Ammunition Improvements for 21st Century Mil/LE Urban Operations

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by Bob Taubert

One of the driving ideas behind the adaptation of the "Black Rifle" and its varmint caliber ammunition was to lighten the load of the ground pounding Infanteer. That was achieved through remarkable engineering, but it didn’t take long for the soldier to reverse the situation. The new light weight rounds enabled the trooper to up his basic load of the M14 rifle’s 7.62x51mm/.308 Win. from 120 rounds to 400 of the 5.56x45mm/.223 Rem., or carry more grenades, anti tank rockets or mortar rounds into the fight. Weight wise, little changed and this continues today at an even more accelerated pace with the addition of scopes, lasers, electronic optics, grenade launchers and etc. The men love the gadgetry and the optics have certainly given us a hit ratio advantage, but they…

habitually request that this technology be made lighter, more compact and multi functional.

Polymer Ammunition
Well, in the critical area of ammunition, NATEC, Inc. has achieved significant weight reductions and other unique innovations in rifle, SAW, light and heavy machine gun calibers currently in use by our armed forces. Like the shotgun shell, which evolved from paper and brass to plastic this company is supplying the market with the world’s first, high – pressure, Polymer-Cased Cartridges. PCA-Spectrum ammunition is produced with an exclusively supplied, state of the art, engineered polymer from Dupont. Components consist of high quality projectiles, primers and propellants acquired from established manufacturers. PCA-Spectrum ammunition functions safely in all weapons, including magazines without modification and is produced on modern munitions equipment in America to stringent ANSI / Mil – Spec quality standards. When firing a virtual kaleidoscope of color – coded PCA-Spectrum 5.56x45mm rounds, I could not detect any difference in performance from standard brass cased ammunition.

Cool Calibers

How many of you have done the hot brass twist when your neighbor’s spent case dropped down the back of your neck? Have you ever had your neck singed by boiling brass, which leaves a mark that looks suspiciously like something else and the wife demands an explanation? PCA-Spectrum has solved the problem and the polymer cases are immediately cool to the touch. Some would also consider this a safety plus and I tend to agree after witnessing the crazy gyrations and muzzle movement that frequently accompanies the odyssey of hot brass down your back. Turns out that polymer is a natural insulator and it increases propellant burn rate, which yields comparable ballistics from lower propellant charge weights. In turn, heat transference to the weapon is reduced and could increase chamber life. And, potential "cook offs" are substantially reduced. Polymer also maintains "Dimensional Memory," reducing required extraction forces resulting in less recoil. A unique process of "one-step" injection molding of the projectile into the polymer casing creates an interface that requires no crimping and is self (waterproof) sealing. After propellant loading the primed brass base cap is snapped in completing the interface of components.

The Army is extremely interested in this round and is testing it and it has been fired extensively in SAWs and the polymer case has not melted at cook off temperatures of 400-500 degrees. The round may become flexible, but it normally does not lose its brass base and extracts positively. This polymer round’s insulating qualities does not transfer heat to a gun’s chamber like brass does, so it keeps chambers cooler. (Please see side bar) Although total elimination of the cook off phenomena has not yet been achieved, this – according to NATEC’s Ms. Laura Henderson is a matter of design engineering more than anything else. The round also relies on less – propellant, which produces less heat and as noted, its case thickness results in an accelerated burn rate to achieve comparable ballistic performance of standard ammunition. Army storage specifications call for ammunition surviving temperatures from -65 to +165 degrees F and although PCA-Spectrum becomes brittle in extreme cold and cases have shattered, the ammunition has passed this and other operational requirements. Again, further engineering can solve case integrity problems associated with broad ranges in operating and storage temperatures.

Polymer case weight reduction without projectile and propellant is as follows:
5.56x45mm – 39% per brass case, or one pound for 200 rounds.
7.62x51mm – 35% per brass case, or 1.3 pounds for 200 rounds.
12.7x99mm/.50 BMG) – 47% per brass case, or 11.2 pounds for 200 rounds.

Color Coding

NATEC has used convenient color – coding for ease of visual identification:
White = 55 & 62-grain FMJ BT
Blue = 55-grain HP BT
Black = 69-grain Sierra Match King
Gray = 55-grain PSP
Red = 55-grain Tracer
Green 55-grain Sierra Blitz King
Sand = 55-grain FMJ

.308 calibers are available in 150-grain FMJ BT, 150-grain Sierra Gameking and 168-grain Sierra Matchking HP BT.

Another plus are lower costs. Injection molding is less expensive that conventional ammunition manufacturing. In addition, brass is in short supply, because of the various conflicts raging around the globe, so NATEC, Inc. is in an excellent position to reduce our dependency on this commodity.

40mm Recon Round
Martin Electronics, Inc. (MEI) has produced a High-Altitude Unit Navigated Tactical Imaging Round (a.k.a. "HUNTIR") that you can launch from your M79, M203, Milkor MGL Mk-1S, or Milkor MGL-140 to give you a heads up of what may lay ahead of your advancing force. At an altitude of one grand and five minutes of descent time the miniature on board IR CMOS Camera will stream real time video to any hand held device with a corresponding 2400-2500 MHz transmitter. The 85-grain, 350 FPS HUNTIR resembles a White Star Parachute 40mm round and will provide detailed images up to one – mile line of sight. The value of inspecting the block ahead of you during MOUT operations is obvious and would have been invaluable to Marines who recently prosecuted Operation Phantom Fury in Fallugah, Iraq.

40mm CQB Round
After two infantry tours in RVN, I finally fired several 40mm Multi-projectile rounds in anger as a law enforcement officer when we attempted to rescue two ambushed FBI agents on an Indian reservation. Hit probability was nil, because the pattern of #4 buckshot was so huge that anything beyond ten yards was generally safe. This lack of anti personnel effectiveness in the shotgun mode has been changed by Engel Ballistic Research (EBR) and in addition, they offer eight training, door breaching, less lethal and lethal rounds in this caliber. EBR has divided its ammunition into two broad categories, Lead and Specialty CQB.

Lead CQB consists of the following loads:
– 20 pellets of 000 buckshot, for anti personnel, thin skinned vehicles and breaching operations. Could eliminate the breaching shotgun if troops are armed with M203s, but it is a single shot and takes time to reload. However, employing either the Milkor MK-1S or Milkor MGL-140 multi-shot grenade launcher would solve the firepower handicap.
– 30 pellets, #1 buckshot, for anti – personnel and can be used for breaching.
– 55 pellets, #3 buckshot, very effective at close quarters, indoor environments.
– 55 pellets, #4 buckshot, very effective interior round with high pellet count and pattern density.

Specialty CQB Ammunition:

28 pellets of frangible 00 buckshot, useful in HAZMAT environments when overpenetarion is an issue. Still a good anti-personnel round. 70 pellets of frangible #4 buckshot. Largest number of pellets available in this family of munitions. Very dense patterns, ideal for MOUT operations. At 18 feet, pellets penetrated ½ inch sheetrock, producing an 18 inch pattern of over one hundred holes even after 1/3 of the pellets shattered from "launch shock."

Two frangible slugs totaling 325 grains can be employed either as an anti-personnel or breaching round particularly where hostage endangering primary and secondary missiles could occur when taking out locks and hinges. The dual slugs are surprisingly accurate and will print in close proximity of each other at relatively long, building combat distances. A number of paintballs placed in a nylon training body simulate the effects of #3 and #4 buckshot for training purposes. Totaling 148 grains, all established safety procedures must be observed to prevent injury.

Payloads of 1.5 ounces achieve muzzle velocities of 1350 FPS and 2.5-ounce loads exit the big tube at 950 FPS.

Subsonic Thirty

Engel Ballistic Research (EBR) also fields a 7.62x51mm Precision Bonded Subsonic round specifically designed to maximize terminal ballistics at subsonic velocities in the intended caliber. Fired at 50 yards from an M24 Sniper Weapons System the PBS performed its intended task quite well in a block of 20 % ballistic gelatin. Projectile deformation begins within 2 – 3 inches of penetration and frontal drag commences immediate yaw, destabilization and bullet tumble, which also increases permanent wound channel size and tissue damage. Residual rotational forces create a large, spiraled wound track that narrows at its terminus. The bullet swaps ends and comes to rest base forward after penetrating 17-18 inches of gelatin. The "Thumper" version employs a 180-grain round nose projectile and the PBS launches a 170-grain bullet that is shared by the US Department Of Agriculture and military Special Operations for "deer and biped varmint removal" respectively.

Currently, EBR is developing "Hevi Shot" for vehicle borne threats.
Smart Munitions
As law enforcement professionals, we are habitually concerned about unintended injury of innocent by standers and unnecessary destruction of property. The majority of munitions employed by police are capable of penetrating multiple household obstacles with enough residual lethal force to create collateral damage situations. This is one of the reasons that many teams have adopted the 5.56x45mm/.223 caliber rifle round for close quarters battle. Tests have shown that this caliber penetrates less than various pistol calibers when it impacts common building materials. Historically, shotguns have been employed as a primary raid weapon because of its close range lethality. However, the heavy slug has often replaced buckshot because more accuracy was required to reduce the chances of projectiles straying from a multi projectile pattern and causing unwanted casualties in congested environments. Slugs are super penetrators and work well on motor vehicles, but can pass through an entire mobile home and permanent residences endangering not only uninvolved citizens but police perimeter personnel as well.

Enter Polyshok Impact Reactive Projectile "Smart" shotgun ammunition. Designed to maximize wound effectiveness and "stopping power" the 12 – guage round accomplishes this, while minimizing over penetration. At over 1000 FPS, the .73" caliber, 540 grain IRP delivers tremendous energy transfer and is not only decisively lethal to personnel it is also an effective door breaching round that produces minimal secondary missiles. Medical tests have discerned that if an assailant is within two feet of an interior wall an IRP round can produce incapacitating or fatal wounds and that these resemble blunt trauma injuries with substantial tissue and bone damage. Beyond 24 inches, less than lethal injuries would occur and at ten feet non-lethal, moderate, abrasive and minor flesh wounds would be experienced.

When impacting hard targets, the ballistic polymer projectile does not "splash, but goes through a controlled expansion process." For example, if Polyshok penetrates the sheet metal skin of a vehicle door without encountering internal structural obstacles, incapacitating and possibly fatal wounds could be inflicted on occupants just inside the door. However, better targets would be the windshield glass or tires and little or no danger of ricochet occurs when attacking the rubber casing. Laminated and tempered glass are compromised as long as the angle of attack is not extreme and serious wounds can be realized on threats two feet beyond the initial point of impact. Furthermore, heat treated or tempered commercial glass, although harder than laminated auto glass offers less resistance and Polyshok will typically penetrate store front glass at up to a 45-degree angle with little deflection.

Body armor Polyshok will not compromise level II soft body armor but the shock wave and blunt trauma of a half ton of energy it delivers can shatter a concrete block placed behind the ballistic vest. Internal organ damage could be sufficient to cause instant incapacitation and all this is achieved with half the recoil of a shotgun slug.

Performance Theory Polyshok IRP consists of three components:
1) A low-density polymer compound projectile body that contains other cartridge components and visually resembles a conventional shotgun wad and shot cup.
2) A 472-grain 40-50 mesh spherical lead powder core that gives the projectile its mass and ability to create a pressure wave effect.
3) A high – density polymer compound actuator located in the nose of the finished projectile, that in profile resembles the standoff device in a shaped charge round and "sets off" the projectile on impact.

During the firing sequence a crush zone portion of the projectile body collapses to substantially soften the recoil. As it leaves the barrel the crush zone re – expands and the gas seal, at the very rear of the projectile body, opens up into eight stabilizing fins that control the flight of the unified projectile down range.

Upon appreciable impact, the actuator initiates a very specific timed sequence of events. Within 0.1 milliseconds after impact, as the projectile enters the target, the actuator initiates the separation of the projectile body from the core itself, cleanly releasing the actuator followed by the core.

The actuator then directs the spherical lead powder core into a radial dispersion pattern at a 90-degree angle to the point of impact. Over the next two to three milliseconds the actuator expands the core up to three inches in diameter and while comprised of up to 14,000 individual particles, is still operating as though it were a solid object. This results in the capture and propulsion of a tremendous pressure wave traveling ahead of the expanded core at nearly the speed of sound.

The density of the resistance encountered determines when this sequence of events occurs and when it terminates. In human tissue, this takes place after 8-10 inches of penetration, but when punching through an auto’s windshield two to three feet of post penetration travel will be required which is optimum for neutralizing vehicle occupants.

If the target is missed and no other obstacle is impacted, the spherical lead powder core will, in several milliseconds transform itself from a potentially lethal high density solid, to a dangerous but less lethal hail of minute individual lead particles and eventually to dispersed solitary particles that are relatively harmless.

The "SMART" aspect of the Polyshok IRP round is achieved through controlling the expansion of the lead powder core in "real time" as opposed to "resistance contact" time as with conventional ammunition. Once impact is manifested, and the actuator "triggers" the round, the timed sequence is the same regardless of the situation. Therefore, consistent reliable performance over a wide range of tactical situations, with maximum target lethality and minimum potential for collateral damage is assured.
Six-Millimeter Saga
Just about every shooter knows by now that the 5.56x45mm terminal efficacy issue appears to have come to a head and a significant cadre of end users and ballisticians are resting their hopes on a six mm replacement caliber. Although a number of very effective "off the shelf" six millimeters (6mms) exist and "service mavericks" are impressed with the destructiveness of the unique Le Mas M16/M4 Blended Metal Technology Armor-Piercing Limited Penetration (BMT APLP) ammunition, the current leading contender is the new 6.8x43mm SPC (Special Purpose Caliber).

For the sake of argument lets throw another into the .25-.27 caliber pot and examine Alexander Arms’ impressive 6.5mm Grendel. The Grendel is a mythical Nordic monster that in the story Beowulf attacks and devours Viking warriors without the benefit of butchering and bar-b-cue. Unveiled two years ago and offering bullet weights from 90 to 144 grains, the Grendel out-shoots the 7.62 NATO (Ballistic Coefficient = .314) at range with half the recoil. Supersonic at 1200 yards, the 6.5 delivers superior exterior and terminal ballistics to the respected NATO thirty caliber. Readily adaptable to the M16 platform, it performs with superior accuracy and reliability. For example, the ballistic coefficient for the 123-grain Lapua Scenar bullet is ". 547" and when combined with the Grendel, it departs the muzzle of a 24 " barrel at 2610 FPS. At 600 yards it is still clipping along at 1736 FPS and "tennis ball sized targets" is history for this flat shooting round. At 1000 yards, this bullet will slam into you with retained lethal energy that is the equivalent of getting hit by a hot pistol round at the handgun’s muzzle. This load can serve equally well in either assault and or Designated Marksman’s precision fire roles. Highest velocities of 3000+ FPS are obtained with the 90-grain Speer TNT.

The 6.5 boasts twice the lead mass of the 5.56x45mm, which gives you twice the potential fragmentation and corresponding increase in tissue destruction. Alexander Arms advised that the Grendel is effective out to 1200 meters and this capability would make it an excellent light machinegun round. I recently fired the Grendel through an M16 carbine and thought I was actually shooting a heavy (75-grain) 5.56x45mm load. AA offers three different complete rifles/carbines and uppers. The latter includes flat top upper receiver, stainless steel barrel with match chamber, full length military hand guard, Pictatinny rail front gas block (Hunter 19.5" Rifle only), standard trigger and comes complete with bolt, bolt carrier and 10 round proprietary magazine. Higher capacity magazines reportedly are in the wings.

Because of the larger diameter of the round, the Grendel cannot be used in M16 magazines. However the proprietary magazines will fit into the M16 magazine well. Other models, such as the "Overwatch" have tactical triggers, 24 " match barrels, match chambers and free-floating composite hand guards and a black soft carry case. Will it eclipse the 6.8 SPC for military applications? It’s very close, but not quite according to small arms Maven Stanley Crist. While an impressive performer, it has certain drawbacks that make it less suitable for use in the current M249 SAW, which is intended to share assault rifle ammunition. Speaking with Mr. Bill Alexander the round’s creator, he opined that any new round for the SAW would require a whole new top end and much of the gas system would be subject to redesign. For more in depth information on the Grendel and how it stacks up against other proposed avenues of improvement over the M16’s M855 NATO ball round, please read Mr. Crist’s latest article on the subject, "6.8mm SPC Vs. 6.5mm Grendel, " in the 2005 issue of Special Weapons For Military And Police (SWMP).

Duty Frangible
International Cartridge Corporation (ICC) has taken the logical step and is leading the field in the development of frangible service ammunition by creating hollow point and other high performance fragmenting projectiles. Subjecting them to the same FBI test protocols, ICC Duty/Defense cartridges satisfy the majority of the Bureau’s performance requirements. This ammunition in training and duty configurations provides the end user excellent lethality, low obstacle over penetration, point blank training on steel with virtually no ricochets or splash back. These loads would be ideal for the protection of very high value personnel in congested environments and for shipboard and oil production platform CQB, where steel bulkheads would create severe secondary missile problems and where the compromise of conduits for crude oil, LNG or steam would be highly undesirable. Duty ammunition has lead stypinate primers for reliability, but ICC advises that lead emissions are minimal.

ICC offers the following ammunition variables:
– Training and duty rifle ammunition (.223/.308 Win & 7.62X39mm)
– Training and duty shotgun ammunition (270-grain 9-pellet buckshot, 325-grain slug & 325-grain breaching round.
– Greeline, 100% lead free training (Calibers – .380, 9MM, .357 SIG, .38 Special, .40 S&W and .45 ACP)
– Special Purpose training ammunition (Calibers as above)
– Green Elite Duty, frangible HP pistol ammunition, fragments in tissue and creates several permanent wound channels. (Calibers as above)
– Super Duty. (Totally lead free, frangible projectiles in 9mm, .357 SIG & .40 S&W HP calibers capable of penetrating NIJ Level II bullet resistant vests)

Many teams cannot use rifle caliber weapons in their shoot houses, because of the damage they inflict on the integrity of ballistic walls. ICC produces two types of 5.56x45mm ammunition. One bullet weight is designed for micro carbines with barrel lengths under 14.5 inches and another for longer tube lengths. ICC recommends these rounds for shoot house environments especially against steel targets.

Until now, military ammunition improvements have not kept pace with weapons platform advances. This is understandable with the limits placed on small arms ammunition by international treaties and conventions governing land warfare. Although it is preferable to wound in conventional war, you can kill people, but not intentionally maim or cause enemy soldiers excessive suffering. However, when it comes to terrorists and criminals they do not enjoy such considerations, but this country being the beacon of civility that it is attempts as a body to adhere to the spirit, if not the letter of these treaties when our military is unleashed against these asymmetric forces of evil. These days, combat conditions have changed with the return of a most fanatical and barbarous enemy and because of the environment’s structural dictates in which we are now engaged. Small arms ammunition must be able to not only stop threats at CQB ranges, but also be decisive at extended ranges, be capable of one shot soft tissue disablement, while capable of "digging out" enemy personnel lodged in hard structures. At the same time, "collateral damage" must be minimized. Fortunately, it looks like these technology leaps are coming. My only hope is that it does not take yet another decade or another war to be realized.

Ammunition Improvements for 21st Century Mil/LE Urban Operations by

About David Crane

David Crane started publishing online in 2001. Since that time, governments, military organizations, Special Operators (i.e. professional trigger pullers), agencies, and civilian tactical shooters the world over have come to depend on Defense Review as the authoritative source of news and information on "the latest and greatest" in the field of military defense and tactical technology and hardware, including tactical firearms, ammunition, equipment, gear, and training.

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