Monday, October 15, 2012

The Poodle Killer Myth

No U.S. military service rifle caliber has been more controversial than the 5.56x45mm cartridge.  Since it's adoption in the 1960's, Soldiers and civilians have both circulated the myth that the 5.56 round was designed to wound the enemy and not kill them.  The logic behind this claim is that wounding the enemy puts a strain on their logistical systems with the added bonus that it requires other enemy soldiers to carry off their wounded brethren thus lessening the number of combatants on the field of battle.

The only problem with this myth is that it is just that, a myth.

The U.S. military has never published any documents, requirements or doctrines stating a desire to adopt a rifle cartridge designed to only wound the enemy.  Of course the military views wounding as better than no hit at all, and taking an enemy combatant out of the fight they view as a good thing.  But they have never built a doctrine around the concept of wounding being the desired result of a gunshot wound.

The 5.56mm cartridge was designed to kill not wound or maim.

I believe the root of the myth comes from countless horror stories told by both civilians and Soldiers about the 5.56mm's failure to neutralize a target.  In 2003 the U.S. Army conducted a study that found the 5.56mm was actually quite acceptable for combat duty.  This is a quote from the study that I think carries a lot of weight.
In the end, “footpounds of energy” is misleading, “stopping power” is a myth, and the “oneshot drop” is a rare possibility dependent more on the statistics of hit placement than weapon and ammunition selection.  Effectiveness ultimately equates to the potential of the weapons system to eliminate its target as a militarily relevant threat.
I agree with this statement.  Shot placement will be the largest deciding factor in how effective a gun shot would will be in terms of dispatching the enemy.  The horror stories about the ineffectiveness of the 5.56mm can be traced back to either unsubstantiated rumors and myths or to poor shot placement.

It's also worth noting how the 5.56mm stacked up against the .308 in the testing.  For CQB type combat the 5.56mm actually kept pace with the 7.62x51(.308) in terms of close range effectiveness.

It's interesting to note that when the U.S. military adopted the .308 to replace the 30-06, similar horror stories circulated.  The .308 was deemed to be inferior to the 30-06 by many Soliders.  Slowly these rumors faded, and their demise was hastened with the adoption of the 5.56x45mm only a few short years later.

The 5.56mm cartridge is a fine service rifle cartridge that excels at close to medium range combat.  It is not well suited to long distance engagements which is why the U.S. military has moved back to the .308 for DMR's (Designated Marksman Rifle) in the wide open spaces of the Middle East.  For a survival rifle you would be hard pressed to find a more suitable caliber than the 5.56x45mm.

16 comments:

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    1. With similar shape and velocity, it has similar penetration on many materials. Both will penetrate about 14" of sandbag. Both will penetrate a car. Both will penetrate similar amounts of lumber. Both will penetrate THREE Level III vests without plates.

      At any common engagement range, 5.56 is plenty. At longer range, .308 retains energy better.

      But even at 500 yards, 5.56 has more energy than a .45 ACP does at the muzzle.

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  2. I have seen some pretty nasty pictures online of wounds caused by 5.56 fragmentation, I would surely echo the sentiment that it is an effective round. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy shooting the larger calibers also, but I would have no hesitations with depending on 5.56 with my life.
    As for barriers, there are some pretty good loads out now days for barriers. M855, MK318, and 75gr TAP do quite well against barriers, within reason.

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    1. M855 is pretty substandard for barrier performance, as it tends to be very inconsistent. FMJ bullets require a specific attack angle to induce yaw into the projectile, which would cause it to tumble. FMJs in general are a very poor selection when other options are available. Mk318 SOST was developed for better barrier performance, and JAG has authorized the use of the 70gr Optimal OTM "brown tip" TSX load, which is the best bullet available for USGI use right now. The Mk262 Mod1 77gr BTHP is decent through some barriers, though it is poor against sheet metal and auto glass. The Hornady 75gr TAP is the same way. Both BTHP designs have heavy fragmentation of the load, which is not ideal for penetration ability. Troops are limited by their selections because of legal constraints, but civilians have many more options. Bonded JSPs and Barnes TSX loads are far superior for domestic use, and perform exceptionally well in FBI ballistic tests. There are numerous options available for these loads like the Speer Gold Dot JSP, Federal Tactical Bonded JSP, SSA and Black Hills versions of the Barnes TSX, and Winchester bonded JSP. If you can't get ahold of these more specialized loads, a common hunting ammunition is your best friend. Specifically, the Federal Fusion 62gr JSP, which is nearly identical to the Federal Tactical LE223T3 bonded JSP, and the Remington Premier Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded 62gr PSP. All of these loads are designed to be "barrier blind", and perform the same in ballistic gelatin regardless of barrier penetration or not.

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  3. I can care less if I was given a 7.62x39, 5.56x45, or 5.45x39. Any of those cartridges would be fine with me. I just have an issue with the reliability of an AR-15 versus that of an AK series rifle, but that's a problem with some AR-15 rifles, not really the cartridge itself.

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    1. It's a problem with build quality of many ARs that are not built with quality parts, and with many AR manufacturers that are cutting corners to meet production orders and not making the rifles to the right specifications. Lower end companies can be very "iffy" for quality, but top tier companies that have military contracts (BCM, Daniel Defense, Colt, LMT, KAC, Noveske, etc) adhere to proper specifications and build standards. Thus, higher quality rifles are very reliable and durable, provided that certain maintenance steps are followed; such as proper lubrication with good lubricant (not CLP) and using quality magazines that are not out of spec (like bent feed lips on USGI mags). AKs are nice because the tolerances are much looser, so there is more margin for error and operator maintenance is not quite as critical. I have one AR that has over 6,000rds out of it over the past year and has not been cleaned once. It's still without a single mechanical malfunction. Much like anything, a rifle is a machine and prone to build quality issues. It's Saab vs Honda.

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    2. You perpetuate the myth.

      Low quality AK are just as unreliable as low quality AR. Buy a high quality AR or AK and they will be very reliable. Both need lube to function optimally, both seldom need cleaning, both need good magazines or their reliability suffers greatly.

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    3. UnaStamus,
      What is your lubricant(s) of choice in an AR platform? I have always used CLP, but admittedly, because that is what the US military was using. I am always open to suggestions.

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    4. During an exercise last month, I had a 1963 Izhevsk Russian AKM jam on me. The Army troops' M4s worked perfectly. I have the Simunition stains to prove it.

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    5. 1963??? Ha! Probably the first and only jam it had in 300,000+ rounds fired in 50 years.
      Here is a quote from Clint Smith (google if you don't know who he is) While conducting a rifle course outdoors in rainy weather: "For those of you with ARs, keep your muzzle pointed down as just a drop or two down the pipe will cause your weapon to explode, for those of you with AKs and H&Ks, feel free to fire your weapon underwater if you wish"

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  5. The question I have is: How do you know that when you are engaging someone that they will be behind a "barrier" every time? If they are not, and you engage someone with "barrier defeating ammunition" then that round will go right through that person and keep going. For a home defense situation (which would be 99% of the potential situations I would have to use my firearm in)I personally would choose M193 Ball (or something not "barrier defeating"), with my family and neighbors just 1 wall away, the last thing I want is over-penetration (less-fragmentation).

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    1. Barrier blind loads will not necessarily overpenetrate if they hit a person directly. There are bullets like the Barnes TSX which are designed to penetrate solid barriers, yet still expand in flesh.

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  6. The reason for this was that when the McNamara defense dept. rammed the AR-15 down the Army and Marine Corps throats the services were hard pressed to integrate the micro-caliber concept. The USAF R.F.P. called for a weapon that would NOT penetrate hard targets (aircraft frames, etc.) and the rounds were already showing issues with stopping power and fragmentation on twigs and grass and such in testing. When the USA and USMC were forced to adopt it they couldn't tell the troops "This thing sucks and we didn't want it but the politicians made us use it." Instead, somebody dredged up the "Better to wound than kill" concept which was never valid when fighting communist forces who tend to the wounded and dead only AFTER the battle, thus not reducing available combat strength. It was never and 'Official' policy to adopt a round that was low-lethality.
    In 1979 the SS109/M855 round was adopted because the European powers in NATO refused to adopt the M193 round specifically due to the 'Inhumane' nature of wound profile and in an attempt to improve the armor penetration of the 5.56 round on hard targets. This decreased the stopping power of the round even more by reducing the velocity and fragmentation.

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    1. Do you have cites for this? It doesn't match the information I have.

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  7. I am sorry to say, but.....this article about "myths" is full of myths. The only thing the 5.56 (.223) was "designed to kill" is varmints at close range. Here is the absolute and total truth: WWII was the single most studied and analyzed conflict of all time. It was assessed that the vast majority of wounds inflicted on a battlefield were caused by artillery and or aerial bombarding. Also, when wounds were caused by infantry small-arms fire the injuries are nearly always to the limbs and not the torso. It was concluded by many in post WWII NATO that the future infantryman need not a large powerful rifle firing a large powerful cartridge. As the US and Euro NATO nations proposed the adoption of a new standardized cartridge, the UK pushed for a .280 caliber round. The US rejected this "assault rifle concept" as a weapon system "too puny" and "not lethal enough" The US insisted on the M-14 and 7.62x51 NATO and our Euro allies followed with their own weapons chambered for this cartridge. (FN-FAL, G3, CETME, BM-59...etc....etc) Ironically and quite hypocritically, just 10 years later the US adopts the 5.56 with NO WARNING....a round even more "puny" than the .280 that was previously rejected.
    The 5.56 was NOT designed to kill. Period. It is a light and easy to fire weapon and cartridge platform. It is also cheaper to manufacture. That is why it was adopted. Historical note: The criteria met by the Kalashnikov and its somewhat more powerful cartridge was to "wound a 170lb man at a range of 100 meters"

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