It’s always hard to tell when a newly developed cartridge is really going to take off. Some are introduced with a big bang and then slowly fizzle. Others see marginal but not solid adoption. And others are created and ignored for years before finally getting their chance to shine.
That latter category encompasses niche cartridges that today are finally coming to the fore, among them the Soviet-designed 9x39mm cartridge. The 9x39 is more or less a 7.62x39 necked up to accept 9.3mm-diameter bullets, with slightly less cartridge taper and slightly different shoulder length. The cartridge was created in the 1980s in the Soviet Union for specialized suppressed rifles, and labored in obscurity for decades before gaining popularity in the United States.
Contributing to the cartridge’s newfound popularity is the growth in popularity of .300 Blackout. The .300 Blackout, a development of the earlier .300 Whisper, is a .221 Fireball case necked up to accept .30-caliber bullets and, like the 9x39, was intended for subsonic and suppressed use. That’s why the 9x39 has been called Russia’s version of the .300 Blackout. But unlike the Blackout, the 9x39 actually has a long track record of combat use, and apparently fills its role well.
In Russia, the 9x39 is intended for use with specialized armor-piercing subsonic ammunition, with a bullet weighing 259 grains, traveling a little over 900 feet per second, and developing around 500 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. In the below video you can see just how quiet some of the specialized rifles chambered in 9x39 can be.
In the US, 9x39 barrels are available for the AR-15 platform, normally in short barrels intended for pistols and short-barreled rifles. The deciding factor in the success of the 9x39 in the US will be the availability of magazines, as the 9x39 will not feed well in magazines designed for other cartridges. D&H tactical was supposed to have released its AR-15 9x39mm magazines last year, but that release was delayed. Now these magazines are supposed to be shipped to distributors the week of January 18.
In the AK platform, 9x39mm barrels are not yet readily available. There have been a handful of one-off builds from manufacturers such as Krebs, as well as individuals who have had their own barrels produced. Magazines are available from Csspecs, but without rifles to shoot, they’re largely being wasted.
Commercial ammunition in the US has been available from Wolf and Tula. The Wolf ammunition features a 278-grain full metal jacket bullet, while the Tula ammunition features a 245-grain bullet. Both are supposed to be subsonic, and should develop 600-700 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, depending on barrel length.
Handloaders can try their hand at loading the cartridge too, either making brass from reforming 7.62x39mm brass, forming from 6.5 Grendel basic brass, or buying already formed 9x39mm cases. Supersonic performance of the cartridge is currently the subject of experimentation, and the case should be able to push 125-150 grain bullets at speeds exceeding that of 7.62x39. 250- to 286-grain 9.3mm bullets should be able to reach 1,600-1,700 feet per second, for about 1,600 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
Handloaders may also be able to cast bullets or resize .375” bullets in weights up to 400 grains, allowing them to load those monsters at subsonic velocities. At nearly 1,000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, that would exceed subsonic .300 Blackout energy by a significant margin and make 9x39 one of the most powerful subsonic cartridges around.
As with any new or relatively new round, the drawback to the 9x39 is cost. Factory ammunition currently runs 65-90 cents a round, and availability is limited since imports come from Russia. If 9x39 magazines in the AR-15 become available and work well, the cartridge might become more popular and ammunition selection could improve, which should lead to cheaper prices. Until that happens, however, 9x39 will remain a niche cartridge.
If you need something specifically for suppressed use or night hunting that offers more power than .300 Blackout, 9x39 may be just what you’re looking for. But if you don’t use suppressors and you don’t intend to shoot at night, you might want to look for something else. 9x39 could play an important role in some people’s survival armories, but it isn’t going to be for everyone.
Image: Vitaly Kuzmin