Monday, June 09, 2008

US Special Forces Using Banned Ammo?

Wars are about killing people, and the more quickly and efficiently you kill the other guy the more likely you are to win. But there are international restrictions, generally referred to as the rules of war, on the types of weapons you can use, and how and under what conditions you can use them. One of those restrictions, which we claim to observe but are not a signatory to, is the 1899 Hague Declaration, which forbids the use of bullets which expand on impact to create larger wounds. I'm not going to get into the philosophy or wisdom of the Hague Declaration except to note that we've always given it lip service, if little more, in the past. Even that may no longer be the case.

US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) recently purchased a new type of ammunition, referred to as "5.56 Optimized" or "brown tip" (because the tip is painted brown to distinguish it from other rounds), which appears to use a bullet based on the civilian Barnes Triple-Shock X hunting bullet shown in the picture below. As you can see, this bullet would be banned under the Hague Convention.


Bullets are designed for making holes in things, and from the military's standpoint the bigger the hole the better. The M16 and its variants fire very high velocity but small diameter bullets. Little holes aren't very good for killing people, but our standard M855 round, at typical combat ranges, fragments after impact to create a massive wound channel. It's perhaps the most effective and deadly small-arms round in the world. But the same round fired from guns with shorter barrels, such as the M4 carbine and some versions of the SCAR, doesn't have enough muzzle velocity to consistently fragment, making it much less lethal.

Enter the 5.56 Optimized. Expanding bullets are designed to work properly over a broad range of velocities, so they're deadly even when fired from more compact weapons better suited for urban warfare. The 5.56 Optimized is also "green" because it's made from copper rather than lead, which, believe it or not, is a major concern of our military right now.

And the Hague Declaration? Well, if necessary we'll just have to find a way around it. Considering that the M855 meets the letter of the Hague Declaration while violating everything it stands for, I can't imagine we'll let international concerns get in our way. Damn all those European humanitarians anyway. They have no idea what it's like to fight a real war!

7 comments:

Gary said...

There are numerous errors in this story, so many so, it is hard to know where to begin... I would hope you would show greater diligence in checking the facts and background on an issue before posting such inflammatory and inaccurate comments.

Gary Roberts

Russell Wallace said...

Your comment is rather pointless since I can't respond to claims that I've made "numerous errors" if you're not even willing to say what those errors are.

Come back with specifics and I'd be happy to debate, but please leave a comment in a new post so that I'll see it.

michael c said...

First off, I'm a fairly liberal independent, and voted for our current Prez, so I consider this a factual and ethical issue, not partisan. So let me get this straight: FMJ ammunition (standard issue) is humane because it leaves small holes and causes internal bleeding, rather than more immediate trauma, requiring multiple follow-up shots to kill with FMJ, while allowing the enemy to shoot back as he bleeds out, leading to the deaths of more people than necessary. This is of course why hunters are required in most states to use FMJ projectiles in order to ensure quick, humane kills, right? That way, they get to shoot the deer lots of times. Oh, no, wait, most game laws REQUIRE expanding ammunition, in order to ensure QUICK and HUMANE kills. And explain to me how .45 ACP ball ammo is more ethical than .32 ACP hollowpoints? EVERY major police force in the U.S. uses EXPANDING ammunition. Why? Because it is ethical and effective. If you have the right to shoot someone, then you are doing so to prevent them from harming someone else. In that case, you have an ethical obligation to end that threat as efficiently as possible. Do the idiots up in arms about this really think that a 9mm hollowpoint expanded to .65 cal is more lethal than a .50 BMG? Or even a common .30 cal rifle? Or that a Barnes hunting round causes more trauma than a grenade?Please.
What it boils down to is this: If you are ethically justified in taking action to blow someone up with a grenade, or set a landmine, how can you possibly argue that expansion of a third of an inch is inhumane? This is similar to arguing that all soldiers should be required to use icepicks in hand-to-hand combat instead of knives. Lot's of nice clean holes, right?
I would argue that the truly unethical (and hypocritical) stance is that of giving lip service to the Hague convention's rules, while our men and women are stuck in the hills of Afghanistan with less effective small arms than the average small-town police force. Who cares about European sensibilities, if they are neither ethical nor rational? I don't. I'd hope that you don't, either.

Russell said...

Michael, your argument for expanding ammunition could apply equally well to nerve gas. Nerve gas is deadly, it kills quickly, and it would give our soldiers quite an advantage.

Unless you're also willing to argue that we should be using nerve gas in Afghanistan you're implicitly recognizing that "European" moral sensibilities can and should play a role in our choice of military weaponry.

Anonymous said...

I hit upon this while looking something up entirely. Your so wrong it hurts and I hope you posted a later retraction:
1.) Wars are not about killing people in general. Not even wars of expansion. There have been exceptions but they are pretty rare.
2.) You generally don't want to kill in mobile wars (what we fight today) as a wounded soldier eats up considerable logistics in care. The Hague Convention is designed to force an early end to war by exhausting resources.
3.) The Hague citation you use does not disallow expanding bullets.
4.) The citation you give disagrees with your proposition.
5.) You assert we only pay it lip service...which is laughable. We wouldn't be having this conversation if that was true.
6.) The same section contains the following text, which you ignore, "The present Declaration is only binding for the Contracting Powers in the case of a war between two or more of them. "
7.) And "It shall cease to be binding from the time when, in a war between the Contracting Parties, one of the belligerents is joined by a non-Contracting Power."
8.) There is also a reflexive clause I forget where it is at (you break it then we can break it). Anything less would be suicidal.
9.) Purchasing ammunition does not break the convention. Its use in a battle ground governed by it does.
10.) Said round is FMJ. Which makes all of this a waste of time.
11.) The bigger the hole the better is wrong per above.
12.) This is not a fragmentation round nor is an expanding bullet a fragmentation round.
13.) The Europeans own rounds such as these...always have.
14.) Stopping all fragmentation is impossible. Czar Nicky never tried to accomplish such a thing and older rounds were worse do to poorer manufacturing techniques.
15.) If it was designed for fragmentation its penetration profile would be reduced...which would defeat the purpose of this round and gun.

Does it hurt to be that wrong? Next time think through what you post.

Anthony said...

Hague conventions of 1899 and 1907 are only binding between those who signed. We are not fighting any such countries. Also, reference any ballistic test concerning this ammunition? Didn't think so...

Mike S said...

This issue is infuriating. It's ethical to shoot a guy with .50 BMG FMJ bullet, but an expanding 5.56mm bullet is inhumane? It's ethical to both teh legs of a guy with a grenade, but not OK to use an expanding bullet? Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

The point of shooting someone in combat is to kill them. WE should give our soldiers the most effective means to do so. Bad guys dieing faster means the conflict is over quicker.