Ken Hackathorn on the B&T USW


Ken Hackathorn is a former Special Forces shooting instructor with the US-Armed Forces and now a civilian shooting instructor and specialized author. Belwo you will find his article on the B&T USW.



What is Old is New Again!
Review of the B&T USW by Ken Hackathorn

Recently, the Swiss firm of Brugger and Thomet (B&T) introduced a new special purpose handgun: the Universal Service Weapon—or USW, as they prefer to call it. It is, in fact, much more of a PDW (Personal Defense Weapon) than a handgun, as it utilizes a very slick side folding stock.


Handguns with stocks are nothing new. In fact, the first successful automatic handgun was the Mauser M1896 "Broomhandle" that utilized a wood holster/stock. The C96 pistol was extremely popular and sold well for decades. Issued to officers, crew served weapons personnel, and para-military police forces, the C96 gained wide acceptance in much of the world. Once the holster/stock was attached to the C96 Mauser pistol it performed as a short, handy carbine.


I must admit that I have always been charmed by the "Broomhandle." Events often trigger changes in small arms development. On Nov 13, 2015, devastating terrorist attacks in Paris, France created widespread shock across Europe. The ability of the "first responders" to deal with the deadly attacks was one of the first issues to come to the attention of those that studied the aftermath.

While some law enforcement personnel are extremely skilled at combat marksmanship, the sad truth is that most are not. In Europe, most police agencies do not spend a great deal to time or money making their officers skilled with firearms. Sound familiar? Make no mistake, while training is often better in the USA LE circles, it is less than most observers would prefer. Note that after the wave of "active shooter" incidents in the US, law enforcement officials finally realized that training and weaponry needed to be updated. Most agencies in the US now have their officers complete an "active shooter" response program. More importantly, it was recognized that many police officers are barely adequate to 10 meters accuracy wise under stress. Critics argue the answer is more, and better, training. True, but get over that idea. It is not going to happen. American LE firearms training is vastly better than it was decades ago, but it advances (improves) only in the smallest degrees over time.

The major change in US LE response to "active shooters" was to issue M4 style 5.56 Carbines to police officers as a replacement to the police shotgun. As part of the after action of the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, a need for a weapon platform that could be easily carried and deployed by patrol officers was the design goal. B&T stepped up to the plate with some ideas and a number of very portable designs. The USW is very unique in many ways. It comes with a holster that allows the USW to be worn on the duty belt, deployed quickly, and fired like a service pistol or, with utmost of ease, have the folding stock deployed and used as a mini-carbine.


In theory, with the shoulder stock extended, accuracy would be vastly improved. Part of my T&E of the USW was to test out this theory. Design wise, the USW is based upon the now discontinued Sphinx 3000 pistol. The Sphinx is basically a CZ 75 with vastly improved quality and built hell for stout. I was first exposed to the Sphinx 3000 when training the Swiss "Lynx" personnel over a decade ago. It proved to be an extremely nice sidearm. It was not uncommon for some Swiss personnel to have over 75,000 rounds fired through their Sphinx 3000s with little wear and tear—except maybe the need for a barrel replacement. B&T used the Sphinx 3000 as their base, but made many changes to design the USW for its specialized mission. The DA/SA trigger system is retained. In Europe, the heavy deliberate DA trigger is often considered a primary safety device for the service pistol. Until the DA first shot pistol came along, thanks to Walther, most police and military sidearms were carried with an empty chamber.

The USW features a lower receiver of aluminum alloy with a polymer grip housing and trigger guard. The rear of the lower receiver frame is extended to the rear to allow for the slide travel to be captured and a "bridge" is built over the slide to allow attachment of a small red dot sight. This sight is manufactured for B&T by Aimpoint. Called the Nano, it is the smallest Aimpoint made. Traditional iron sights are not provided on the USW.

Since the rear of the slide is captured in the receiver housing, the front of the slide is designed to provide the cocking serrations along with a flange that insure that the hand will not slip when grasping the slide to cycle the weapon for loading or clearing. This system works like a champ. Of course the USW has a threaded barrel (metric) for attaching a suppressor. Magazine capacity is 17, 19, and 30 rounds. Magazines are manufactured by Mecar and of top quality. Unique to the USW is a minimalist side folding stock the latches to the side of the lower receiver. A simple press forward on the retaining latch with the trigger finger releases the stock and it can be flipped into its locked position with minor effort. With just minor practice, the stock can be deployed and locked into place in just a matter of less than two seconds.


The USW is fitted with an ambi decocker and every facet of the USW is, shall we say, "typical Swiss quality." Google B&T USW if you want all the specs and details of the design. My desire was to test the USW and see if it did indeed live up to the hype.
My fist goal was to select a wide array of testers with varying skill levels. My testing period was spread over a month and nearly 2000 rounds of 9X19mm ammo. I removed the USW from the box, examined it, lubed with some Wilson Combat Lube and started the T&E process. First was comparison with USW against a Colt standard M4 and H&K MP 5. Drills used were the 1-5 drill at 25 meters and The 8-Ball drill. No surprise here, the M4 and MP5 out performed the USW— the USW did pretty well but the results regardless of skill levels were better. A PDW design isn"t expected to outperform either of those platforms.
The real interest was in how the USW would stack up against the service pistol. As test samples, I provided a Beretta M9A3, SigSauer P320, and Wilson Combat tuned Glock Gen5 M17. All handgun drills were done from low ready. As distance increased to 15 meters, I allowed the USW users to start with the stock deployed at shoulder/low ready. We did head shots on three silhouettes back to 30 meters. Two rounds from ready at 20 meters in 4.0 seconds was the final part of the exam. What I found most interesting was that regardless of skill level, the USW doubled the effective accurate range of the user. Skilled shooters can often provide excellent levels of accuracy to ranges far greater than most observers would believe. Sadly, the average police officer, soldier, and private sector gun carrier rarely is as skilled as they would like to believe. My sample pool of testers often reflected that point.

Two really critical points stood out. Adding an extra anchor point via the minimal shoulder stock was an asset. The real deal breaker was the Aimpoint Nano sight. The pure simplicity and speed of the Nano allowed users of the USW to extend their accuracy in the worse case to double the distance of their sidearm performance—in many cases they tripled it. In over 2000 rounds through the USW using two magazines (the 19 round & 30 round capacity were all that I have) the gun has yet to choke or fail with a wide variety of 9X19mm ammo. As part of the USW package, a sling is provided that allows attachment to a loop at the rear of the USW receiver. When used as a pistol, presenting the USW to the target and applying tension to the sling really works well to steady the USW. With the stock deployed, and allowed to hang on the sling, the USW can be easily carried out of sight under a jacket, wind breaker, or parka with ease. Ideal for executive protection detail work, the concealment package that the USW provides is far better than typical SMGs and Mini Car-15 style blasters. For those that have jobs that do not require a primary firearm like a carbine, rifle, or SMG, the USW has real merit. An example is a medic assigned to a tactical team. He is not a primary shooter, his job is to stay behind the team to help if any of the members are injured. But with the USW in his possession and on his hip, in an emergency it can be deployed quickly and used with great advantage compared to the standard service pistol.

Hack1Two points I would critique: One is that the double action first shot, while providing a higher degree of safety to less skilled gun handlers, does make the first and critical shot harder to deliver with accuracy at speed. The follow up second shot from the SA mode is sweet and easy to get precision shots with.

Second is the Aimpoint Nano. I love the design and concept, but the USW came without a manual for its use. There is little information available about the Nano concerning operating details. The brightest setting for the red dot does not seem to be ideal for really bright sunny days. A number of the testers complained about this issue. While the battery life is said to be one year on setting number six, the replacement battery is a CR1225; not something you will find at the local carryout.

My overall impression of the B&T USW is that it has a vary valid application. While uniquely European in approach, it does have a place in the USA. The price point will have a definite effect in its acceptance for American Law Enforcement.

Trust me, after shooting the B&T USW the first words uttered by nearly everyone is this is really cool. Those were my exact words after first using it, and the B&T USW is already in the inventory of the ISS (Independent Studio Services) prop guns department. Expect to see them in future action films.

Every time I handle my collector 1930 Broomhandle Mauser with shoulder stock I think this is really cool—now the B&T USW is smaller, holds a lot more rounds, is easier to use, has a better stock & holster, plus a better sighting system. So this new version of the PDW proves "what is old is new again."

Stay Safe,

Ken Hackathorn


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