By Pierangelo Tendas –
|The SDM SMG9 is a semi-automatic, civilian version of the CS/LS5 sub-machine gun, distributed in limited quantities on the European civilian market a few years back. Just as rare as the sub-machine gun it is a derivative of, it deserved a better reception.|
Not many shooters will be familiar with the name “Sino Defense Manufacturing”, or SDM for short, at least not outside of Europe. SDM is a market-specific brand under which a major Italian importer – Prima Armi S.r.l., headquartered in a suburb of the city of Turin – distributes a European line of firearms manufactured in the People’s Republic of China by companies such as EMEI (itself part of Chongqing Jianshe Industries Group Co., Ltd.) and others that are mostly part of the NORINCO or China South conglomerates.
The SDM line of products, today, includes numerous semi-automatic variants of the AKM platform in 7.62×39mm and 5.56×45mm, as well as several AR-15 variants; .22 rimfire carbines; handguns – chiefly clones of the SIG Sauer P226; lever-action and pump-action shotguns (including some clones of the Remington 870 design modified to feed from proprietary detachable magazines); and the M77 Commando, a unique semi-automatic bull-pup rifle chambered in 5.56×45mm and based on the QBZ-97b assault carbine with a barrel extended to 14.4 inches in length.
In 2014 and 2015, for a limited amount of time, the SDM line also included the SMG9 semi-automatic short barrel rifle, a civilian version of the CS/LS5 sub-machine gun. Back in the day, the author had a chance to privately purchase one of the very few samples ever imported in Europe. Today, as a satisfied customer, it is still amazing to realize how the SMG9 represents a missed occasion for the importer and for European shooters.
Short barrel rifle or handgun?
It should be specified that while the firearm in question will be addressed as a short barrel rifle for better understanding by the American reader, in Italy – where the author resides – and in Europe in general, the SMG9 is classified as a pistol. Yes, even if it has a stock.
American laws classify any firearm that is originated to be fired from the shoulder as a long gun; on the other side of the Big Pond, a rifle is any firearm that is longer than 23.62 inches (60cm) overall and is equipped with a barrel longer than 11.81 inches (30cm). Anything shorter is considered a pistol. Italian rules on firearm classification specify that, if such a firearm has a folding or collapsible buttstock, the overall length has to be measured with said stock in the folded or fully collapsed position. It is clear that, for the local lawmaker, the chief factor to take into account was not the position the firearm was meant to be fired from, but rather its concealability.
An attempt to regulate – or ban – such a category of firearms Europe-wide was made in 2017 with the 853 European Firearms Directive. Something the European anti-gun crowd really went to town with, and utterly failed. That directive created a new “prohibited firearms” category (more specifically, Category A8) that encompasses “all long guns whose overall length can be reduced under 60 cm through a folding, collapsible, or easily removable buttstock.”
The issue being, the definition of a handgun as any firearm with a barrel shorter than 30 cm, regardless of the presence of a stock, has been established by Annex 1 of the first ever European Firearms Directive (91/477/CEE), and that definition has not been changed. As a result, said restriction remains so far disapplied, and not applicable by the European Commission’s own words dating back to 2018.
As a final legal quirk, the sample hereby pictured for your viewing pleasure is not chambered in 9mm Luger but rather for the quintessentially Italian 9×21 IMI. Also known as 9 Italian, 9×21 IMI was invented in 1980 by Armando Piscetta and first produced by SAMSON (small arms ammunition division of IMI – Israel Military Industries, Ltd., hence the name) as a workaround to the longstanding nominal ban of 9×19mm for the Italian civilian market. Said ban was first eased in 2011, when 9mm Luger was legalized for long guns (pistol-caliber carbines), and then completely lifted for handguns in late 2021. As you read this article, both handguns and long guns in 9mm Luger are finally widely available on the Italian civilian market, although 9×21 IMI is likely to stick around for a while.
A standard design… or not?
First showcased at the 2012 edition of CIPATE expo in Beijing, China, the CS/LS5 submachine gun is a quirky firearm to begin with: originally conceived for internal military and law enforcement use, it found no acceptance in China outside of some provincial Police units, but has been offered for export. Chambered in 9mm Luger, the CS/LS5 was also meant to fire China’s own 9×19mm DAP92-2 high-pressure, armor-piercing cartridge, as well as a variety of less-than-lethal 9mm low-pressure loads with rubber bullets – something largely unheard of elsewhere.
In order to ensure reliability with such a wide variety of loads, the original CS/LS5 submachine gun features a unique gas-assisted blowback operation, where a portion of the gases generated by the combustion of the propellant bleeds from the barrel through a port located in the front sight tower – similar in concept to an AR-15 gas block – and helps the bolt gain rearward momentum regardless of the pressure generated by the round used at a given time. The system is reportedly adjustable to ensure compatibility with sound suppressors.
When converting the design to semi-automatic only for commercial sales, EMEI engineers decided that such a system would be redundant given the pressure range of 9mm loads available on the civilian market. As a result, the gas system adjustability feature has been eliminated, and very little – if any – gas bleeds from what remains of the port on the front sight tower, making the SDM SMG9 essentially a straight blowback, closed bolt semi-automatic short barrel rifle.
The firearm consists of essentially three components: the upper receiver, made out of steel; the lower receiver, made out of synthetics; and the bolt group. With the focus of the CS/LS5 project being essentially export, it was clear that the submachine gun had to integrate some of the most popular features of the best-in-class competitors, and thus both the CS/LS5 and the SMG9 do boast some pretty familiar aspects in terms of ergonomics and controls.
Part AK, part MP5
The most distinguishable feature of the SDM SMG9 short barrel rifle is the MP5-type cocking handle located over the barrel, with its manual hold-open cut. The charging handle is non-reciprocating and secured to a tubular piece of metal that runs within the top portion of the black polymer handguard. It can be locked forward but is not easily removable and not reversible for left-handed users. Both halves of the handguard can be removed by extracting a captive front pin from underneath the upper receiver. A set of short Picatinny rail segments are secured to the lower portion of the handguard at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions, and can be removed at will with a hex key.
The upper receiver is a single piece of blued steel and is strikingly similar to that of the Chilean FAMAE SAF submachine gun; the barrel is firmly secured at the front, and a MIL-STD 1913 Picatinny rail for optics is integrally machined on top. The upper also includes the front sight tower – a hooded post adjustable for elevation – and the adjustable peep-hole rear sight. Also integral to the upper receiver is a fixed extractor.
The bolt of the SDM SMG9 comes straight from planet AK. All it takes is a glance to find the similarities between it and the bolt groups of Russian 9mm SMGs of AKM descent, such as the PP-19 “Bizon” or “Vityaz”, albeit extremely simplified, with no side charging handle. The return spring is captive to its guide rod and seated right behind the bolt; given the architecture of the SDM SMG9, the rear dust cover latch typical of AK designs is nowhere to be seen here. Since the adjustable gas system of the CS/LS5 sub-machine gun has been removed from the SMG9, the front tube – where the gas piston on the AK would be – here exists only to give leverage to the charging handle to push the bolt rearwards.
The lower receiver is a solid plastic component that hosts the trigger group – visibly, a scaled-down version of the AK trigger – and basically all other controls. A two-position safety is located above the grip on the left side, at easy thumb reach. The safety blocks both the trigger and the charging handle, meaning the bolt can’t be manually cycled when the safety is engaged.
The grip is integral to the lower receiver and has storage space accessible from a sliding door at the bottom for tools or spare batteries. Two magazine release catches are provided; a paddle release on the right side, and a button-type release on the left. Both are easily accessible by the user’s thumb or index and can be operated with the right or left hand alike.
The SDM SMG9 feeds from a curved, double-stack polymer magazine, whose only metal component is the follower spring. The magazine normally holds 30 rounds, but versions riveted to hold only 15 rounds were made available for those European jurisdictions with magazine capacity restrictions at the time.
The magazine is probably the weak link in the gun: as reliable as it has proved to be, it also tends to crack at the feed lips and become unusable if dropped when full. Just like in the Heckler & Koch MP5, there is no last round hold-open capability. The magazine is proprietary, but compatibility with other magazines (e.g. MP5), albeit with modifications, could be explored.
The stock of the SDM SMG9 is hinged to the lower receiver by a metal plate and held in position by a spring-loaded button catch, meaning that the release button must be pushed to both fold and extend it; it folds to the right side, and doesn’t interfere with the ejection port or the controls when folded. The metal plate also integrates the rear sling loop; a second loop is located on the front sight tower. Both are on the left side only.
Great on target, a missed occasion
With its no-frills, no-nonsense, extremely simple working system and architecture – all it takes to fieldstrip it is the removal of a captive pin – and its 8.5-inch barrel with a conventional rifling, the SDM SMG9 is also extremely accurate for a gun of this make and category. It is by no means impossible to dump an entire magazine into the center ring of an ISSF 25m target. The SDM SMG9 is lightweight, it’s comfortable to shoot, the polymer folding stock provides a very good support, and when the trigger is pulled, the SMG9 will just work. Every. Single. Time.
Unfortunately, the importer didn’t seem to believe in the potential of the design as a competitor to more highly regarded, highly priced designs such as the CZ Scorpion EVO, the MP5, and other popular civilian-grade short-barrel rifles. The grand total of SMG9s ever imported in Europe doesn’t exceed twenty units, with maybe five sold in Italy, where now they rake up to 2000 Euros and up on the used guns market.
That’s a crying shame, because the SDM SMG9 had a lot going for it, even with the downsides of its proprietary magazine. The legal classification as a handgun opened a pretty wide and receptive market for it, even in Europe. And since, in most of Europe, private security personnel not only have to buy their own guns, but often resort to this kind of SBRs for cash-in-transit, the price point – which, back in the day, was almost half that of a CZ Scorpion EVO, and literally planets away from that of a B&T APC, or an MP5 clone – could have made it a winner.
As of today, the author wholeheartedly sticks to his SMG9 for training, leisure shooting, and home defense. Those who overlooked it back in the day, frankly, don’t know what they’re missing.
|Mfr.||Jianshe Industries Group Co., Ltd.|
|Make||Sino Defense Manufacturing|
|Model||SDM – SMG9|
|Caliber||9×19mm Luger, 9×21 IMI|
|Action||Semi-automatic, blowback-operated (partially gas-assisted)|
|Trigger system||Single action, semi-automatic|
|Capacity||15 or 30 rounds in double-stack magazines|
|Sight systems||Adjustable front post; adjustable rear; top MIL-STD 1913 Picatinny rail for optics|
|Barrel length||8.5in – 6 groove, RH, 1 turn in 12in|
|Total length||18.1in with stock folded; 27.1in with stock extended|
|Materials||Steel barrel, upper receiver, and bolt group; polymer lower receiver, stock, and handguard|