The ultimate expanding bullet is a frangible one that totally shatters or vaporizes on contact and thus delivers 100 percent of its energy instantly into its target.
Strong U.S. law enforcement interest in frangible rounds began in the early 1970s when armed U.S. Air Marshals were placed aboard American jetliners in reaction to an epidemic of hijackings. (A Special Forces SOG friend— who'd also participated in the Son Tay POW camp raid in 1970—was one of our nation's first air marshals.) These marshals soon identified a significant problem: if they had to fire, their rounds could penetrate the jetliner's skin and cause catastrophic decompression.
Several special bullets were designed that would deliver a lot of punishment into a "soft" human target but would neither ricochet off nor penetrate even a thin metal layer. One design used a thin serrated jacket filled with hundreds of tiny #12 shot suspended in liquid with a plug in its nose.
The most famous of these bullets became a commercial success as the Glaser Safety Slug. It's available in .308, and I've fired several rounds which, while producing awesome punishment into a medium, does not match the trajectory or accuracy of a match bullet. Still, I can imagine a scenario involving a nuclear or chemical facility in which overpenetration is such a concern that a frangible bullet is the best answer.
What should be realized when using frangible bullets., however, is that their devastating effect is very shallow and» despite impressive surface injuries, the bullet may not neutralize the subject. Further, even the thinnest cover can protect your target from any effect at all.
U.S. military frangible rounds include the M160 in 7.62mm, which uses a 108.5-grain bullet made from Bakelite plastic and powdered lead, fired with a muzzle velocity of 1,320 fps. Despite this speed and bullet weight, however, it will not penetrate even an anchored 3/16-inch Dural plate at 25 yards.
Picatinny Arsenal's joint Service Small Arms Program—the same element that developed the Ml 18 Long Range ammo—has been working on a frangible 5.56mm round called the CPA, or Controlled Penetration Ammunition. Although this experimental projectile matches the trajectory of the standard 62-grain M855 to 100 meters, and it penetrates enemy body armor at close range, it will not exit ordinary building walls after transiting a hostile's body. Thus far, however, this prepressed metal powder bullet does not achieve the standard minimum ballistic gelatin penetration of 12 inches, which we cover later. Still, that's pretty impressive performance.
Equally impressive is Longbow frangible ammunition, developed by former Special Forces officer and fellow SOG veteran John Mullins. This match-grade projectile of metal powder and
Longbow frangible projectiles in .223 and .308. This group was fired from 100 yards, using zero for heavier 89-grain Match.
inert material vaporizes almost on impact yet retains integrity long enough to neutralize a suspect. Offered as both .308 and .223 loaded rounds, it was developed for police and Special Ops sniper use. I've tested the Longbow ammo and achieved .223 groups as small as 0.537 inches at 100 yards—definitely match-grade. As shown in the accompanying photo, there was a slight zero shift when I switched from 69-grain Match to the lightweight Longbow projectile. (Of course, an adept sniper would know this and fine-tune his rifle when he switched ammo.)
Custom ammo maker Cor-Bon offers a lightweight .223 round that's so explosive on impact that essentially it's a frangible round. The Cor-Bon Tactical 40-grain load screams from a muzzle at 3,800 fps, firing flat and so fast that it's consumed by its target, with no exit. Promoted for use in urban environments, like all frangible rounds it's great only so long as your target lacks cover. Further, given its light weight (and greater susceptibility to crosswinds) along with its rapid deceleration, I don't think it's realistic for a sniper to employ this or any frangible round at more than 100 yards.
A commercial .223 frangible round called Rhino Shock employs an aluminum-tipped hollow bullet with a teUurium solid-copper base that, when fired at its 5,000 fps muzzle velocity, vaporizes on contact. This round likely lacks match-grade accuracy and may not be suitable for sniping, but it could prove very useful for entry teams.
The big three ammo makers—Remington, Federal, and Winchester—all manufacture frangible rounds, but they're designed to reduce lead particulates on firing ranges, not to reduce or eliminate overpenetration. Some of these rounds may have utility for sniping, but none of these companies promotes its frangible loads for lethal situations.
Various exploding bullets have appeared over the past decade, but I have yet to learn of one that is both dependable and accurate. Most, like the round that would-be assassin John Hinckley pumped into President Ronald Reagan, do not detonate—thank God in this ease—unless they impact against a hard object.
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