Thursday, June 15, 2006

Boomsticks: Everybody's a ballistician...

With the CBS blurb on the current service cartridge, tongues started wagging all over the errornet. Folks at unlikely places like Democratic Underground were mouthing strange terms, like "5.56mm", convinced it was part of some plot by the Bushistas to kill good blue-collar American lads duped into corporate wars of conquest. The Homefront Gun Nuttery Brigade joined forces with the Army of Nostalgia and started beating the drum again for a return to .308 or maybe even .45-70.

Personally, I read the quote
[U]rban warfare in Iraq demands a bigger bullet. "A bullet that knocks the man down with one shot," he says. "And keeps him down."
and wondered if this Major Milavec really intended for every trooper to carry a 57mm recoilless rifle, because that's about the smallest thing I can think of that fits his description. Contrary to popular belief, engendered by watching countless action movies, rifle bullets are not death rays. No rifle round will reliably "knock a man down and keep him down with one shot." Not 5.56; not even 7.62. You can go to your local VFW and buy drinks for guys with scars from 8mm Mauser and 7.7mm Arisaka bullets.

Member Blackhawk6, an honest-to-gawd decorated hero of the fighting in Afghanistan, raised some excellent points on a post in a thread at The High Road; points that deserve a wider audience:
Here are a few more facts:
1. The overwhelming majority of the U.S. special operations community uses the M-4, including those who have the latitude to use different weapon systems. Ditto most coalition special operations units.

2. The overwhelming majority of private contractors, the overwhelming majority of whom are former SOF personnel, are using M-4's despite having no tie to the U.S. military.

3. Many SOF units are going to shorter barrels on their rifles.

4. No bullet guarantees instant incapacitation. None. There are a few credible reports of enemy personnel staying in the fight, albeit briefly, after being hit by .50 BMG.

With that out of the way, here are my opinions on the matter:

1. Much of the poor reputation that the M-16A2/M-4 family enjoys is a by-product of the Vietnam War. A combination of M-14 champions and arm-chair commando's have kept the controversy alive. Before a Vietnam Veteran comes and flames me, let me say I am in no position to comment on the M-16 and its performance in Vietnam. If you don't tell me how bad the M-4 is in Iraq and Afghanistan, I won't tell you how good the M-16 was in Vietnam.

2. I love our soldiers. I have spent my entire adult life in their company. To put it kindly, they are prone to exaggeration. "I emptied an entire magazine into him, center mass, and he kept coming," can often be translated into "I fired eight rounds and hit him in the foot once."

3. The majority of soldiers are great people but they are not weapons experts and many have difficulty qualifying with their weapons. Ego, especially when it comes to marksmanship, is alive and well. A number of reported, ineffective hits were probably misses. Question:What does a soldier see when he hits someone at 150 meters and it has no effect? Answer:The same thing he sees when he misses. Who decides whether it was a hit or miss?

(Curiously, the Army and I apparently agree on the last two points.)

4. Prior to 9/11 the population in the Army of people who had actually engaged in close combat was relatively small, to include our special operations units. While we had a number of combat veterans, very few had actually shot a person and witnessed the effects. Very few of our soldiers have shot anything, to include deer. Consequently, hollywood has shaped our perception of how a shot person reacts. Most people understand that bullets do not blow people through walls, but they do not understand much beyond that. Comments like "A .45 will knock a man down," or "Even if you miss with a .50 cal, the bullet passing by can rip a man's arm off," are not uncommon. As a result, when they center punch a person with a 5.56mm at 10 meters and he stands there for five seconds before falling down, they get upset. Time tends to get distorted when your life is threatened and five seconds becomes a minute. I think you all get the idea.

5. I am not a ballistics expert, but my high school biology background and a little reading lead me to believe that the three mechanism for incapacitation would be a CNS hit, loss of blood and shock. Shock is highly dependant on the individual and can not be counted on. That leaves a CNS hit and loss of blood. A bullet to the heart is a bullet to the heart. If you placed your shot correctly, as everyone apparently has, even if it went right through the body the operation of the heart has been disrupted. If you hit something in the heart, it takes time for it to die. If you want it to fall down immediately, you have to hit the CNS and that is hard. Talk to a deer hunter and when you do keep in mind that the deer is not a fanatic bent on killing you.

6. I find it interesting that much of the criticism levied against the M-4 and M-16A2 is not levied against the M-249. It has comparable barrel lengths and fires the same round. I have yet to hear anyone say that the para-SAW sucks beyond a 150 meters despite its short barrel length. Why is that?
The rest of his posts there are equally relevant. Go read.

10 comments:

phlegmfatale said...

It's disturbing how perceptions of ordnance and their effects have been manipulated by Hollywood.
(I KNOW that what I'm about to say sounds like "who let the baby talk about guns?") I've been deer hunting with my dad (though I've never killed one-- that family rule of dressing what you kill may have been a factor) and I know you hope that before it succumbs, the fatally wounded beast doesn't put another mile between itself and the vehicle you have to drag its carcass back to. And like the guy said - the deer is not trying to kill you.
My brother-in-law said in Marine boot camp he could always tell the inner-city kids by the bizarre, ineffectual way in which they gripped their firearms.
Small wonder our "news" media get it so wrong, too. Not surprising in an industry that plays loosey-goosey with the facts as par. What makes me hot under the collar is when their editorializing with the "news" affects the safety of the individuals on the front line in our military.
What the assholes in the news NEED to do is hire someone like you to double-check their work before they go on record with it and remove all doubt.

Steve Skubinna said...

Hollywood, as a group, knows about as much about firearms as does the news media. So since nobody in the media can define "semi-automatic," let alone "assault weapon," why ought they to have any clue as to what their effects are?

I do like your mention of the .45-70. We ought to go back to the trap door Springfield (with modern metallurgy so it can fire the heavy magnum rounds) and the Brits ought to readopt the Martini-Henry. Although in the interests of standardization and ammo commonality they should use "our" round. Although I guess we could metricize it as the 11.25mm NATO.

And a Minigun firing .45-70 would be one kickass weapon!

T.Stahl said...

Guess I'll try to swim against the stream for once...

Well, in Germany the .223Rem barely reaches the energy limits needed to hunt roe deer with it (and German roe deer is about 35lbs, tops). Yet some people think it's good enough for defence against two-legged predatory apes that weigh up to 250lbs and more. And some of them even wear body-armor or carry guns or are on drugs.

Hmm, now...what can I say in favour of the .223 as a round for assault-rifles and light MGs?
Weight? .223 weighs roughly half as much as .308, loose or loaded in mags. Rifles are about 2lbs or 1kg lighter.
Controllability on f/a? Sorry, but a) a G3 f.e. IS controllable on f/a and b) f/a is for beltfeds on bipods anyway - unless you're engaging aerial targets.
That's about all. Can't think of any other advantages.

Tam said...

"Well, in Germany the .223Rem barely reaches the energy limits needed to hunt roe deer with it (and German roe deer is about 35lbs, tops)."

In the US, it's illegal to hunt with FMJ .308. Energy doesn't kill. ;)

T.Stahl said...

Yes, basically a hole of sufficient size in the right place kills.
And if the placement is the same, a bigger hole kills faster.

Oh-no! I sound like an adcovat of the .45ACP! No, actually more like someone favouring a 10mm over a 7.65Luger.

Still, if I was given the choice between a G3 and a G36, I'd take the HK...err...the 7.62x51. But there are other reasons besides caliber.

Publicola said...

Tam,
It varies by state. Luckily the feds haven't taken to hunting regulations across the board. Course that ICC would probably allow it considering it allows every damned thing else.

If I recall I've seen a few states where fmj is banned for hunting certain game & a few others where state law is silent on the matter (i.e. it's not prohibited). Ditto for .223 on deer sized game.

But on the main topic of discussion - what rank in the army of nostalgia would I get if I told ya I'm still pissed about letting the Garand go from front line service? :P That 06' I tell ya... I mean it was hard enough convincing me that that new fangled '06 would be a good replacement for the .30-40 Krag (& those rifle's bolts worked like butter - butter I say!)& now I'm supposed to accept a friggin' .22? /snarkasm

Really a 6mm to 7mm cartdige would do just as well if not better than the 5.56. While belt fed 20mm's all around would be nifty (except when hiking up a hill. or across a sidewalk) I'd be happy with a bm-59 in 6.5mm or 6.8mm. Hell I think an argument could be made for the venerable .243 winchester to replace the 5.56.

Still, those Garands... lol

Steve Skubinna said...

You know, on reflection it occurs to me that the standardized metric .45-70 would be 11.5mm NATO. Hmmmm... best to leave that to the logistical guys and the ammo specialists.

Uh-oh... just remembered that I AM a logistics guy and an ammo specialist. Oops.

Anyway, I'm sure many readers of this site are aware of the 6.8mm SPC, which a bunch of SpecOps guys worked up on the side. It's basically a .270. Barrett makes uppers for it that fit an AR lower.

treefroggy said...

If I'm not mistaken, all but one of the "Beltway Snipers" victims were killed by a single shot from an AR; average distance ~ 100 yards.

Anonymous said...

"keep in mind that the deer is not a fanatic bent on killing you"

Any possibility that with genetic manipulation, the above hunting scenario could become an "alternative" hunting experience? Sure would have me working on my stalking skills....

Anonymous said...

In the comments by MurdockTheCrazy in this post I found the best description of the 5.56mm round's good and bad points that I have ever come across.

Brass