Military Ammunition Failures and Solutions - ITS Tactical
Shop the ITS Store!

Military Ammunition Failures and Solutions

By The ITS Crew

pic6Today we bring you another fascinating article written by Dr. Gary K. Roberts, who we have covered extensively here on  ITS in regards to his  body armor testing.

The article we bring you today is a transcription of a talk Roberts gave to the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) entitled “Time for a Change.”

For those of you not familiar with Dr. Roberts, please read the following bio from our  previous article. Dr. Roberts was an independent researcher on the most recent  FBI Body Armor Test Protocol.

We’d like to thank Dr. Roberts for giving us permission to repost this information here for our readers.

Time for a Change

Military Small Arms Ammunition Failures and Solutions

  1. Training…and More Training
  2. Reliable and Durable Weapon System
  3. Ammunition Terminal Performance

The first two items must be fully and  adequately addressed before the third item  becomes a serious concern…

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

In 1940, the prototype P51 Mustang successfully flew just 178 days after the initial order had been  placed. Now in the 21st century, despite the efforts of many smart folks, few small arms  improvements seem to get rapidly completed and expediently fielded–there is a significant gap  between what we KNOW and what we actually DO for our warriors.  If such glacial procurement  had occurred during WWII, the war would have ended before any new weapons were fielded.

SALVO, SPIW, 6 mm SAW, ACR, XM29, XM8…even with modern engineering, CAD/CAM  techniques, and new materials many proposed U.S. small arms and ammunition improvements cost  tens of millions of dollars, years of RDT&E, and then rarely seem to ever actually reach the field.

Millions of dollars are poured into next generation small arms technologies with no near-term  potential to improve combat capability, like caseless, telescoping, snd air-burst ammo, while simple  innovative incremental advances that can immediately make an impact in combat operations, like  barrier blind ammunition and intermediate calibers, get minimal funding or are ignored.

DOD replaces computer hardware and software every 3 or 4 years, yet does not offer the same  type of incremental improvements for small arms weapons and ammunition, despite similar costs.

The sacred alter of “green” ammo has sucked up tens of millions of dollars over many years in the  nebulous pursuit of “non-toxic” ammunition, yet with a few COTS exceptions, has not resulted in  any improvements in ammunition reliability, accuracy, or terminal performance–the factors that  actually help win fights.

Overly complex, fundamentally flawed computer modeling and excessive statistical manipulations  that don’t reflect reality are often used to try and predict military ammunition terminal performance  and “lethality” instead of the more common sense approach using the physiological damage based  methodology proven to closely correlate with numerous actual shooting incidents in over two  decades use by law enforcement agencies and wound ballistic researchers.

Ideal Caliber?

The United States made several major missteps in its search for the ideal combat rifle caliber. In  the late 1920’s, the U.S. Army selected the .276 Pederson caliber produced by Frankford Arsenal  as the best caliber for a new semi-automatic rifle. The .276 fired a 125 gr bullet at approximately  2700 f/s. Ordnance trials determined that John Garand’s new .276 caliber T3E2 rifle was an ideal  combat weapon, however, development of the .276 rifle was halted in 1932 because of the largeremaining stocks of old .30-06 caliber M1906 150 gr FMJ ammunition left over from WWI; thus  the U.S. military threw away an opportunity to adopt the superior performing .276 caliber and theM1 Garand rifle was adopted in the old .30-06 caliber.

Following WWII the United States Army again made a colossal weapon system selection error  when it rejected the British .270 caliber 130 gr and .280 caliber 140 gr ammunition fired at  approximately 2400 f/s and instead insisted on the full power 7.62 x 51 mm cartridge that offered  nearly identical ballistic characteristics as the old .30-06 it replaced. Given the 7.62 mm’s  extremely short life as the standard service rifle caliber, in hindsight, we can hypothesize that both  the .270 (6.8 mm) and .280 (7 mm) would probably have been ideal combat rifle calibers and  might still be in use today if either had been chosen.

In 1972, the U.S. Army issued a MNS and detailed specifications for a new SAW/LMG. At that  time, in reviewing calibers for the new system, 5.56 x 45 mm was felt to lack effective range and  terminal performance while 7.62 x 51 mm was felt to be too heavy; weapon developers and joint  users felt no current weapons systems and calibers could meet the requirements, thus a new  compromise caliber was necessary–this became the 6 x 45 mm SAW. The 6 mm SAW used a  105 gr low drag bullet fired at around 2450 fps. In 1976, the Army ordered that SAW design  efforts be redirected, this included stopping development of the 6 mm SAW cartridge (in part for  fear of irritating our NATO allies) and focusing efforts on 5.56 mm LMG designs (XM248/(XM235),  XM249/(FN Minimi), XM262/(HK21A-1).

While 5.56 mm 55 gr M193 (FN SS92) was standard in the 1960’s and 1970’s, attempts to  improve 5.56 mm effectiveness included the XM287 68 gr FMJ and the IWK 77 gr FMJ–both used  in the Stoner 63 by NSW in Viet Nam; the 54 gr XM777, as well as the SS109 62 gr FMJ  developed by FN for their Minimi LMG. As we all know, the end result was the 1980 decision to  adopt the 5.56 mm Minimi as the M249 SAW and the SS109 as the 62 gr FMJ M855 “green-tip.”

As noted, 5.56 mm NATO 62 gr SS-109/M855 FMJ was designed over 30 years ago as linked  machine gun ammunition to be fired from the FN Minimi/M249 SAW while engaging enemy troops  wearing light body armor during conventional infantry combat at distances of several hundred  meters–while not a perfect solution, M855 does perform adequately in this role.

Terminal Performance Problems

Unfortunately, combat operations since late 2001 have again highlighted terminal performance  problems, generally manifested as failures to rapidly incapacitate opponents, during combat  engagements when M855 62 gr “Green Tip” FMJ is fired from 5.56 mm rifles and carbines. This  is not surprising, since M855 was not originally intended for use in carbines or rifles, especially  those with short barrels.

In addition, most 5.56 mm bullets are generally less effective when  intermediate barriers, such as walls, glass, and vehicles shield opponents–this is a significant  consideration in urban combat. The decreased incapacitation potential of 5.56 mm compared with  larger rifle calibers is intrinsic to the small caliber varmint hunting roots of the 5.56 mm cartridge;  in many states it is illegal to hunt deer size game with 5.56 mm, so why do we expect it to offer ideal terminal performance against aggressive, violent 100-200 lbs human opponents?

As an interim solution to these problems, deployed SOF units have used 5.56 mm Mk262. The  Black Hills produced Mk262 uses the 77 gr Sierra Match King (SMK) OTM and is built as premium  quality ammunition intended for precise long-range semi-auto rifle shots from the Mk12 rifle. It is  great for its intended purpose. Mk262 has demonstrated improved accuracy, greater effective  range, and more consistent performance at all distances compared to M855 when fired from  current M16, Mk12, M4, HK416, and Mk18 rifles and carbines. However, despite this substantially  improved performance, Mk262 still manifests the problems of poor intermediate barrier  penetration and somewhat variable terminal performance inherent with the SMK design.

pic1The disturbing failure of 5.56 mm to consistently offer adequate incapacitation  has been known for nearly 15 years. Dr. Fackler’s seminal work at the  Letterman Army Institute of Research Wound Ballistic Laboratory during the  1980’s illuminated the yaw and fragmentation mechanism by which 5.56 mm  FMJ bullets create wounds in tissue. If 5.56 mm bullets fail to upset (yaw,  fragment, or deform) within tissue, the results are  relatively insignificant wounds, similar to those  produced by .22 LR–this is true for ALL  5.56 mm bullets, including military FMJ , OTM, and AP,  as well as JHP and JSP designs used in LE.

This failure of 5.56 mm bullets to  upset can be caused by reduced impact velocities when hitting targets at  longer ranges, as well as by the decreased muzzle velocity when using short  barrel carbines. Failure to upset can also occur when bullets pass through  minimal tissue, such as a limb or the torso of a thin, small statured individual,  as the bullet may exit the body before it has a chance to upset. Finally, bullet  design and construction plays a major role in reliable bullet upset. Without  consistent bullet upset, wounding effects are decreased, rapid incapacitation  is unlikely, and enemy combatants may continue to pose a threat to friendly  forces and innocent civilians.



pic3Angle-of-Attack (AOA) variations between different  projectiles, even within the same lot of ammo, as  well as Fleet Yaw variations between different rifles,  were recently elucidated by the JSWB-IPT. These  yaw issues were most noticeable at close ranges  and were more prevalent with certain calibers and  bullet styles–the most susceptible being 5.56 mm  FMJ ammunition like M855 and M193.

What this means is that two shooters firing the same  lot of M855 from their M4’s with identical shot  placement can have dramatically different terminal  performance results: one shooter states that his  M855 is working great and is effective at dropping  bad guys, while the other complains his opponents  are not being incapacitated because M855 is zipping  right through the targets without upsetting. Both  shooters are telling the truth…


Improvement Needed

As articulated by combat AAR’s the last few years and demonstrated in recent military wound  ballistic testing, improved combat ammunition that is specifically designed for rifle and carbine  use, not machine guns, is urgently needed.

New loads should offer:

  • JAG approval
  • Full reliability in diverse  environmental extremes
  • A thermally stable propellant
  • Consistent lot-to-lot and shot-to-shot  performance, even when fired from  short barrel weapons
  • Crimped and sealed primer
  • Sealed case mouth
  • Cannelure for functional reliability in  adverse conditions
  • Decreased muzzle flash
  • Acceptable accuracy at 300-500m
  • Good soft tissue terminal  performance (early consistent bullet  upset within 1 or 2 inches of initial  tissue penetration)
  • 12-18 inches of penetration coupled  with maximized tissue damage during  the first 10 to 12 inches of travel in  tissue
  • Designed to minimize AOA and fleet  yaw issues
  • Blind to Barriers

It is critical that new combat ammunition be “Blind to Barriers” and not suffer from terminal  performance degradation from intermediate barriers–especially automobile windshields &  doors, and common structural walls.

Ammunition should be light and compact enough for the operator to carry an adequate supply  in magazines of at least a 25 round capacity. The rifle should be similar in size, weight, and  ergonomics to the proven M4/M16 weapons. Recoil should be manageable to allow full auto  fire when necessary, along with the more usual rapid, aimed semi-automatic fire.

Important Gel Block Measurements to Assess Terminal Effectiveness

The shot into bare gelatin depicted below illustrates ideal terminal performance.

“Barrier Blind” ammunition should demonstrate minimal changes in terminal performance between  unobstructed shots into bare gelatin and those obstructed by intermediate barriers.


  1. Initial Upset Depth (Neck Length) — Optimally 1” or less, up to 3”
  2. Temp Cavity Length — As long as possible in the first 12” of penetration
  3. Temp Cavity Height & Width — Bigger is better in first 12” of penetration
  4. Depth to Max Temp Cavity Diameter — Typically at 4” to 6” of pen
  5. Total Depth of Penetration — Less than 12” & more than 18” is not ideal

Note: The ideal shot depicted above is a 6.8 mm Hornady 115 gr OTM impacting at 2600 fps

pic6Tom Burczynski’s superb photos of 5.56  mm projectiles as they penetrate through 2”  wide sections of 10% gelatin clearly  illustrate the critical importance of early  projectile upset within the first 1 or 2” of  penetration.

The barrier blind, FBI issued, ATK/Federal  62 gr bonded Tactical load on top has  completely upset within the first 2” of gel  penetration, demonstrating good tissue  crush and stretch.

pic7In contrast, the Mk262 loading using the  77 gr SMK OTM on the bottom has not even  begun to upset during the first 2” of  penetration through gel, resulting in minimal  tissue stretch and crush at this point.


Simply adopting new 5.56 mm barrier  blind combat loads that are optimized for  shorter barrels, offer consistent early  upset, along with adequate penetration,  and minimal AOA/Fleet yaw issues may  be the critical answer to many  deficiencies noted with currently issued  U.S. military 5.56 mm ammunition.


“In response to inquiries from the field, the Army’s Project Manager, Maneuver Ammunition Systems (PM  MAS) has assembled a team of experts from many disciplines including military users, law enforcement,  trauma surgeons, aero ballisticians, weapon and munitions engineers, and other scientific specialists to  answer the question–Are there Commercial Off-the-Shelf 5.56mm bullets available that are better than  M855 “Green Tip” against unarmored targets in Close Quarters Battle (CQB)?”

Despite what was publicly released in the heavily truncated “final” JSWB-IPT report from May  2006, as well as the information presented in Infantry Magazine that was replete with significant  data omissions, anybody who has seen the actual data from the 10,000 or so test shots collected  by the JSWB-IPT at 3-10m, 100m, and 300m distances or who has read the original 331 page final  draft report dated 12 April 2006, knows that the clear and unequivocal best performing cartridge in  the JSWB-IPT testing was 6.8 mm.

In addition, several 5.56 mm loads performed better than  current M855, especially from shorter barrels. This was validated by the 11 August 2006 joint  USMC/FBI Phase I Ammunition Study report that once again clearly illustrated that 6.8 mm offered  the best terminal performance of ALL calibers tested. The report also demonstrated that the 5.56  mm 62 gr “Barrier Blind” load used by the FBI and other LE agencies offered superior terminal  performance to current military issue 5.56 mm ammunition.

The JSWB-IPT wrote:

  • “The best performing systems emphasizing tissue damage, on the average, in this  study were of larger caliber than 5.56 mm.”
  • “The 6.8 mm performance observed in this test suggests that an intermediate  caliber is the answer to the trade-off balance issue.”
  • “The 6.8 mm projectile had a near optimal balance of MASS, VELOCITY,  and CONFIGURATION to maintain its effectiveness, even at a lower impact  velocity.”
  • “The 6.8mm SPC is far and above, the best performing ammunition…”

Thus, the Road Ahead for Military Small Arms Ammunition should emphasize:  “Barrier Blind” ammunition in all calibers, calibers larger than 5.56 mm,  especially intermediate calibers like 6.8 mm.

Special Purpose Cartridge Program

The SPC (Special Purpose Cartridge) program, jointly developed by 5th SFG(A) and USAMU in  conjunction with USSOCOM requirement validation, built on historical data in creating the 6.8 x 43 mm  SPC. 6.8 mm is the perfect refinement of the hypothesis that a 6.5 to 7 mm bullet is the ideal choice for  combat; it combines the best features of both the more traditional 7.62 x 51 mm “battle rifle” cartridge and  the more recent 5.56 x 45 mm “assault rifle” cartridge without either of their deficits.

In addition, 6.8 mm  offers superior accuracy and incapacitation potential compared to the 7.62 x 39 mm cartridge fired by  AK47 rifles commonly used by our opponents. Unlike 5.56 mm NATO and 7.62 mm NATO weapons,  6.8 mm was designed from the beginning to offer optimal performance in the sub-16” short barreled  carbines favored by U.S. forces fighting in urban settings and from vehicles.

6.8 mm was conceived and developed entirely by experienced military end-users based on identified  combat mission needs. Their Commanders approved the project, trusted the competence of their  subordinates, and supported them in developing the best solution for troops at the tip of the proverbial  spear. This was a bottom-up project where the personnel who will have to use the weapon in combat for  once got to develop exactly what they needed, rather than the more common top-down approach where  engineers develop a product that is all too often long-delayed and that does not necessarily adequately  address the needs of combat personnel in the field. The 6.8 mm SPC project was also very  inexpensive–in an era of massive fiscal waste, the 6.8 mm SPC initial RDT&E costs for the government  were less than $5000.

pic9During SPC development different bullet  diameters of 6 mm, 6.5 mm, 6.8 mm,  7 mm, and 7.62 mm were tested, using  multiple bullet types, shapes, and  weights from 90 to 140 gr–the 6.8 mm  was selected because it offered the  BEST combination of combat accuracy,  reliability, and terminal performance for  0-500 yard engagements in an M4 size  package.





MURG Evaluation

Based on all available test results to date, end-users selected  6.8 mm as the best available intermediate caliber for the  TSWG multi-agency task force MURG evaluation.

Three different MURG variants were required:

  • Special Compact Carbine with 8-10” barrel (SCC = Mk18 equivalent)
  • Standard Carbine with 12-14” barrel (SC = M4 equivalent)
  • Designated Marksman-Recce with 16-18” barrel (DMR = Mk12 equivalent)

6.8 mm MURG systems from four vendors were tested: Barrett, Bushmaster, HK,  LWRC, with the 5.56 mm Colt M4A1 as baseline.

Test Conclusions Include:

  • 6.8 mm MURG is a COTS NDI item ready for full fielding in the next 12 months
  • 6.8 mm MURG is fully compatible with existing M4A1 and M16 lower receivers
  • 6.8 mm MURG allows end-user to change between variants in the field within seconds
  • NO parts failures occurred in any 6.8 mm MURG system during testing
  • 6.8 mm MURG systems exhibited accuracy, reliability, suppressor capability, recoil  management, and engagement speed that were equivalent or better than current  5.56 mm weapons
  • 6.8 mm MURG is available as a gas piston/op rod system for improved durability,  reliability, and reduced user maintenance
  • 6.8 mm MURG should be treated as an integrated system–upper, magazines, suppressor,  and ammunition to ensure maximum reliability

MURG allows units to train with 5.56 mm uppers currently in service and fight with  identically configured 6.8 mm uppers, as the “muscle memory”,  weapons handling skills, and LBE are identical.

7.62 x 51 mm

To alleviate the problems of marginal incapacitation potential and intermediate barrier penetration  ability inherent with 5.56 mm, re-adoption of a 7.62 x 51 mm length cartridge is a consideration  (ex. 7.62 x 51 mm, 7 x 46 mm, 6.5 mm Creedmore). The superior range, incapacitation potential,  & barrier penetration ability of 7.62 x 51 mm based systems may prove a decisive advantage  compared to smaller caliber weapon systems, however ammunition with terminal performance far  SUPERIOR to currently issued M80 ball is MANDATORY to optimize the potential of 7.62 mm  rifles for CQB and urban combat!


Neither type of current 7.62 mm M80 FMJ possesses ideal accuracy or terminal performance  characteristics, especially from barrels shorter than 16-18”. 7.62 mm M118LR 175 gr OTM used  in sniper rifles like the Mk11, M110, M24, and M40A3 is very accurate and offers good  performance at longer ranges–making it ideal for sniper use. However, the documented  inconsistent close range terminal performance and poor intermediate barrier performance of the  heavy SMK OTM make it a less than ideal choice for CQB engagements, urban combat, and short  barrel use. Improved ammunition is required to optimize terminal performance with shorter barrel  7.62 x 51 mm weapons (Mk14/M14 EBR, KAC SR25K, HK417, FN Mk17 SCAR-H).

Despite the many desirable characteristics of 7.62 x 51 mm based systems, they have several  significant penalties, including increased cost, size, weight, and recoil, as well as decreased  magazine capacity and decreased control in full auto fire. The basic ammo load is reduced and  the soldier’s overall load is increased. Short barrel 7.62 x 51 mm weapons have substantial  muzzle flash and blast, along with reduced terminal performance. 7.62 mm magazines require  different size pouches than current M4/M16 LBE. In addition, several recent 7.62 mm weapon  systems have not proven reliable or durable when subjected to combat conditions.



How Can the U.S. Military Field More Effective Ammunition?

pic18The most expeditious solution to improve terminal  performance for current 5.56 mm carbines is to abandon  M855 and adopt a consistent performing “Barrier Blind”  combat load specifically designed for carbine use as the  standard issue U.S. military 5.56 mm ammunition.

The ideal answer to upgrade current weapons and the  clear choice for any new assault rifle is to adopt an  intermediate caliber like the 6.8 mm, as this has proven to  be the most efficient & effective choice in weapons with  barrels 16” and shorter.

The final alternative is to field an improved 7.62 mm  based system although for this to be of benefit,  ammunition with performance dramatically superior to  M80 ball, such as the TSWG 155 gr OTM or preferably, a  new barrier blind load, needs to be standard issue.

NOTE: Current M995/M993 AP availability is too limited, especially for rifle and  carbine use. It is critical to ensure that effective AP ammo is readily available on  stripper clips for use in carbines & rifles, for ALL personnel potentially engaging in  combat, just like GI’s had available for their M1 Garands and BAR’s in WWII.  Abundant AP ammo availability may prove critical in potential future conflicts  against modern, well equipped opponents wearing advanced body armor.

1899 Hague Convention

More than 100 years later, it may be time for Congress and the President to re-evaluate the  outmoded and archaic 1899 Hague Convention’s prohibition against routine combat use of the  standard deforming ammunition commonly used by LE personnel. The Hague Convention’s  guidelines are no longer relevant for today’s urban battlefield with its close intermixing of innocent  civilians and irregular combatants.

The U.S. is not a party to the 1899 Hague treaty, but has complied with it in international armed  conflict; as a result, the majority of U.S. military personnel are limited to using FMJ ammunition in  combat. It is patently ludicrous to conclude that incapacitating dangerous opponents in combat  while using the same deforming bullets legally relied on daily by LE agencies is somehow  inhumane and unlawful, while wounding or killing the same enemy using much more powerful  destructive ordnance such as grenades, mines, mortars, artillery, rockets, bombs, CBU’s, FAE’s,  and thermobarics is approved and condoned. This is neither logical nor just and in fact does  nothing to limit the severity of battlefield casualties.

In many respects, the use of deforming LE type ammunition during modern combat is far more  humane, as accurate and effective ammunition reduces the need for multiple shots–decreasing the  chance of shots missing the intended opponent and striking innocent civilians. Deforming  projectiles also mitigate the potential of innocent bystanders getting hit by bullets which first  perforate the target They may also reduce the number of times a dangerous opponent must be  shot, potentially limiting the amount of surgical intervention needed to control hemorrhage.

It is time to move beyond the illogical prohibitions regarding modern deforming small arms  projectiles in the antiquated 1899 Hague Convention and authorize all U.S. military personnel to  routinely field the same deforming ammunition used daily by American LE officers, as it has  consistently proven to be efficacious in rapidly stopping hostile actions by violent opponents and  highly effective at protecting both friendly forces and innocent civilians.

The .pdf of the article is available here

Did you get more than 14¢ of value today?

If so, we’d love to have you as a Crew Leader by joining our annual membership! Click the Learn More button below for details.

Thanks to the generosity of our supporting members and occasionally earning money from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate, (when you click our Amazon links) we’ve eliminated annoying ads and content.

At ITS, our goal is to foster a community dedicated to learning methods, ideas and knowledge that could save your life.


Do you have what you need to prevail?

Shop the ITS Store for exclusive merchandise, equipment and hard to find tactical gear.

Do you have what you need to prevail? Tap the button below to see what you’re missing.