October 23, 2006

Of Monsters and Mouse-Guns

The M16/M4 family assault rifles have served the U.S. military for longer than I've been alive, and during that 39-year run, it has always been fielded with a 5.56mm NATO catridge. The success of the.22-caliber centerfire round relies almost totally upon velocity, and the short-barreled M4 carbine issued to many of our troops today means that they are equipped with a weapon and cartridge combination that places their lives at risk.

Nowhere in recent memory was anecdotal evidence more apparent than in Michael Yon's widely read dispatch, Gates of Fire, where CSM Robert Prosser engaged a terrorist in Mosul at point-blank range after LTC Eric Kurilla was shot in a storefront ambush:

Prosser ran around the corner, passed the two young soldiers who were crouched low, then by me and right to the shop, where he started firing at men inside.

A man came forward, trying to shoot Kurilla with a pistol, apparently realizing his only escape was by fighting his way out, or dying in the process. Kurilla was aiming at the doorway waiting for him to come out. Had Prosser not come at that precise moment, who knows what the outcome might have been.

Prosser shot the man at least four times with his M4 rifle. But the American M4 rifles are weak - after Prosser landed three nearly point blank shots in the manís abdomen, splattering a testicle with a fourth, the man just staggered back, regrouped and tried to shoot Prosser.

Prosserís M4 carbine failed to seriously incapacitate the terrorist even after he was shot with four 5.56 NATO rounds at almost contact range. Prosser ended up capturing the terrorist after intense hand-to-hand combat. The terrorist survived his wounds.

This incident, written about fourteen months ago, immediately came to mind when I spoke last week with another soldier that had been based in Mosul and Ramadi during his latest tour. The last insurgent he shot took two 5.56 NATO rounds from an M4 in the chest, and the terrorist didn't go down. It took a third round through the head to kill him.

These are not the only "failure to stop" stories I've heard about regarding the 5.56 NATO round, and as the shorter-barreled M4 variant becomes more common through the military, these stories most assuredly won't be the last. I'd like to see the statistics of those American soldiers killed or wounded by those insurgents and terrorists that had already taken one or more hits to the torso, but I imagine that even if the military did maintain such statistics, they would probably be classified.

We know that the M4 does not have a long-enough barrel (14.5") to generate the velocities needed for 5.56 NATO cartridges designed for peak velocities in the 20" barrel of the M16. We also know that future assault weapons programs like the XM8 (with an even shorter 12.5" barrel) have been shelved. So does this mean that American soldiers are destined to use under-performing weapons for the time to come?

A handful of weaponsmiths are hoping to develop larger-diameter cartridges that will be able met the needs of American soldiers, among these cartridges being the 6.8 SPC and the 6.5 Grendel.

These cartridges are designed to fit existing 5.56 NATO-compatible weapons systems, meaning that these new and more powerful cartridges could be retrofitted to existing M16s/M4s with a minimum of modifications (new upper receiver, barrel, magazines, etc). That said, with the historically sloth-like speed of the military procurement system, expect our soldiers to be fielding "under-gunned" 5.56 NATO-chambered M4s for a long-time to come.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at October 23, 2006 02:59 PM | TrackBack

the problem with is that bay law we have to use full meltel jacket ammo witch at close range just gose through a man.At the range in the incadent abouve the soluder should have used his pistol

Posted by: Richard Kammler at October 23, 2006 03:26 PM

Good read, good links. I hope this thread doesn't devolve into a, "AK-47s are better than M-16s because this one time, I was playing CounterStrike..."

Posted by: BohicaTwentyTwo at October 23, 2006 03:42 PM

The issue is much less that a short barreled rifle does not allow the round to get to as high a velocity as a longer rifle, and much more that as Richard Kammler pointed out our military uses full metal jacket rounds. A full metal jacket round does not significantly expand when it hits a body which means it will not transfer much of its energy into the body.

RK said that a pistol might have been more effective. Our military carries 9 mm pistols (mostly), as do many police forces here in the USA. While the 9 mm is somewhat larger than the 222 round used in the M4 (0.3" instead of 0.22") it has much less power behind it. Yet many of our police forces find it satisfactory and with the right ammo it gives about 80% one shot stops. That right ammo, however, is hollow-point. This is what anti-gunners love to call "dum-dum" bullets, and our military is not allowed to use such ammo.

Hollow point bullets expand drastically when they hit the body, and transfer most of the energy of the bullet into the body. This is why someone hit by such a round has a small entrance hole but a very large area of damage inside the body. By contrast full metal jacket rounds such as our military uses are much more likely to punch a small hole right through the body, and do little damage to any part of the body not in the direct path of the bullet.

That is the main reason the M4 rounds in the incident you mention failed to stop the terrorist. Unless a lucky shot hit an organ that would cause instant incapacitation, this is what happens when full metal jacket rounds are used.

Most of our police forces have learned this lession, but our military has not yet learned it (or is afraid to face up to the anti-gun crowd for using effective rounds).

Posted by: InformedChristian at October 23, 2006 05:25 PM

InformedChristian Thank you for clarifying my post for me some times I foget to make all my thoughts into words.

Posted by: Richard Kammler at October 23, 2006 06:53 PM

So, here's acomment from the past. I was a marine & initially trained on the 7.62mm M-14, a modernized M1. In Vietnam, with the 20" M-16, we had the same problem. We did everything we could to ditch the M16 & use an M14 if we could.

This issue came up a hundred years ago in the Phillipine Insurrection (against Muslim terrorists, as you may recall). The Krag-Jorgenson rifle & .38 cal revolver lacked stopping power & the Moros did not go down. Enter John Browning; he designed the M1911 .45 cal automatic & the .30 cal MG. The Springfield Arsenal contributed the M1903 .30 cal rifle. Amazing how we must re-learn the same lessons.

By the way, what happened to the M8? That design seems robust & chambered in a 6.8mm or 7mm would be quite a weapon.

Posted by: DaSarge at October 23, 2006 11:07 PM


Military units cannot use hollowpoint or softpoint ammunition due to treaty obligations (1899 Huage Declaration) more than 100 years old, that to my knowledge, have not been breached by any nation's convenional military forces.


Not sure what stopped the XM8 program, but I would't be surprised if the underperformance of the 5.56 NATO in the short-bareled M4 might have them reconsidering all of their options.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at October 24, 2006 01:22 AM

All the standard small arms issued to US troops have inadequate stopping power. The lack of stopping power of the 5.56mm was justified by the claim that the bullet was understabilized and would tumble after impact causing a major wound. Then the gun was redesigned to stablize the bullet. The round is universally banned in the United States for deer hunting as being inadequate to humanely kill game. It is also inadequate as a close range round. Not only is it the standard round for the infantry rifle but also for the squad machine gun, SAW.

The 9mm was supposedly adopted to be compatible with NATO. Many ex-military, myself included, think that it was adopted when the Army's population of females began to grow, particularly in the non-combat arms. It was felt that the 9mm was easier to handle than the reliable action and unquestioned stopping power of the .45 Cal Colt Auto. As an old marine supposedly said, any caliber of pistol will do as long as the first number is 4!

The .40 cal and .45 cal are rapidly taking over the law enforcement market because of their proven stopping power against druggies. I suspect that Jihadists are in the same category of difficulty to stop. The 9mm is only adequate with specialized self defense ammo that the US will not issue for political reasons.

For a time it looked like the 6.8mm would be adopted with the new rifle being evaluated. Not any more. Also, there was an RFP that asked for bids on 450,000 .45 cal pistols. RFP was cancelled.

A small number of M-14's have been issued to sniper teams but that is not the answer. Nor is the M5. It just does not have the power. It can easily be converted to 6.8mm but the Army is not interested in spending the money!

Posted by: BobQne at October 24, 2006 12:51 PM

I never understood the humanity of full metal jacket rounds. I suppose people felt that having chunks of thier buddies blown all over them was a negative, a feeling I have for bullets that go through both of us.

Hollow point or soft-tipped rounds won't go through armor as well (or walls, brush, etc). I would think as we fight in more civilian populated areas, we would prefer the gore to the collatoral damage.

I couldn't my hands on any 240B in Iraq. We were a medical unit running our own resupply convoys. We had M2's and M249s. The 240B is a 7.62 round and was referred to as the 'poor man's 50 cal.' The problem I had was the 249 had a reputation that it would not penetrate an engine as a 50 or 240 could. As a result, during an escalation of force, my instructions to troops if a vehicle did not stop were to fire into the round in front of the vehicle, fire into the engine, and then put three rounds 18 inches behind the steering wheel.

This entire escalation takes place in less than 6 seconds and is really borne out of the Geneva Convention. The escalation gives us a chance to determine the status of a non-uniformed individual without lighting up civilians.

What they were discovering (my unit never had to fire into a vehicle so we discovered nothing other than we really wanted 240's)was that in the second phase, the 249 rounds would bounce off the engine and start killing folks in the passenger compartment.

"Where were you hit, son?"
"Somewhere between Geneva and the Hague, sir!"

Posted by: y7 at October 24, 2006 01:15 PM

The Hague Conventions prohibition on the use of expanding projectiles does not apply in Iraq (or in any action against terrorists) since combat is not occuring between two signatories to the Convention. American forces are serving with the express permission of the lawful government of Iraq, it is an internal state matter and, just like domestic law enforcement here, the US and Iraq forces could legally employ non FMJ rounds.

Posted by: ThomasD at October 24, 2006 04:33 PM

"The .40 cal and .45 cal are rapidly taking over the law enforcement market because of their proven stopping power against druggies. I suspect that Jihadists are in the same category of difficulty to stop." BobQne

Exactly. In the Phillipine Insurrection, the Moros would not go down despite being repeatedly hit. In the RVN, my first platoon sergeant carried a Thompson. He had more stopping power than all the M-16's in my fire team. More than once I saw an officer drop his M-16 & use his M1911.

We have a great military these days. Why is this such a problem?

Posted by: DaSarge at October 24, 2006 07:22 PM

There's another factor not yet mentioned here, even by vets of the current conflict-

The Mk262 round was developed precisely to address the problem with carbines firing the NATO load.

The NATO load, IMO, is the problem. We should just tell NATO to get fucked, and let the morons in Brussels catch up to ourselves and Israel. As also mentioned, we aren't fighting another Geneva signator- so bring on the BTHPs.

Fragmentation is what makes the 5.56 round deadly- velocities needed to fragment an FMJ projectile are not attained from a barrel of less than 20". The Mk262 was developed to provide reliable fragmentation (read: energy transfer) out to 300 yards, which is well beyond the majority of engagements experienced by combat teams in Iraq, from the barrels currently fielded by infantrymen ranging down to 10.5".

The purpose of the 6.5/6.8 rounds currently under development is to provide a platform which could conceivably be adapted to not only anti-personnel, but also certain anti-materiel and sniping purposes without requiring the use of a specialized sniping weapon.

Posted by: Darth Bacon at October 26, 2006 05:03 AM