For most of us our usual source of information on firearms and ammunition are publications such as Gun Magazines. There are several things to be aware of before accepting all that you read as Gospel.
The first is that such magazines make their money from advertising. While a writer may be allowed to say he doesn't like a 9mm for self-defence, very few editors would allow a statement such as claiming that all 9mm weapons are a poor choice for self-defence and police use.
Many writers like to dress their articles with graphs and tables. However, some of them do not have a very good grounding in science or statistics. I've seen an author say he'd ignored the data from rounds that did not mushroom, when in fact how often that didn't happen is of great interest. Sample groups are often too small to draw conclusions from, and interpretation is also often a problem, the evidence on the graph sometimes contradicting the writer's conclusions.
The format itself may also be a problem. A 125gr round at 1,450fps producing 584ftlbs looks a lot sexier in print than a 200gr at 950fps with 401ftlbs. But in fact the heavier round with less energy is likely to be more effective over a greater range envelope.
The document below describes an extensive series of trials, the findings of which often contradict the opinions you may see in Gun Magazines. The papers written on the results are under a gag order, but no such restriction applies to the recollections of the experimenters. The findings of these trials is of considerable importance to anyone who uses firearms for defence and needs to be more widely circulated.
Bruce Jones is a USMC Infantry Weapons Program Manager and has served for over 30 years in the area of use, design, test and manufacturing of weapons for the U.S. Department of Defense, both in and out of uniform. The Scrapboard thanks him for making the recollections of his colleague available to the public.
The Pig Board II
Bruce L. Jones
Program Manager Infantry Weapons
USMC - Pacific Theater
October 13, 1998
Re: Law Enforcement/Military Cartridge Effectiveness Study
Conducted 1995 - 1996
In the recent past, performance tests were conducted to determine the ballistic effects of different weapons and ammunition on flesh and bone targets, living and dead, and to determine the efficacy of different types and designs of body armor in defeating the threats presented by these projectiles.
The following information was taken from the personal notes of an experienced law enforcement observer in the field of forensics from a large western law enforcement agency.
The final reports were proprietary to armor manufacturers who funded the research as well as being classified as proprietary/ confidential by certain government agencies that placed a gag order on distributing data from the report. The report itself can't be distributed, however, the individual mentioned above was under no such constraint to not discuss what he saw and wrote down in his personal notes.
It should be noted that on at least two other different occasions in the past, the U.S. Army has conducted similar tests on unarmored subjects. The first of these was a handgun test in conducted in 1904 that resulted in the adoption of the .45ACP cartridge as the military standard and the second was convened in June of 1928 and dubbed the Pig Board due to it's use of pigs as test subjects. The purpose of the Pig Board was to determine the most effective cartridge for use in military rifles against human targets. That exercise resulted in the identification of a .276 caliber (approximate 7mm) high velocity bullet as the optimum choice. That choice was not put into practice, although the M1 Garand was developed in a working model for it, because a high ranking general of the time (General Douglas MacArthur) insisted on using the already developed .30/06 cartridge; which was more powerful anyway. Thus the Army adopted the M1 Garand in .30/06 caliber, which was later changed to the .308 caliber. The .308 caliber approximated the results of the .276 in a larger diameter projectile. This choice was probably precipitated by the popular manufacture of commercial weapons in the .308 caliber.(1)
In the current modern test instance, tests were conducted on human cadavers, live pigs and ballistic gelatin, both unprotected and protected by modern body armor. Test weapon types were rifles, shotguns and pistols. There was about fourteen months of research conducted.
(Note: Cadaver research is common, as Coroners and Medical Examiners receive hundreds of unclaimed cadavers or donated ones that are unsuitable for the usual medical research. They are then used for other forms of research with Medical examiner and/or coroner approval. Cadavers are tested with respect, the faces and bodies covered, only the area tested is exposed. After use, the Coroner examines tissue damage to gage injury, wound channels, secondary projectiles, armor failure or internal injury from vest success with high energy projectile stops).
The research was conducted in phases:
Testing confirmed that in most instances the lighter Hollow Point (HP) projectiles (.380, 9mm, .40 cal.) open prematurely or do not open at all, the HP cup filling with target medium, turning itself into lighter ball ammo, or the HP projectile takes a different path from the flight path upon entering the target medium, resulting in non lethal hits or lesser wounds than intended due to deflection of the projectile from the unstable HP cup reacting to hydrostatic pressure from impact with the target medium (veering off course, so to speak).(2)
- Rifles, shotguns and then handweapons, in that order.
- Cadavers with body armor.
- Cadavers without body armor.
- Live pigs with body armor.
- Live pigs w/o body armor.
Heavier Ball ammo (any round of 200gr weight or greater) such as .45ACP 230 gr., .44 Special 246 gr., .45 LC 255 gr., .38 Special 200 gr. LRN,(3) all followed the intended flight path, even upon hitting bone. These projectiles gave the best observed handgun performance in creating damage that would be consistent with producing incapacitation of a human target with the fewest possible shots fired. They also did not exit the cadaver torso as the energy was invariably shed in the target, leaving no apparent energy for over-penetration and exit(4). Exit wounds did occur with face shots, head shots and extremities, face shots causing imparting of secondary velocity to teeth and chunks of bone, creating secondary fragment projectiles.
In terminal ballistics, all HP's of the same approximate weight and approximate velocity are equal in performance. Velocities in handguns are essentially insufficient to provide predictable opening when necessary or desired in human targets. The most effective HP's in .45ACP are those that retain the original weight of 230 gr. as they will continue to function as well as ball ammo, whether they open or not.
Testing was also done on a comparison of handgun ammunition between hard cast lead, swaged lead and semi-jacketed soft point to FMJ. Testing was only done to examine the types of wounds produced, not for armor protection as none of those projectiles in handgun loads, including .44 Magnum and .454 Casull can penetrate level IIA or III body armor. Hard alloy lead (like linotype metal) performed somewhat like FMJ and bored straight through. To be exact, #2 Lyman chilled 230 gr. .45's were tested on cadavers and they duplicated FMJ results. Softer lead gave surprising results(5), in that it deformed on impact but pushed ahead through bone and flesh and shed its velocity and energy quicker, stopping 3 to 5 cm earlier than FMJ. In other words, it produced a MORE violent stopping effect than harder leads. This result also duplicates the Army findings from the 1904 tests. It is problematic for modern law enforcement use, however, as soft lead does not feed reliably in semi-automatic pistols. It's use is outstanding, however, in revolvers as there is no feed travel problem.
Further tests with handgun projectiles custom made of steel or brass drill rod or solid copper rod with a slight truncated cone shape and fired at magnum velocities penetrated level IIA vests and damaged and compromised the level III. These loadings were in .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum.
In defeating armor, the lighter, less than common 7.62x25 Tokarev in it's high velocity variant (Czech round for the vz52 at 1700fps) can penetrate earlier versions of body armor, but newer level IIA will stop it. In the unprotected body, it tends to penetrate on a straight line, as did the old .357 pointed ball, sold in the 50's through the 80's, but does less damage along it's path than the heavier bullets.
Tests indicated that longarm (rifle/shotgun) torso wounds on unarmored targets from modern cartridges are devastating except for the M193 5.56x45mm Ball and similar projectiles which required multiple hits to create lethal stop damage.
Using body armor, no existing body armor except IIA and III levels with ceramic inserts or laminate inserts will stop high-power rifle rounds such as 30-30 or 7.62x39mm Russian. As an example, level III was penetrated by a 30-30 loaded with a 150 gr. PBT (Pointed Boat Tail), while a 150 gr. Soft Point did not penetrate the vest. In either case the wearer would have been injured.
Ceramic and laminate inserts will stop even 30-06 Armor Piercing (AP) projectiles. Curiously, German 7.92mm AP Ball has the greatest range of effective penetration potential of all the standard military calibers. Probably due to the higher sectional density of the heavy 198 gr. 7.92mm bullet.
Under 50-75 yds most AP is no more effective than regular rounds as it has not developed critical velocity/energy for penetration. From 125 out to 250 yards, penetration is almost guaranteed. This occurs as the high velocity AP projectile is still gaining speed(6) and stability out to 125 yards or more.
There are standard hunting rifle cartridges capable of level IIA and III penetration, although it requires a little handloading, or at least replacement of the FMJ with a different type bullet of the same weight. Solid copper projectiles or projectiles turned from brass drill rod will penetrate the level IIA and III with ceramic inserts. These rounds do not break up like FMJ. Projectile weight must be 165 gr. or over. Velocities must be the same as standard high velocity rifle.
Experimentation was conducted with .30-06 AP projectiles pulled from the original cartridges and reloaded in .300 Winchester Magnum (Win Mag) cartridges. They penetrated level IIA and III like butter. It seems the high velocities unachievable in a military gas-operated gun, but simple in a .300 Win Mag bolt gun, makes those old AP penetrators incredibly efficient. They penetrated mediums and combinations of mediums that would have never been considered possible with .30-06 or its sister military calibers in their standard loadings.
It should be noted that if a wearer is protected from certain death wearing high protection armor, the wearer may not escape injury. It has been shown that with solid perpendicular hits the wearer may suffer some form of cardiac impairment form the impact, almost guaranteed separation of the sternum from the rib cage, broken ribs, etc.
But, if a large caliber magnum rifle is used - such as .338, .300, .375 in Win Mag calibers (they were the most consistent) and loaded with SOLID Spitzer Boat Tails, no body armor would stop it. Spitzer Boat tails are THE projectile. They work better than anything else in the AP mode.
It should also be noted that the U.S. Military has developed new armor piercing rounds in .50 BMG and 7.62x51mm that will defeat any of these body armors with extreme ease. They are called Sabot Light Armor Penetrating or SLAP cartridges. These consist of a relatively sharp pointed tungsten carbide dart of a smaller diameter than the weapon's bore encased in a plastic sabot to bring it up to caliber. The projectile is fired at very high velocities and it sheds the sabot on the way to the target. As an example, the .50 BMG SLAP round uses a .415 gr. projectile fired at a speed of 4000 fps (78 ft. from muzzle). It will penetrate approximately .750 ( ¾) inches of high-hardness steel armor at a range of 1500 yards.
Although these tests appear conclusive, the scientific acceptance is tainted by the perceived need for secrecy. This perceived need was driven by two factors, one is a potential profit motive of ballistic vest manufacturer(s) co-sponsoring the tests, while the second is the perceived negative political atmosphere in which such tests may be received by certain anti-weapon activist groups.
It would certainly be important to military and law enforcement agencies if these tests could be replicated in an acceptable enough political atmosphere to make public release of the information acceptable. This office, therefore, recommends such a study be undertaken by the appropriate military agency.
Comments by Bruce Jones
1) Winchester introduced the .308 commercially in 1952. The US Military didn't agree to adopt it as the basic cartridge until 1954 and no weapons were chambered for the government in it until 1957. Thus military followed commercial production.
2) The US Army tested over a million rounds of all makes and manufacture and that is the test result. It has been duplicated by the FBI as well.
3) This 200gr .38 Spl reproduced the ballistics of the British 38/200, so had a muzzle velocity of 630fps. There is a 200gr .357 at 950fps that is even more effective.
4) I was a bit skeptical about the 230gr FMJ not shooting through myself. But assuming solid torso hits on their target model - a 98th %ile male, it is conceivable it's correct. I have seen a few like that done with .45 ACP. It is important to note that there are many bodies that do not fit that mold.
Test were conducted at 3 yards range.
5) That this result is described as surprising may in itself be surprising, given the results of the 1904 tests. The young modern engineers weren't aware of the earlier tests. They had to see for themselves and were surprised as they had been reading too much of the modern popular press.
6) That the bullet gets faster after it leaves the muzzle is a surprising and controversial result. The Army claims it's true and that a projectile doesn't require a barrel to accelerate. Alas, I cannot give an answer from personal experience so complete verification isn't entirely possible for me. I asked that question from the source, Army ammunition developers who developed that specific cartridge. The answer is theirs.
The Army guys [ballistic engineers] claimed to me that they measured it at distance increments of 10ft for a full 100 ft from the muzzle and so derived their statement. Projectiles can continue to accellerate as the Ammo plant test people showed me as the gas column is still pressing on the base of the projectile and still expanding in velocity as it too exits the barrel behind the projectile at a much higher velocity than the projectile. They claim this is why. Basically, they asserted to me that the effect of the explosion and propulsion from the gas column is still expanding and acting upon the projectile even as it leaves the barrel. The barrel also adds friction which tends to retard progress and once free of that friction it accelerates just slightly. I never had the ability to refute their claim as I lack the test bed they enjoy. But I just cannot dismiss those Army scientists out of hand without verifying it myself. I spent too long in similar roles and I know how absolutely obstinate we are for testing.
More research needs to be done to see if the effect is reproducable - the important part is that of the bullet penetrating better at medium range, and this phenomenon is well known.