US uses bullets ill-suited for new ways of war

Discussion in 'Firearms' started by Quigley_Sharps, May 26, 2008.

  1. Quigley_Sharps

    Quigley_Sharps The Badministrator Administrator Founding Member


    By RICHARD LARDNER, Associated Press Writer
    45 minutes ago

    WASHINGTON - As Sgt. Joe Higgins patrolled the streets of Saba al-Bor, a tough town north of Baghdad, he was armed with bullets that had a lot more firepower than those of his 4th Infantry Division buddies.

    As an Army sniper, Higgins was one of the select few toting an M14. The long-barreled rifle, an imposing weapon built for wars long past, spits out bullets larger and more deadly than the rounds that fit into the M4 carbines and M16 rifles that most soldiers carry.

    "Having a heavy cartridge in an urban environment like that was definitely a good choice," says Higgins, who did two tours in Iraq and left the service last year. "It just has more stopping power."

    Strange as it sounds, nearly seven years into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, bullets are a controversial subject for the U.S.

    The smaller, steel-penetrating M855 rounds continue to be a weak spot in the American arsenal. They are not lethal enough to bring down an enemy decisively, and that puts troops at risk, according to Associated Press interviews.

    Designed decades ago to puncture a Soviet soldier's helmet hundreds of yards away, the M855 rounds are being used for very different targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of today's fighting takes place in close quarters; narrow streets, stairways and rooftops are today's battlefield. Legions of armor-clad Russians marching through the Fulda Gap in Germany have given way to insurgents and terrorists who hit and run.

    Fired at short range, the M855 round is prone to pass through a body like a needle through fabric. That does not mean being shot is a pain-free experience. But unless the bullet strikes a vital organ or the spine, the adrenaline-fueled enemy may have the strength to keep on fighting and even live to fight another day.

    In 2006, the Army asked a private research organization to survey 2,600 soldiers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly one-fifth of those who used the M4 and M16 rifles wanted larger caliber bullets.

    Yet the Army is not changing. The answer is better aim, not bigger bullets, officials say.

    "If you hit a guy in the right spot, it doesn't matter what you shoot him with," said Maj. Thomas Henthorn, chief of the small arms division at Fort Benning, Ga., home to the Army's infantry school.

    At about 33 cents each, bullets do not get a lot of public attention in Washington, where the size of the debate is usually measured by how much a piece of equipment costs. But billions of M855 rounds have been produced, and Congress is preparing to pay for many more. The defense request for the budget year that begins Oct. 1 seeks $88 million for 267 million M855s, each one about the size of a AAA battery.

    None of the M855's shortcomings is surprising, said Don Alexander, a retired Army chief warrant officer with combat tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Somalia.

    "The bullet does exactly what it was designed to do. It just doesn't do very well at close ranges against smaller-statured people that are lightly equipped and clothed," says Alexander, who spent most of his 26-year military career with the 5th Special Forces Group.

    Paul Howe was part of a U.S. military task force 15 years ago in Mogadishu, Somalia's slum-choked capital, when he saw a Somali fighter hit in the back from about a dozen feet away with an M855 round.

    "I saw it poof out the other side through his shirt," says Howe, a retired master sergeant and a former member of the Army's elite Delta Force. "The guy just spun around and looked at where the round came from. He got shot a couple more times, but the first round didn't faze him."

    With the M855, troops have to hit their targets with more rounds, said Howe, who owns a combat shooting school in Texas. That can be tough to do under high-stress conditions when one shot is all a soldier might get.

    "The bullet is just not big enough," he says. "If I'm going into a room against somebody that's determined to kill me, I want to put him down as fast as possible."

    Dr. Martin Fackler, a former combat surgeon and a leading authority on bullet injuries, said the problem is the gun, not the bullet. The M4 rifle has a 14.5 inch barrel — too short to create the velocity needed for an M855 bullet to do maximum damage to the body.

    "The faster a bullet hits the tissue, the more it's going to fragment," says Fackler. "Bullets that go faster cause more damage. It's that simple."

    Rules of war limit the type of ammunition conventional military units can shoot. The Hague Convention of 1899 bars hollow point bullets that expand in the body and cause injuries that someone is less likely to survive. The United States was not a party to that agreement. Yet, as most countries do, it adheres to the treaty, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

    The Hague restrictions do not apply to law enforcement agencies, however. Ballistics expert Gary Roberts said that is an inconsistency that needs to be remedied, particularly at a time when so many other types of destructive ordnance are allowed in combat.

    "It is time to update this antiquated idea and allow U.S. military personnel to use the same proven ammunition," Roberts says.

    In response to complaints from troops about the M855, the Army's Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey assigned a team of soldiers, scientists, doctors and engineers to examine the round's effectiveness. The team's findings, announced in May 2006, concluded there were no commercially available rounds of similar size better than the M855.

    But Anthony Milavic, a retired Marine Corps major, said the Army buried the study's most important conclusion: that larger-caliber bullets are more potent.

    "It was manipulated," says Milavic, a Vietnam veteran who manages an online military affairs forum called MILINET. "Everybody knows there are bullets out there that are better."

    Officials at Picatinny Arsenal declined to be interviewed. In an e-mailed response to questions, they called the M855 "an overall good performer." Studies are being conducted to see if it can be made more lethal without violating the Hague Convention, they said.

    Larger rounds are not necessarily better, they also said. Other factors such as the weather, the amount of light and the bullet's angle of entry also figure into how lethal a single shot may be.

    Heavier rounds also mean more weight for soldiers to carry, as well as more recoil — the backward kick created when a round is fired. That long has been a serious issue for the military, which has troops of varied size and strength.

    The M14 rifle used by Joe Higgins was once destined to be the weapon of choice for all U.S. military personnel. When switched to the automatic fire mode, the M14 could shoot several hundred rounds a minute. But most soldiers could not control the gun, and in the mid-1960s it gave way to the M16 and its smaller cartridge. The few remaining M14s are used by snipers and marksman.

    U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., is buying a carbine called the SCAR Heavy for its commandos, and it shoots the same round as the M14. The regular Army, though, has invested heavily in M4 and M16 rifles and has no plans to get rid of them.

    A change in expectations is needed more than a change in gear, said Col. Robert Radcliffe, chief of combat developments at Fort Benning. Soldiers go through training believing that simply hitting a part of their target is enough to kill it. On a training range, getting close to the bulls-eye counts. But in actual combat, nicking the edges isn't enough.

    "Where you hit is essential to the equation," Radcliffe says. "I think the expectations are a little bit off in terms of combat performance against target range performance. And part of that is our fault for allowing that expectation to grow when it's really not there at all."

    The arguments over larger calibers, Radcliffe says, are normal in military circles where emotions over guns and bullets can run high.

    "One of the things I've discovered in guns is that damned near everyone is an expert," he says. "And they all have opinions."
  2. RouteClearance

    RouteClearance Monkey+++

    Better Aim!! I would like to see anyone get consistant headshots while they themselves are being shot at. I guess Major Henthorn has all sorts of combat experience to back that statement up.
    wideym, beast and Falcon15 like this.
  3. monkeyman

    monkeyman Monkey+++ Moderator Emeritus Founding Member

    If they want to stick to the 5.56 then they need to forget the Hogue treetee and just load them up with soft points or alternate soft points and FMJs. The soft points will actualy do a decent job of putting some energy into a target and makeing a larger wound channel. If they insist on sticking with the FMJs then they deffinatly need to step up to a 7.62 or something similar.
    wrc223 likes this.
  4. Pauly Walnuts

    Pauly Walnuts Monkey++

    The clear answer is in the ammo, upgrade it for fugs sake! I've carried 210 rounds with a full pack and would hate to add more weight with a heavier gun and ammo. (did it with the 249 SAW & it sucked) We can shoot Americans with more brutal rounds but not shit bag terrorists who never follow any sort of rules?
    Alpha Dog likes this.
  5. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    FWIW, that article has hit mainstream media overseas. I found it on MSNBC initially, but it turned up on Xinhua as well. (Haven't checked the BBC website.)
  6. overbore

    overbore Monkey++

    Note the reference to helmet penetration, Gents. Some REMF decided that we would shoot Russians in the helmet and the Nam Era bullet would not penetrate it at 500M so they changed the twist of the barrels to fully stablize the bullets that otherwise were tumbling and doing a good job on tearring up and stopping Charlie. The result of that bad decision is the Blackhawk Down scenario or why I have a Dot on my M-1A. The Army is now going to 6.8mm, Overbore
  7. RouteClearance

    RouteClearance Monkey+++

    US SOCOM so far are the only ones adopting the 6.8 SPC. The rest of the military wants to keep the 5.56mm.
  8. alice1rn

    alice1rn Monkey++

    It's an interseting article and arguments. The 5.56 probably needs a little adjustment to make it work better in this new environment and new shorter weapon, but going back to the .308? I don't think that's really where we want to go. If larger caliber bullets are such a good answer why did the Russians get rid of the 7.62x39 and go to the 5.45?
  9. saskcop

    saskcop Monkey+++

    I think the 77 grain match bullets that some of the forces are using have been doing the trick - especially when fired out of the 20" barrel. I use 69 grain open tip match in my 5.56 and it does a stellar job.
  10. jim2

    jim2 Monkey+++

    They just need to make combat loads with something similar to the Barnes X-bullet and alternate them with FMJ's. That would be a great performance enhancement.

    The Russians changed for two reasons: One, we were kicking their behinds in almost all other areas of technology, so they thought this was a great way to go. They also used an old British trick and left a hollow cavity under the bullet nose so the round would work anyway. On impact, this caused the core to slide forward and imbalance the round causeing it to tumble at all ranges/velicities.

    Two. Their burearucrats like ours are in charge, and it seems that the ignorant are always calling the shots.

    As to their keeping the 5.45, there is some arguement about that, and the dust hasn't settled yet.

  11. Tikka

    Tikka Monkey+++

    Carry more ammunition.

    Why did the Afghans call the 5,45 the poison bullet?
    NVBeav likes this.
  12. Opinionated

    Opinionated Monkey+

    I say just keep an eye on the bright side. If we ever go to war with poodles we will be well equipped! seesaw
    Cephus and Falcon15 like this.
  13. goinpostal

    goinpostal Monkey+++

    Every soldier I've talked to that either fought in Nam,or the devils litter box,said they would have fought their own mother to be issued an M-14,or even an M-1Garand.Ammo weight be damned!
    Either weapon with a reasonable shooter will produce one shot,one kill!!The M-4/M-16 not always the case,even with an expert shooter.
    I'd rather have either of my Saiga-100's(30.06,.308)before I had to sell them to pay the bills.They would drop a zombie with a single head shot out to about 600yrds..At 250yrds they would both totally waste a gelatin filled watermelon.
    A soldier would much rather put a client down with one shot,than shoot one several times,and still have to worry whether the perp can shoot back.
    I'd much rather carry one hundred rounds of.308,or30.06 ,than three hundred rounds of.223 that might,or might not do the job.
    The rule of thumb I go by,is what works best to"DROP"a deer out to 500meters,and anywhere in between is what I'd want to use against a zombie in battle..223 aint it.
    If our soldiers were actually taught to shoot,and not just qualify this would all be a moot point.I'd take a squad of sharp shooters with 30.06 bolt guns any day,over a whole company that were"qualified"with the M-4.
    Sapper John, BTPost and tacmotusn like this.
  14. Alpha Dog

    Alpha Dog survival of the breed

    I am a firm believer in shot placement now when SHTF alot of the time shot placement goes out the window. Thats another good thing about the M-4 and M-16 the more ammo when SHTF and you are pinned down is the more ammo you can send down range at the zombie's. Three real good rounds I've found for me are the Hornady red tip and the Wenchester black and silver tip and third I have some soft point that is very effective. I have alot of friends who talk about the M1 Grand and that is my favorite rifle in the world today and if it was a female Iwould have married it. But look a the 20 rounds v/s 30rounds in a shootout also look at reload speed, and recoil getting back on target quick then add in the beating of firing a couple hundred rounds on the body. The M-4 and M-16 is more practicle for urban combat. Which I have been wanting to shoot a 6.8spc they say it is the best of both worlds.
  15. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    The one thing to remember is that Your Ammunition, is finite, in ANY situation, and you do NOT have time to reload any, when you are in a firefight. Spray and Pray, is a good battle tactic, IF and Only IF, you have a virtual Unlimited Supply, local to you. One Shot, One Kill, is a Proven Effective Battle senerio, in breaking up a charge, FROM DISTANCE, ESPECIALLY if the OpForce are NOT Battle hardened, or total ZOMBIES. If they think, and reason, and see their buddies, being dropped, one at a time, as they come in, what do you think they will do?
    CaboWabo5150, Epa and Cephus like this.
  16. Resqdan

    Resqdan Archangle

    this is a topic with no real right answer, yes a bigger round would be more effective but your giving up alot to go there, weight, amount of ammo you can carry, and recoil. just to state a few. I personally would like to see the military goto a 6mm of some type or change the type of projectile we use. What those of you reading this need to understand about the round you can buy by the thousands is that it was designed to go through a 20" barrel or longer, so it will not have near the effect from the cute little 'zombie' guns you have all spent thousands building. I am not saying they are useless, just start stocking up on HP's,SP's or some other more expansive round, then you will have no problems stopping an intruder with on or two quick squeezes of the trigger.

    so should the military change.. yeah then i can grab some rounds up at a rock bottom price...other than that i will shoot what they issue me.. OH and when in a fire fight i would much rather have my bolt action, the automatic fire in the background is comforting to hear but i like to put my sites on what i want to hit,not just spray and pray
    just my 2cents
  17. goinpostal

    goinpostal Monkey+++

    Though they try to say otherwise,the number one reason the Government has stuck with the 5.56rnd,is that it's CHEAP!!They couldnt give a rats ass about anything else.
    You have to remember that these are the same folks that issued fouling ammo,but no cleaning kits with the original M-16,the same ones that fudged test data on the Bradley when it came out(in battle it was safer to be hiding behind one than inside of it),the same ones that failed to armor Humvee's untill after many soldiers died first,the same ones that sent our soldiers to battle without something every cop on the street is issued,"BODY ARMOR"!!Even staying with the smaller caliber they could have vastly improved on the design like the S.Koreans did with the Daewoo DR-100 which looks the same but is a more accurate,and reliable design that doesnt poop where it eats.It was originally drawn up in the late 70's.
    I dont hate the Stoner designed weapon!!The"AR-15"is one of the best light caliber semi auto rifles to ever hit the civilian market,but the M16-A2,and M-4 should never have been issued to the troops after better designs came out,and were proven to be better.
    The Military seems to love upgrading every death machine imaginable,untill you get down to the grunts on the ground.Even when they do,they go cheap,and do it in half assed measures.
    With all the zillions of dollars that the defense department spends on high tech weaponry,you would think they could come up with a working design at least as good as what Hollywood builds for the movies,or even better.Drop some of what I call"Preperation H"on them problem @$$#0!3$.Then they can go into the buisness of recycling glass.Instead of sending our ill equipt soldiers over there to get their @$$e$ shot off,or be blown up.
    I'm sure there are other grunts,or former grunts here that will tell you the same.
    bushrat and STANGF150 like this.
  18. Espada

    Espada Monkey+

    AK47 Ammo Forum FAQs - AR15.COM

    See the "Wounding Effects... " article.

    As shown, the hollow nose (not open point) and lead plug construction just behind, causes upset after 2-1/2 inches of impact... the bullet departs a skinny Afghan arm sideways.

    I've got a few thousand of them laid by in case pukes from Houston travel the hundred miles to play "Occupy Wall Street" after knocking down my main gate.
  19. Pax Mentis

    Pax Mentis Philosopher King |RIP 11-4-2017

    Well...we haven't actually talked, but you have now exchanged message board posts with one who would not (and would not have at the time). The other old grunt VN vets I know are very much split in their opinions...however, the younger guys I know who did their time in the sandbox tend to feel differently (and I might feel differently in desert wars).

    To me, the key is the twist. When they went to a 1/7 twist for range stability and armor penetration, they actually lessened the shorter range killing power of the 5.56. Living in an area where (like RVN) a 100+ yard shot is a rarity, I much prefer the tumbling or "keyhole" action produced by the 1/9 barrel. I have M1As in 7.62 that I would use in static defense with longer fields of fire (and to take down a deer at distance), but, once the zombies are in the wire...or for patrolling in the bush...give me a 1/9 twist barrel chambered for 5.56.

    I will grant that there is a large measure of what might be called "personal prejudice" involved here. On 11/7/69 (funny how some dates just stick in the mind forever...especially when one usually has trouble even remembering his kids' birthdays), over a period of about 20 mins, I was hit 5 times with 7.62 rounds...based on experience up to that point seeing others hit with 5.56 fired from 1/9 twist weapons, I am convinced that I could not have survived the 3 "key" the right kneecap, the lage intestine and the lower back about an inch from the spine...had they been 5.56 "tumblers". As it is, about 3 weeks short of 42 years later, I feel more effects from dioxin damage to my heart and pancreas than I do from the GSWs.

    I don't discount the advantage of having a few 7.62s along for those "special" long range "OSOK" opportunities, but I will take the tumblers and increased ammo carry capacity of the 5.56 in most cases. Over 100 yards, I am likley to wait for closer range or avoid contact...depending on the situation...but inside that 100, give me the 2-4 round bursts of the little guys.


    CraftyMofo, wrc223 and Alpha Dog like this.
  20. Alpha Dog

    Alpha Dog survival of the breed

    I don't know how true but I was told by a firearms instructor that the trouble with hollow point's in the 5.56 round is that around 60 to 75 yards the hollow point start's to come apart due to the bullets speed and pulls the round off target. Like I said I don't know how true
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