Kel-Tec SUB2000 Generation 3: The Carbine Improved

Kel-Tec’s SUB2000 9mm carbine is one of those firearms that those who are ‘in the know’ seem to own. Not necessarily experts or writers, but shooting folks who recognize a bargain-priced firearm with good performance. The Kel-Tec SUB2000 is one of those happy firearms designed around a narrow mission profile that is more versatile than first imagined.

The Kel-Tec carbine is a great home defender. It is a fine truck gun, a concept with many facets, and a great recreational firearm. You won’t win a 3-Gun Match with the SUB2000, but you won’t spend as much money. And, you’ll get a lot more use out of the Kel-Tec than you would many more expensive firearms.

Unfolding the KelTec SUB2000 GEN3 pistol caliber carbine
The rifle is easily folded for ready storage.

Those who are not familiar with the SUB2000 may not realize how neat a trick the little carbine really is. Those who have owned first and second generation Kel-Tec carbines will understand the improvements in the Generation 3. Of course, others may have been waiting for a more optics-friendly carbine. These modifications are not earth shattering but they give the carbine greater utility.

What is a SUB2000?

In the past, most 9mm carbines were semi-automatic versions of submachine guns. Many were large, heavy, and expensive. They are not desirable for personal defense. A longer barrel and heavy trigger action make them a truly castrated SMG type.

Some carbines, such as the Beretta Storm and Ruger PCC, are purpose-designed carbines that work well enough for many chores. The Kel-Tec, like most Kel-Tec products, is an innovation. The SUB2000 is a blowback-operated carbine. Since it is an original effort — not based on a SMG with a massive bolt — the SUB2000 started out with a clean slate.

The Kel-Tec carbine is very compact. The receiver is scarcely larger than a compact pistol. The carbine features a 16-inch barrel. The ability to use Glock pistol magazines is a big plus. If you have ever attempted to find expensive metal magazines for popular carbines, you will understand the advantage of using common, reliable, and affordable magazines.

The SUB2000 has proven reliable with a wide range of ammunition. The SUB2000 is useful for home defense. It is especially attractive to those who may not have the time or inclination to master a handgun. Even if you are a good hand at handling and firing a handgun accurately, you will fire the carbine much more accurately — especially when it comes to rapid follow-up shots.

Unhinging the trigger guard on the KelTec SUB2000 carbine
The first step in folding the SUB2000 is to unhinge the trigger guard.

An advantage of the SUB2000 is that the carbine is designed to fold over into a neat package. Folding end-over-end into a small, highly-portable package, the Kel-Tec SUB2000 is a great force multiplier. There was a problem, however.

The SUB2000 featured folding sights which are OK for many chores. When folded, the carbine folded exactly over the part of the receiver that you would wish to reserve for a red dot sight. Kel-Tec addressed this issue with the new Generation 3 carbine.

Kel-Tec SUB2000 GEN3 Specs

  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Weight: 4.2 pounds
  • Magazine capacity: Glock Magazines (10 to 33 rounds available)
  • Overall length (extended): 30.45 inches
  • Overall length (collapsed): 29.25 inches
  • Length (folded): 16.15 inches
  • Barrel length: 16.15 inches
  • Twist rate: 1:10 inches
  • Trigger pull weight: Approximately 5 pounds

The carbine still folds easily. As the forend is folded, you may simply press the forend to one side — allowing the mounted optic to swing to one side allowing easy storage. In other words, the Picatinny rail is offset as you fold the carbine.

There are no sights provided with the GEN3 carbine. The forend is a considerable improvement over the original, with a mix of picatinny and M-Lok attachment. The carbine is a simple blowback design with a bolt that recoils into the stock and a heavy recoil spring.

Holosun red dot sight mounted to a Picatinny rail on the KelTec SUB2000 9mm carbine
A modern picatinny rail allows easy mounting of all types of RDS sights.

Racking the bolt requires some effort. It cannot be otherwise to ensure reliability with 9mm Luger ammunition. The bolt may be locked to the rear, if needed, in an ambidextrous slot. The handle is nicely textured in the trademark Kel-Tec Alligator pattern. A nice touch is a threaded barrel and thread cover.

The rearmost portion of the forend features an alligator gripping pattern. Overall, it is a nice package. The next step was to collect a good supply of Glock magazines and 9mm Luger ammunition for a test fire. I mounted a Holosun 506 tube-style red dot that I have had in the closet for some time.

This friendly RDS is a good sight for testing firearms and has never given anything but good results. The controls are simple enough. Turn on the sight and keep both eyes open when firing and you have a very fast combination.

I used CCI Blazer 124-grain for combat firing evaluation. I began firing from the bench to sight in the Holosun RDS. It wasn’t difficult, and I soon had the carbine sighted in, so it would fire just a little high at 25 yards. This allows firing to the point of aim at 50 yards.

I have fired a good number of Kel-Tec carbines with consistently good results. I have not fired a SUB2000 with a red dot. The tube type Holosun features a red dot with strata lines. The body of the sight fades away, and the holographic aiming point seems suspended in the air as you fire with both eyes open. Results were excellent — fast, very fast!

I simply tore the center out of the target at 10 and 15 yards — a long shot for home defense. Firing at 7 yards, I used the RDS sight and sometimes simply looked over the top of the sight. Recoil was light, trigger reset good, and you had to fire a very fast string to have a group outside of the X-ring.

Glock 17- and 19-round magazines being fed into the KelTec SUB2000 9mm carbine
Left to right: The carbine easily accepted Glock 33-, 19-, and 17-round magazines. Reliability is never in question.

Moving to 25 yards, I emptied a Glock 33-round magazine into the target and enjoyed excellent results. Firing for accuracy at 25 yards, I loaded a couple of likely defense loads — the Federal 124-grain Hydra Shok and Federal 147-grain HST. I fired slowly with the Holosun on the lowest setting, firing over the top of the shooting bag.

Each group went into .8 to 1.25 inches. I expected something like this at 25 yards with a carbine. A week later, I traveled to the outdoor range and fired for accuracy at 50 yards. This is more of a test of the carbine. This is a lightweight carbine, intended more for home defense than area defense. Just the same, the Kel-Tec is accurate enough to engage a threat well past 50 yards. I fired several loads from the bench, firing three-shot groups at 50 yards.

50-Yard Accuracy Test — Three-Shot Groups


Group (in inches)

Federal 124-grain Hydra Shok 2.5
Federal 147-grain HST 1.8
Hornady 115-grain Hunter +P 1.9
Hornady 124-grain American Gunner +P 2.4
PMC Bronze 124-grain FMJ 3.5
Winchester 147-grain Defender 3.0
Fiocchi 124-grain Defense 2.0
Speer 124-grain Gold Dot 2.4

I enjoy this type of shooting and probably need the exercise walking back and forth to the 50-yard line. Results were good and make the 9mm carbine useful for area defense. By the way, at 25 yards, 115-, 124-, and 147-grain loads pretty much land on top of each other. The difference in barrel rise and recoil in a pistol is a factor in different points of aim. This isn’t as great a concern with the carbine until you reach 50 yards.

Velocity Gain in a Carbine Barrel

The velocity gain in a carbine over a pistol is useful but not extreme. The 9mm Luger is a relatively high pressure number that uses a small charge of fast burning powder. Unlike the .357 Magnum, which may gain several hundred feet per second in velocity, gains in the 9mm are more modest.


Glock M45 9mm

Kel-Tec Gen 3

Hornady 124-grain American Gunner +P 1,238 fps 1,320 fps
Federal 124-grain HST 1,159 fps 1,203 fps
Federal 147-grain HST   989 fps 1,140 fps

A fast stepping 124-grain JHP would seem ideal for home defense use. The Federal 147-grain HST picks up additional velocity and expansion in the Kel-Tec 16-inch barrel. This is a formidable loading and my favorite for outdoors use.

As to what the Kel-Tec SUB2000 Gen 3 is good for, there are several answers. Home defense is a given. The carbine is much easier to fire and use than any handgun, offers greater wound potential, and provides those who don’t have time to master a handgun a powerful alternative.

cocking handle on the KelTec SUB2000
A redesigned cocking handle is fully ambidextrous. Note the locking cut out.

For area defense or as a truck gun, the Kel-Tec offers good accuracy to at least 50 yards. I think it would do for pests at modest range. Light recoil invites practice. The Kel-Tec carbine has always been a fun gun. With the newly found ease of mounting optics it is even more so. Retailing for less than $500, the SUB2000 Gen 3 is a bargain.

What are your thoughts on Pistol Caliber Carbines? How would the ultra compact Kel-Tec SUB2000 fit in your self-defense plan? Share your answers in the Comment section.

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