding them in the field when guarding high-value targets.
If the general shape of Springfield’s PDW looks a little familiar to you, there’s a reason for that. In 2017, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) issued a “Request For Information,” basically asking someone to design a .300 Blackout PDW top end for them that a soldier could slap onto a standard M4 lower to create a concealable AR-based PDW.
With the specs they listed, the barrel couldn’t be much more than 6 inches, and it had to have the ability to swap between the spec’d .300 BLK top end and one chambered in 5.56. As a result of this solicitation, SIG Sauer designed the MCX Rattler, and Maxim Defense came out with the PDX. Now we’ve got Springfield’s PDW in a similarly sized envelope, namely albeit chambered in 5.56 NATO.
A PDW is not a rifle. As long as you are not expecting rifle-length performance out of a barrel this short, you won’t be disappointed. Knowing this, I still was dubious when I picked up the PDW from my local FFL. I had several concerns due to its comically short barrel, its accuracy, reliability and velocity.
With regard to accuracy, I wasn’t just worried that a 5.5-inch barrel, which sports just 3.25-inches of rifling, would shoot minute of bucket, I was worried there wouldn’t be enough spin to stabilize heavy bullets out to 100 yards. To test this, I fed the PDW Black Hills’ 77-grain TMK load in addition to more traditional offerings. Not only did the 77-grainers shoot straight, this uber-short-barreled pistol grouped between 2.5 and 4 MOA with everything I gave it. I’ve tested full-size rifles that weren’t any more accurate than that. I am reminded that short barrels are inherently more accurate as there is less flexing during the recoil cycle.
Because I knew the velocity would be lacking, most of my chronographing was done with 5.56 NATO ammo, which runs a bit hotter. Even knowing how short the barrel is, I was surprised at the low velocities — nothing produced over 2,000 feet per second (fps), not even Black Hills’ hot 50-grain Optimized TSX load.
What surprised me as much as the complete reliability was how soft-shooting the PDW was. I suppose this is due, in part, to how much gas is escaping out the short barrel past the bullet instead of gathering force behind it as it would in a longer barrel.
I assumed shooting this gun would be like holding a concussion grenade in my teeth, but I was pleasantly surprised thanks to the Hate Brake. I fired the PDW at both an indoor and outdoor range on a cloudy day. The PDW with the Hate Brake produced far less flash and noise than a 16-inch-barreled AR equipped with a traditional muzzlebrake.
Indoors, every load produced visible flash, but premium ammo gave me a small, manageable flash. Outdoors, only the Winchester FMJ produced enough flash to be visible to me when shooting.
As a PDW cartridge, the .223/5.56, unlike the 5.7x28mm and 4.6x30mm, is grossly inefficient. However, it does have certain things to recommend it over those others. It is everywhere and inexpensive, especially when compared to those two boutique cartridges.
As for Springfield’s PDW, it is an AR, so it has familiar controls. Also, unlike the HK MP7 and FN P90, you can actually buy a Springfield Armory PDW. HK’s MP7 has never been available in any commercial form. FN sells a 16-inch-barreled carbine version of the P90, the PS90, but it looks ugly and awkward and is far from compact.
Springfield currently doesn’t have any plans for a version in .300 AAC Blackout, but (hint hint) it would be a very smart move, as the .300 BLK performs much better out of short barrels than the 5.56.
The Springfield Armory Saint Edge PDW brings to mind a saying from Rush Limbaugh: “Illustrating absurdity by being absurd.” It offers, at least when compared to a standard rifle/carbine, compromised ballistics and a nearly comical appearance, and I haven’t done executive protection work in quite some time. But in spite of all that, I find myself wanting one, a lot.
For an AR, it conceals and transports incredibly well, is surprisingly soft-shooting, accurate and reliable, unique and fun. In addition to all that, for the features you get on this pistol, it is priced very reasonably.
Springfield Armory Saint Edge PDW
- Type: Direct-impingement semiautomatic
- Cartridge: 5.56 NATO
- Capacity: 10, 20, 30 rds.
- Barrel: 5.5 in.; 1:8-in. twist
- Overall Length: 18.75 in. (collapsed), 23.5 in. (extended)
- Weight: 5 lbs., 10.5 oz. (tested)
- Brace: Maxim Defense SCW
- Grip: Reptilia CQG
- Sights: Leapers low-profile, flip-up front and rear
- Trigger: 6 lbs. (tested)
- Muzzle Device: SA/Maxim Defense Hate Brake
- MSRP: $1,700
- Manufacturer: Springfield Armory, springfield-armory.com
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