Here is something for info.
Military rifle bullet wound patterns
by Martin L. Fackler
In addition to the full-metal-jacketed construction which makes them
"military" bullets, the pointed ogival "spitzer" tip shape is shared by
all modern military bullets. The obvious advantage of this streamlined
shape is decreased air drag, allowing the bullet to retain velocity better
for improved long-range performance. A modern military 7.62 mm bullet (with
all-lead core) will lose only about one-third of its muzzle velocity over
467 m; the same weight bullet with a round-nose shape loses more than one-half
of its velocity over the same distance.
More pertinent to the present discussion is this pointed shape's effect
on the bullet's yaw in tissue. The first full-metal-jacketed bullets (1885-1910)
were over four calibres long and round-nosed. Typical of this bullettype
are the 6.5 mm Carcano and the 30-40 Krag bullets; they penetrate tissue
simulant travelling point-forward for 50 cm or more before significant
yaw begins (Fackler, M.L., unpublished data, 1987). The very minimal wounding
effect produced by these early round-nosed jacketed bullets was remarked
upon by surgeons of the time (Kocher, Markins, Brunner, Abbott, LaGarde,
etc.). Even those soldiers with through-and-through chest wounds in which
the bullet missed the large vessels (but passed through the lung) would
be fit to rejoin their units in a few weeks.
The distance that the military-type bullet travels point-forward before
yawing is critical to wounding effects. The distance shown on the wound
profiles is the average distance at which this occurs. However, it is important
to recognise how much shot-to-shot variation from this average distance
can be expected. Taking the M16 wound profile (Fig. 6) as an example, it shows significant yaw starting at a 12cm penetration depth. Seven out of
ten shots can be expected to begin yaw within 26 % of this distance (between
nine and 16 cm penetration depth). This plus or minus 25 % rule is a useful
approximation that can be applied to the otherwound profiles. Let us apply
it to the 50 cm distance-to- yaw for the older bullets; whether the bullet
begins to yaw between 37 or 63 cm penetration distance does not effect
most wounds of the human body because, in the great majority of cases,
the total tissue path will be less than 37 cm.
Conversely, inconsistent effects have been noted in wounds caused by
the M16 and other modern military bullets. Considering the variation in
length of the possible tissue path through the human body, this "inconsistency"
of effect is to be expected. Beware! This variation can be used to dupe
the unsuspecting. A series of shots through a 14 or 15 cm block of tissue
simulant or the leg of a 25 kg animal can give enough variation so that,
by selective choice of exit wound photographs, one can "prove" any point
one wishes (such as one bullet being less "humane" than another). The author
hopes, that understanding this, will make the reader less likely prey to
this sort of deception.
Bullet mass and bullet striking velocity establish a bullet's potential;
they set the limit on the tissue disruption it can produce. Bullet shape
and construction determine how much of this potential is actually used
to disrupt tissue; they are the major determinants of bullet effect. Far
and away the most disruptive bullet of those described is the West German
7.62 NATO round. Its fragmenting behaviour maximises utilisation of its
much higher potential (bullet mass well over twice that of any of the 5.56mm
bullets and velocity only about ten percent less than theirs) for tissue
This author has not tested other European 7.62 NATO rounds, but the
"NATO standards" apparently allow bullet designers great latitude in the
choice of bullet jacket material and thickness. In 1979 a published high-speed
x-ray photograph showed the Swedish 7.62 equivalent to the 7.62 NATO bullet
breaking in a soap block shot at a range of 100m. Although bullet fragments
were not recovered and photographed (the importance of bullet fragmentation
in tissue disruption was not well recognised at the time), one must suspect
the same very disruptive behaviour from this bullet as from the West German
round. This is particularly ironic since the Swedish wound ballistics program
was using every means possible to discredit the M16 as "inhumane" while,
at the same time, Sweden was producing a 7.62 mm military bullet that caused
far more extensive wounds than the M16.
Whether we like to admit it or not, the primary purpose of military
rifle bullets is to disrupt human tissue. Yet the effects of bullets on
bodies - the characteristic tissue disruption patterns produced by various
bullets - remains unclear even to many of those who design and produce
bullets. Surgeons who are called upon to treat the damage bullets cause,
with few exceptions, lack practical knowledge of bullet effects. Attempts
to fill this information void with formulae, graphs, flawed experiments, invalid assumptions, and theories based on half-truth (or no truth at all)
have only increased confusion.
The obvious - simply measuring, recording and describing the disruption
produced by various calibres and bullet types - has largely been ignored
in favour of more dramatic and complex methodology. To illustrate the problem:
if a neighbour told you that a meteorite had fallen into his back yard,
wouldn't you ask him how deep and how large a hole it had made? If he replied that he had, on good authority, an estimation of the meteor's
striking velocity and the amount of kinetic energy it had "deposited"
and gave you both these figures, you might be impressed by the sophistication
of this information, but you still wouldn't know how big a hole he had
in his yard.
Roger Frost, in his cogent editorial "Bullet holes in theories" (IDR
8/1988 p.875) suggested that the various groups interested in gunshot wounds
need to "start to talk to one another". Let's add that the talk needs to
be in terms that can be understood by all - to inform rather than to impress.
In order to illustrate the penetrating projectile-body tissue interaction,
the "wound profile" method was developed. It is an attempt to present a
useful approximation of the pertinent, useful, factual data to clarify
bullet effects in a form that can be readily understood. The profiles depict
the maximum disruption that a given bullet can be expected to produce in
the elastic soft tissue of the living animal. The "permanent crush cavity"
indicated on the wound profiles is the "bullethole" produced by the projectile
crushing the tissue it strikes. The "temporary stress cavity" shows the
approximate extent to which the walls of this hole were stretched a few
milliseconds after bullet passage (entirely analogous to a splash in water).
Anyone who has ever seen a bullet hole recognises that in many cases
it is, in fact, more what might be called a potential hole; it need not
be gaping open. One can, however, easily pass a probe through it, as is
commonly done by forensic pathologists to establish the direction or angle
of the shot. How deeply the bullet penetrated and its attitude (yawed or
straight) and form (deformed or fragmented) as it penetrated. along with
the approximate distance the walls of the hole were stretched after the bullet passed (temporary cavity) - this is the crucial information needed
to understand the wounding mechanisms.
Figure 1. Fired bullets internal cross section from left:AK-47, AK-74,
5,56 x 45 NATO, 7,62 x 51 NATO.
To describe wounding patterns of the common military rifle bullets in
use today, wound profiles will, along with a description of the two characteristic
wounds for each bullet, be used. A simple abdominal wound, and an uncomplicated
(didn't hit bone or large vessels) human thigh wound caused by each bullet,
will be described to demonstrate how the material presented as wound profiles,
can be put to practical use. This should give the combat surgeon some idea
of what to expect. His descriptions of the wounds he actually treats, if
they differ significantly from the expected pattern, might be the first
indication of a change in enemy weapon or bullet type. Patterns of bullet
fragmentation as seen on x-ray, or even the tissue disruption pattern as observed in the body, can be compared with the series of wound profiles
to estimate the bullet type when the bullet has passed entirely through.
Current rifle bullets
Soviet 7.62x39mm - The Soviet AK-47 Kalashnikov fires a full-metal-jacketed,
boat-tail bullet that has a copper-plated steel jacket, a large steel core,
and some lead between the two. In tissue, this bullet typically travels
for about 26cm point-forward before beginning significant yaw. This author
observed, on many occasions, the damage pattern shown in Fig. 2 while treating battle casualties in Da Nang, Vietnam (1968). The typical path through
the abdomen caused minimal disruption; holes in organs were similar to
those caused by a non-hollow-point handgun bullet. The average uncomplicated
thigh wound was about what one would expect from a low-powered handgun:
a small, punctuate entrance and exit wound with minimal intervening muscle disruption.
Figure 2. AK-47, 7,62 x 39 mm FMJ, 713 m/s 7,8g
Yugoslav 7.62x39mm - The Yugoslav copper-jacketed, lead-core, flat-base
bullet, even when fired from the same Kalashnikov assault rifle, acts very
differently in tissue. It typically travels point-forward for only about
9cm before yawing. Due to the lead core, this bullet flattens somewhat
as it yaws, squeezing a few small lead fragments out at its open base,
but this does not add significantly to its wounding potential. Referring
to the wound profile of the Soviet AK-47 bullet (Fig. 2) and blotting out
the first 17cm of the projectile path will leave a good approximation of
what one might expect from this bullet.
Since this bullet would be travelling sideways through most of its path
in an abdominal wound, it would be expected to cut a swath over three times
the dimension made by the bullet travelling point forward. In addition
to the larger hole in organs from the sideways-travelling bullet, the tissue
surrounding the bullet path will be stretched considerably from temporary
cavitation. Actual damage from the stretch of cavitation can vary from
an almost explosive effect, widely splitting a solid organ such as the liver, or a hollow one such as the bladder if it is full at the time it
is hit, to almost no observable effect if the hollow organs (such as intestines)
when hit contain little liquid and/or air. The exit wound may be punctate
or oblong, depending on the bullet's orientation as it struck the abdominal
wall at the exit point. The exit wound could be stellate if sufficient
wounding potential remains at this point on the bullet path. The thigh
entrance wound will be small and punctate but the exit wound will probably
be stellate, measuring up to 11 cm from the tips of opposing splits. The
stellate exit wound results from the temporary cavity simply stretching
the skin beyond its breaking point. These stellate wounds generally bleed
very little. Small-to medium-sized vessels are certainly cut or torn, but
cavity tearing action generally stimulates the tiny muscles in the
vessel walls to constrict and clots will form in their open ends, limiting
blood loss. Being wide open, these wounds tend to drain and heal amazingly
well even in situations of limited surgical resources. This increased tissue
disruption of the leg will, of course, temporarily limit the mobility of
the person hit to a greater extent than wounds causing less tissue disruption.
Soviet 5.45x39mm - This is fired from the AK-74, which is the Soviet
contribution to the new generation of smaller-calibre assault rifles and
which produces the wound profile seen in Fig. 3. The full metal-jacketed
bullet designed for this weapon has a copper-plated steel jacket and a
largely steel core, as does the bullet of its predecessor, the AK-47. A
unique design feature of the AK-74, however, is an air-space (about 5mm
long) inside the jacket at the bullet's tip (Fig 1). The speculation that
this air-space would cause bullet deformation and fragmentation on impact
proved to be unfounded, but the air-space does serve to shift the builet's
centre of mass toward the rear, possibly contributing to its very early
yaw. In addition, on bullet impact with tissue, the lead just behind the
air-space shifts forward into this space. This shift of lead occurs asymmetrically
and may be one reason for the peculiar curvature of this bullet's path
in the last half of its path through tissue (Fig 3). Only in a shot with
a long tissue path, like an oblique shot through the torso, would this
curved path be evident; it doesn't really add anything to wounding capacity,
but might cause an occasional confusing path through tissue. This bullet
yaws after only about 7cm of tissue penetration, assuring an increased
temporary cavity stretch disruption in a higher percentage of extremity
hits; other bullets need more tissue depth to yaw and in many cases cause
only minimal disruption on extremity hits.
Figure 3. AK-74 5,45 x 39 mm FMJ 935 m/s 3,4 g
The abdomen and thigh wounds expected from this bullet would be essentially
the same as those described above for the Yugoslav variation of the AK-47
All pointed bullets that do not deform end their tissue path travelling
base first, since this puts their centre of mass forward; this is their
stable attitude. The rotation imparted to the bullet by the rifled gun
barrel is sufficient to force the bullet to travel point-forward in air
(in properly designed weapons), but not in tissue where such factors as
bullet shape and the location of centre of mass far outweigh rotation effects.
The bi-lobed yaw patterns shown in the profiles of the AK-47 and the AK-74 represent what is seen in most shots. Sometimes the bullet yaws to 180°,
or the base-forward position, in one cycle. These variations, along with
the curvature in bullet path at or near the end of tissue path, are of
far less importance than the distance the bullet travels point-forward
before significant yaw begins.
US M193 5.56x45mm - This bullet is fired from the US armed forces' first-generation
smaller-calibre rifle, the M16A1. The large permanent cavity it produces,
shown in the wound profile (Fig. 4), was observed by surgeons who served
in Vietnam, but the tissue disruption mechanism responsible was not clear
until the importance of bullet fragmentation as a cause of tissue disruption
was worked out and described. As shown on the wound profile, this full-metal-jacketed
bullet travels point-forward in tissue for about 12cm after which it yaws
to 90°, flattens, and breaks at the cannelure (groove around bullet
midsection into which the cartridge neck is crimped). The bullet point
flattens but remains in one piece, retaining about 60 per cent of the original
bullet weight. The rear portion breaks into many fragments that penetrate
up to 7cm radially from the bullet path. The temporary cavity stretch,
its effect increased by perforation and weakening of the tissue by fragments,
then causes a much
enlarged permanent cavity by detaching tissue pieces. The degree of
bullet fragmentation decreases with increased shooting distance (as striking
velocity decreases), as shown in Fig. 5. At a shooting distance over about
100m the bullet breaks at the cannelure, forming two large fragments and,
at over 200m, it no longer breaks, although it continues to flatten somewhat,
until 400m. This consistent change in deformation/fragmentation pattern
has an important forensic application. It can be used to estimate shooting
distance if the bullet is recovered in the body and has penetrated only
Figure 4. M193 5,56 x 45 mm FMJ NATO, 943 m/s 3,6 g initial mass, 2,3
g final weight, 36% fragmentation
The effects of this bullet in the abdomen shot will show the temporary
cavity effects as described for the Yugoslav AK-47 and, in addition, there
will be an increased tissue disruption from the synergistic effect of temporary
cavitation acting on tissue that has been weakened by bullet fragmentation.
Instead of finding a hole consistent with the size of the bullet in hollow
organs such as the intestine, we typically find a hole left by missing
tissue of up to 7cm in diameter (see permanent cavity in Fig. 4). The thigh entrance wound will be small and punctuate. The first part of the tissue
path will show minimal disruption. The exit will vary from the small punctuate
hole described for the Soviet AK-47 to the stellate exit described for
the Yugoslav AK-47, depending on how thick the thigh is where the bullet
perforates it. In a sufficiently thick thigh, the M193 bullet fragmentation
is also likely to cause a significant loss of tissue and possibly one or
more small exit wounds near the large stellate one.
Figure 5. NATO M855 / SS109 5,6 x 45mm
Lutz Möller: Dear Reader, Here I put you little Jampressurecalculator,
so you can by yourself recon the Jampressure at the Bullettip. From Fluiddynamic
one knows the Jampressuereformula ps = ½ * rho*v².
See by yourself which fairytalelike high pressures result upon impact.
Fill in some Speeds in m/s. When you then hit the "recon"-button, I (true:
Speed: m/s Pressure: bar
The Brakeforce results from effective Pressure over the Area. As the
full Jampressure only applies on the Bullettop, from there dimishes to
the side and finally lifts off to Zero, leaving a pressureless Cavity,
one marks a bullet with a Drag Cofficient Cd, so F = -Cd * A * ½
* rho * v²
The slightly heavier and longer American M855 bullet shot from the M16A2
assault rifle is replacing the M193 bullet shot from the M16A1 as the standard
bullet of the US armed forces. FN Herstal originally developed this bullet
type (which has a steel "penetrator" as the forward part of its core -
Fig. 1) designating its bullet the SS109. The wound profile (Fig. 6) is
very similar to that produced by the M 193 bullet. Although the SS109 and
the M866 are not the same bullet, their differences are small and one almost
needs a magnifying glass and a side-by-side comparison to differentiate
the two. There is little difference in their performance in tissue.
The abdominal and the thigh wound produced by the M856 or the SS109
bullets would be essentially the same as those described above for the
M16A1 M193 bullet.
Figure 6. M856 5,56 x 45 mm FMJ 925 m/s initial mass 4 g, final mass
2 g, 50% fragmentation
The longer 5.56mm bullets (M866, SS109) need a higher rotational velocity
to maintain stabilisation in air. FN claimed that this faster rotation
also causes the SS109 to have a significantly longer path in tissue before
marked yaw occurs, thus producing wounds of less severity. This is simply
untrue (compare Fig. 6 with Fig. 6). Additional rotation beyond that needed
to keep the bullet straight in air appears to have little or no effect
on the projectile's behaviour in tissue. However, there is a situation concerning rotation rates whereby these longer 5.66mm bullets can cause
increased wound severity. Shooting the SS109 or M865 bullet in the older
M16A1 rifle barrel (they are not intended for use in this 1-in- 12 in twist
barrel, but in the newer M 16A2 1-in-7in twist) produces a bullet spin
rate insufficient to stabilise the longer bullets. Such a bullet will yaw
up to 70° in its path through air. Striking at this high yaw angle
(essentially travelling sideways), these bullets break on contact and the
marked fragmentation, acting in synergy with the temporary cavity stretch,
causes a large (over 15cm) stellate wound with the loss of considerable
tissue (Fackler, M.L., unpublished data, 1988).
Figure 7. American 7,62x51 NATO FMJ, 862 m/s, 9,7g
NATO 7.62x51mm FMJ (US version) - This full-metal-jacketed military
bullets wound profile (Fig. 7) shows the characteristic behaviour in tissue
observed in all non-deforming pointed bullets. It yaws first through 90°
and then, after reaching the base-forward position continues the rest of
its path with little or no yaw.
The uncomplicated thigh wound might show very minimal tissue disruption
since the streamlined bullet tends to travel point forward during the first
16cm of its tissue path. The abdominal wound, with a sufficiently long
path so that the bullet will yaw, causing the large temporary cavity that
is seen at depths of 20 to 35cm, would be expected to be very disruptive.
If the bullet path is such that this temporary cavity occurs in the liver,
this amount of tissue disruption is likely to make survival improbable.
Figure 8. German 7.62 x 51 mm FMJ NATO left, same american right
The design standards for ammunition that can be called "NATO" ammunition
do not specify bullet jacket material or jacket thickness. The construction
of the West German 7.62 mm NATO bullet differs from the US 7.62 mm NATO
round in that, the jacket material is copper plated steel, whereas the
US version is copper (or the so called gilding metal alloy, which is predominantly
copper). The West German steel jacket is about 0.6mm thick near the cannelure
and the US copper jacket is about 0.8mm thick at the same point. This design
difference is responsible for a vast difference in performance in tissue.
The German bullet, after travelling point-forward for only about 8 cm,
yaws and breaks at the cannelure. The flattened point section retains only
about 66 % of the bullet's weight, the remaining 45 % mass becomes fragments
. The wound profile can be described as an enlarged M16 profile
(Fig. 3), with dimensions of the tissue disruption increased by 60 % (temporary
stress cavity about 22 cm diameter; permanent crush cavity about 11 cm
diameter, penetration depth of the bullet point about 58 cm). The uncomplicated
thigh wound from this bullet is likely to have a large exit with the loss
of substantial tissue near the exit; still, this might not be a very serious
wound since the bullet fragmentation does not occur until beyond 10 cm
penetration depth and, in most shots, the bullet will have passed well
beyond the major vessels before this occurs. The abdomen shot, however, because of the much enlarged permanent cavity from bullet fragmentation,
is likely to prove fatal in a majority of cases.
Sovjet and Chinese 7.62 x 54 mm R (Rimmed case) - This bullet, although
not nearly as common as the AK-47 or the others discussed above, is included
because it is currently used in the Dragunov sniper rifle and the Communist
bloc light machine-guns. Also, since it was the standard Soviet military
round in WW1 and WW2 (in the bolt-action Mosin-Nagant), it might well be
found in considerable numbers in some Third World countries. The bullet
weighs 9,6 g; the base is hollowed out with a cone-shaped cavity - 5 mm
deep for the Sovjet, 3 mm deep for the Chinese). The Sovjet bullet has
a copper-plated steel jacket and the Chinese one has a jacket of what appears
to be brass. The muzzle velocity is about 853 m/s and the wound profile
closely resembles that of the 7.62 mm NATO (US version). Thigh and abdominal
shots thus would be as described above for the US 7.62 mm NATO bullet.
Betreff: [HK-L] Re: Fragmenting
Datum: Thu, 20 Jan 2000 21:49:37
I'm afraid I don't share the admiration for the 55 grain M16 at any range
beyond 100 meters. Too many first hand close-up-and-personal experiences
in rather muddy jungle areas where they didn't get the job done for me
to trust them at more than 100 meters. And even then I've seen the 55 grain
do no more damage than a .22 rifle in some cases. What a .223 is SUPPOSED
to do and what it does in real life are two different things. Ever wonder
why they put 3-shot burst devices on many of the newer weapons? A hint...it
wasn't just to conserve ammo. I'd much rather score a single solid torso
hit with a 7.62NATO (with an H&K G3 of course;) than a multiple hit
with a varmit cartridge. While I agree that "wonder bullets" like the Glaser,
etc., are not ultimate killers...they DO have applications. As in airplanes
where you don't want any misses blowing out your cabin pressure at 20,000
feet. However, I am VERY reluctant to trust laboratories for finding the
ideal cartridge for street use. I don't give a dang if they spend the whole
budget surplus (if there still is one) to reach their findings. Labs can
NOT duplicate street situations or military combat scenarios.
Better check that effective range info for the SS109. I think it is
superior to the M193 and not inferior.
> Date sent:
Thu, 20 Jan 2000 10:59:32 -0500
Chuck Santose <email@example.com>
Michael Bonomo <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
> Mike --
> The M16 bullet (actually M193 Ball and M855 Ball) is extremely effective
to roughly 170 meters beyond which the bullet is unlikely to fragment and
cause the giant wounds these rifles are famous for. This is why military
ball ammo causes larger wounds than JHPs from THIS rifle at THESE ranges.
(M16-type carbines have less MV and less real effective range. The darling 10" "CAR-15" bbls used by Delta operators in Somalia proved very
> [M855 Ball -- the newer 62gr steel cored bullet -- has a shorter effective
range than older M193 Ball because it starts off almost 200 > fps slower.]
> Fragmentation of M16 military ball ruptures the walls of the giant
temporary cavity caused by the high velocity bullet turning it into a
very large permanent wound cavity. This cavity is located DEEP within
the target where it has great potential of damaging vital organs.
> Pistol bullets don't move fast enough to cause temporary cavities
of any significance and none shred it with fragments.
> Bozo Bullets like MagSafes, Glasers, Tritons are designed to fragment.
So what? There's no temporary cavity to rip apart. These bullets
rarely penetrate deep enough to have any potential of reaching vital organs.
They can cause large shallow wounds which are much less likely to incapacitate
an attacker than deeper wounds. These bullets are effective in fragmentation. They are ineffective in incapacitation.
> Laboratories like those at the FBI and California Highway Patrol have
spent a lot of our tax dollars determining the most effective cartridges
for pistols of all calibers. Their criteria is based on what it takes
to incapacitate a determined attacker in a gun fight.
Why anyone would choose a lesser bullet (like MagSafe, Glaser, or Triton)
is a mystery to me!
> -- Chuck
The HK List is sponsored by Street Smart Professional Equipment. For
the finest in public safety equipment and tactical gear, For list instructions
Peter G. Kokalis, Editor of Fighting Firearms Magazine from http://remtek.com/cfi/aw/awcfile.htm
Both the AWP and AW CFI Limited Edition rifles chamber throats optimized
for the Federal 308M cartridge that features the superbly accurate Sierra
168-grain BTHP Matchking bullet. Developed for 300-meter shooting in international
matches, this remarkable Boat-Tail Hollow-Point bullet has been winning
competitions ever since it was introduced in 1959. It was used by the gold-medal
winner in the 1968 Olympics and set a new Wimbledon record at 200-15 Xs
in 1983 at Camp Perry. With Federal 308M I have shot 0.25 MOA at 200 yards
and 0.5 MOA at 300 yards with the AW CFI Limited Edition rifle equipped
with the AWC Thundertrap sound suppressor. It just doesn't get any better
than this. The Sierra 168-grain BTHP Matchking bullet remains far and away
the most popular bullet among law-enforcement selected marksmen in the
United States. But, is it really the best choice from a wound ballistics'
The hollow-point cavity in this competition target bullet does not guarantee
the type of consistent, early expansion exhibited by hollow points and
soft points designed for use on living-tissue targets. Research recently
conducted by Lucien C. Haag and reported in the Wound Ballistics Review
(Vol. 2, No. 2), the journal of the International Wound Ballistics Association,
revealed that these bullets frequently fail to expand in tissue simulant
even after as much as 6 inches of penetration and with close range impact
velocities. Dr. Martin L. Fackler, in the same issue of the journal, reported
that these bullets will commonly break up after 7 inches of penetration.
His experiments indicated that when the cavity was increased in diameter
to 0.055 inch by a drill, reliable expansion was obtained after penetrating
less than one inch of 10% gelatin or muscle. Recent controlled testing
has demonstrated that this alteration degrades accuracy
by no more than 0.1 MOA - an insignificant amount. Winchester is reportedly
in the process of developing their own bullet for law-enforcement use that
will provide both match-grade accuracy and reliable performance in tissue.
WITH THE WOUND BALLISTICS LITERATURE and why by M. Fackler
Sniper Use of Open-Tip Ammunition
Submitted by Don Bain
MEMORANDUM FOR COMMANDER, UNITED STATES ARMY SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND SUBJECT: Sniper Use of Open-Tip Ammunition
This memorandum considers whether United States Army Snipers may employ
match-grade, "open-tip" ammunition in combat or other special missions.
It concludes that such ammunition does not violate the law of war obligations
of the United States, and may be employed in peacetime or wartime missions
of the Army.
For more than a decade two bullets have been available for use by the
United States Army Marksmanship Unit in match competition in its 7.62mm
rifles. The M118 is a 173-grain match grade full metal jacket boat tail,
ogival spitzer tip bullet, while the M852 is the Sierra MatchKing 168-grain
match grade boat tail, ogival spitzer tip bullet with an open tip. Although
the accuracy of the M118 has been reasonably good, though at times erratic,
independent bullet comparisons by the Army, Marine Corps, and National
Guard marksmanship training units have established unequivocally the superior
accuracy of the M852. Army tests noted a 36% improvement in accuracy with
the M852 at 300 meters, and a 32% improvement at 600 yds; Marine Corps
figures were twenty-eight percent accuracy improvement at 300 m, and 20%
at 600yds. The National Guard determined that the M852 provided better
bullet groups at 200 and 600 yards under all conditions than did the M118.
The 168-grain MatchKing was designed in the late 1950's for 300 m. shooting
in international rifle matches. In its competitive debut, it was used by
the 1st place winner at the 1959 Pan American Games. In the same caliber
but in its various bullet lengths, the MatchKing has set a number of international
records. To a range of 600 m., the superiority of the accuracy of the M852
cannot be matched, and led to the decision by U.S. military marksmanship
training units to use the M852 in competition.
A 1980 opinion of this office concluded that use of the M852 in match
competition would not violate law of war obligations of the United States.
(citation omitted) Further tests and actual competition over the past decade
have confirmed the superiority of the M852 over the M118 and other match
grade bullets. For example, at the national matches held at Camp Perry,
OH in 1983, a new Wimbledon record of 2--015 X's was set using the 168-gr.
MatchKing. This level of performance lead to the question of whether the
M852 could be used by military snipers in peacetime or wartime missions
of the Army.
During the period in which this review was conducted, the 180-gr. MatchKing
(for which there is no military designation) also was tested with a view
to increased accuracy over the M852 at very long ranges. Because two bullet
weights were under consideration, the term "MatchKing" will be used hereinafter
to refer to the generic design rather than to a bullet of a particular weight. The fundamental question to be addressed by this review is whether
an open-tip bullet of MatchKing design may be used in combat.
3. Legal Factors.
The principal provision relating to the legality of weapons is contained
in Art. 23e of the Annex to Hague Convention IV Respecting the Laws and
Customs of War on Land of 18 October 1907, which prohibits the employment
of "arms, projectiles, or material of a nature to cause superfluous injury".
In some law of war treatises, the term "unnecessary suffering" is used
rather than "superfluous injury." The terms are regarded as synonymous.
To emphasize this, Art. 35, para. 2 of the 1977 Protocol I Additional to
the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, states in part that "It is prohibited
to employ weapons [and] projectiles . . . of a nature to cause superfluous
injury or unnecessary suffering." Although the U.S. has made the formal
decision that for military, political, and humanitarian reasons it will
not become a party to Protocol I, U.S. officials have taken the position
that the language of Art. 35(2) of Protocol I as quoted is a codification
of customary international law, and therefore binding upon all nations.
The terms "unnecessary suffering" and "superfluous injury" have not
been formally defined within international law. In determining whether
a weapon or projectile causes unnecessary suffering, a balancing test is
applied between the force dictated by military necessity to achieve a legitimate
objective vis-à-vis suffering that may be considered superfluous
to achievement of that intended objective. The test is not easily applied.
For this reason, the degree of "superfluous" injury must be clearly disproportionate
to the intended objectives for development and employment of the weapon,
that is, it must outweigh substantially the military necessity for the
weapon system or projectile.
The fact that a weapon causes suffering does not lead to the conclusion
that the weapon causes unnecessary suffering, or is illegal per se. Military
necessity dictates that weapons of war lead to death, injury, and destruction;
the act of combatants killing or wounding enemy combatants in combat is
a legitimate act under the law of war. In this regard, there is an incongruity
in the law of war in that while it is legally permissible to kill an enemy
combatant, incapacitation must not result inevitably in unnecessary suffering.
What is prohibited is the design (or modification) and employment of a
weapon for the purpose of increasing or causing suffering beyond that required
by military necessity. In conducting the balancing test necessary to determine
a weapon's legality, the effects of a weapon cannot be viewed in isolation.
They must be examined against comparable weapons in use on the modern battlefield,
and the military necessity for the weapon or projectile under consideration.
In addition to the basic prohibition on unnecessary suffering contained
in Art. 23e of the 1907 Hague IV, one other treaty is germane to this review.
The Hague Declaration Concerning Expanding Bullets of 29 July 1899 prohibits
the use in international armed conflict:
". . . of bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body,
such as bullets with a hard envelope which does not entirely cover the
core or is pierced with incisions."
The U.S. is not a party to this treaty, but U.S. officials over the
years have taken the position that the armed forces of the U.S. will adhere
to its terms to the extent that its application is consistent with the
object and purpose of Art. 23e of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV,
It is within the context of these two treaties that questions regarding
the legality of the employment of the MatchKing "open tip" bullet must
4. Bullet Description.
As previously described, the MatchKing is a boat tail, ogival spitzer
tip bullet with open tip. The "open tip" is a shallow aperture (approximately
the diameter of the wire in a standard size straight pin or paper clip)
in the nose of the bullet. While sometimes described as a "hollow point,"
this is a mischaracterization in law of war terms. Generally a "hollow
point" bullet is thought of in terms of its ability to expand on impact
with soft tissue. Physical examination of the MatchKing "open tip" bullet
reveals that its opening is extremely small in comparison to the aperture
in comparable hollow point hunting bullets; for example, the 165-grain GameKing is a true hollow point boat tail bullet with an aperture substantially
greater than the MatchKing, and skiving (serrations cut into the jacket)
to insure expansion. In the MatchKing, the open tip is closed as much as
possible to provide better aerodynamics, and contains no skiving. The lead
core of the MatchKing bullet is entirely covered by the bullet jacket. While the GameKing bullet is designed to bring the ballistic advantages
of a match bullet to long range hunting, the manufacturer expressly recommends
against the use of the MatchKing for hunting game of any size because it
does not have the expansion characteristics of a hunting bullet.
The purpose of the small, shallow aperture in the MatchKing is to provide
a bullet design offering maximum accuracy at very long ranges, rolling
the jacket of the bullet around its core from base to tip; standard military
bullets and other match bullets roll the jacket around its core from tip
to base, leaving an exposed lead core at its base. Design purpose of the
MatchKing was not to produce a bullet that would expand or flatten easily
on impact with the human body, or otherwise cause wounds greater than those
caused by standard military small arms ammunition.
5. MatchKing performance.
Other than its superior long range marksmanship capabilities, the MatchKing
was examined with regard to its performance on impact with the human body
or in artificial material that approximates human soft tissue. It was determined
that the bullet will break up or fragment in some cases at some point following
entry into soft tissue. Whether fragmentation occurs will depend upon a
myriad of variables, to include range to the target, velocity at the time
of impact, degree of yaw of the bullet at the point of impact, or the distance
traveled point-first within the body before yaw is induced. The MatchKing
has not been designed to yaw intentionally or to break up on impact. These
characteristics are common to all military rifle bullets. There was little discernible difference in bullet fragmentation between the MatchKing and
other military small arms bullets, with some military ball ammunition of
foreign manufacture tending to fragment sooner in human tissue or to a
greater degree, resulting in wounds that would be more severe than those
caused by the MatchKing. [FNaaa1]
Because of concern over the potential mischaracterization of the M852
as a "hollow point" bullet that might violate the purpose and intent of
the 1899 Hague Declaration Concerning Expanding Bullets, some M852 MatchKing
bullets were modified to close the aperture. The "closed tip" MatchKing
did not measure up to the accuracy of the "open tip" MatchKing.
Other match grade bullets were tested. While some could approach the
accuracy standards of the MatchKing in some lots, quality control was uneven,
leading to erratic results. No other match grade bullet consistently could
meet the accuracy of the open-tip bullet.
6. Law of War Application.
From both a legal and medical standpoint, the lethality or incapacitation
effects of a particular small-caliber projectile must be measured against
comparable projectiles in service. In the military small arms field, "small
caliber" generally includes all rifle projectiles up to and including .60
caliber (15mm). For the purposes of this review, however, comparison will
be limited to small-caliber ammunition in the range of 5.45mm to 7.62mm,
that is, that currently in use in assault or sniper rifles by the military services of most nations.
Wound ballistic research over the past fifteen years has determined
that the prohibition contained in the 1899 Hague Declaration is of minimal
to no value, inasmuch as virtually all jacketed military bullets employed
since 1899 with pointed ogival spitzer tip shape have a tendency to fragment
on impact with soft tissue, harder organs, bone or the clothing and/or
equipment worn by the individual soldier.
The pointed ogival spitzer tip, shared by all modern military bullets,
reflects the balancing by nations of the criteria of military necessity
and unnecessary suffering: its streamlined shape decreases air drag, allowing
the bullet to retain velocity better for improved long-range performance;
a modern military 7.62mm bullet will lose only about one-third of its muzzle
velocity over 500 yards, while the same weight bullet with a round-nose
shape will lose more than one-half of its velocity over the same distance.
Yet the pointed ogival spitzer tip shape also leads to greater bullet breakup,
and potentially greater injury to the soldier by such a bullet vis-à-vis
a round-nose full- metal jacketed bullet. (See Dr. M. L. Fackler, "Wounding
Patterns for Military Rifle Bullets," International Defense Review, January
1989, pp. 56-64, at 63.)
Weighing the increased performance of the pointed ogival spitzer tip
bullet against the increased injury its breakup may bring, the nations
of the world-- through almost a century of practice--have concluded that
the need for the former outweighs concern for the latter, and does not
result in unnecessary suffering as prohibited by the 1899 Hague Declaration
Concerning Expanding Bullets or article 23e of the 1907 Hague Convention
IV. The 1899 Hague Declaration Concerning Expanding Bullets remains valid
for expression of the principle that a nation may not employ a bullet that
expands easily on impact for the purpose of unnecessarily aggravating the
wound inflicted upon an enemy soldier. Such a bullet also would be prohibited
by article 23e of the 1907 Hague IV, however. Another concept fundamental
to the law of war is the principle of discrimination, that is, utilization
of means or methods that distinguish to the extent possible legitimate
targets, such as enemy soldiers, from noncombatants, whether enemy wounded
and sick, medical personnel, or innocent civilians. The highly trained
military sniper with his special rifle and match grade ammunition epitomizes
the principle of discrimination. In combat, most targets are covered or
obscured, move unpredictably, and as a consequence are exposed to hostile
fire for limited periods of time. When coupled with the level of marksmanship
training provided the average soldier and the stress of combat, a soldier's
aiming errors are large and hit probability is correspondingly low. While
the M16A2 rifle currently used by the United States Army and Marine Corps is capable of acceptable accuracy out to six hundred meters, the probability
of an average soldier hitting an enemy soldier at three hundred meters
is ten percent.
Statistics from past wars suggest that this probability figure may be
optimistic. In Would War II, the United States and its allies expended
25,000 rounds of ammunition to kill a single enemy soldier. In the Korean
War, the ammunition expenditure had increased four-fold to 100,000 rounds
per soldier; in the Vietnam War, that figure had doubled to 200,000 rounds
of ammunition for the death of a single enemy soldier. The risk to noncombatants
In contrast, United States Army and Marine Corps snipers in the Vietnam
War expended 1.3 rounds of ammunition for each claimed and verified kill,
at an average range of six hundred yards, or almost twice the three hundred
meters cited above for combat engagements by the average soldier. Some
verified kills were at ranges in excess of 1000 yards. This represents discrimination and military efficiency of the highest order, as well as
minimization of risk to noncombatants. Utilization of a bullet that increases
accuracy, such as the MatchKing, would further diminish the risk to noncombatants.
The purpose of the 7.62mm "open-tip" MatchKing bullet is to provide
maximum accuracy at very long range. Like most 5.56mm and 7.62mm military
ball bullets, it may fragment upon striking its target, although the probability
of its fragmentation is not as great as some military ball bullets currently
in use by some nations. Bullet fragmentation is not a design characteristic, however, nor a purpose for use of the MatchKing by United State Army snipers.
Wounds caused by MatchKing ammunition are similar to those caused by a
fully jacketed military ball bullet, which is legal under the law of war,
when compared at the same ranges and under the same conditions. The military
necessity for its use-- its ability to offer maximum accuracy at very long
ranges--is complemented by the high degree of discriminate fire it offers
in the hands of a trained sniper. It not only meets, but exceeds, the law
of war obligations of the United States for use in combat.
This opinion has been coordinated with the Department of State, Army
General Counsel, and the Offices of the Judge Advocates General of the
Navy and Air Force, who concur with its contents and conclusions.
An opinion that reaches the same conclusion has been issued simultaneously
for the Navy and Marine Corps by The Judge Advocate General of the Navy.
FNa1. The M118 bullet is loaded into a 7.62mm (caliber .308) cartridge.
In its original loading in the earlier .30-06 cartridge, it was the M72.
FNaa1. While this review is written in the context of the M852 Sierra
MatchKing 168-grain "open-tip" bullet and a 180-grain version, the MatchKing
bullet (and similar bullets of other manufacturers) is also produced in
other bullet weights of 7.62mm rifles (.308, .30-06, or .300 Winchester
FNaaa1. For example, 7.62mm bullets manufactured to NATO military specifications
and used by the Federal Republic of Germany have a substantially greater
tendency to fragment in soft tissue than do the U.S. M80 7.62mm ammunition
made to the same specifications, the M118, or the M852 MatchKing. None
fragment as quickly or easily upon entry into soft tissue as the 5.56mm
ammunition manufactured to NATO standards and issued to its forces by the
Government of Sweden. Its early fragmentation leads to far more severe
wounds than any bullet manufactured to military specifications and utilized
by the U.S. military during the past quarter century (whether the M80 7.62mm,
the M16A1, M193 or M16A2 5.56mm) or the opentip MatchKing bullet under