Review of Infantry Magazine 2006 Lethality Article
MAJ's Dean and LaFontaine's Infantry Magazine article entitled, “Small Caliber Lethality: 5.56MM Performance in Close Quarters Battle”, in the September-October 2006 issue suffers from ignoring significant amounts of data collected by the JSWB-IPT. MAJ’s Dean and LaFontaine also show a strong prejudice for and an over-reliance on the flawed ARL computer calculations to determine “lethality”. Nonetheless, the article is better than I expected based on previous erroneous information publicly released this past summer by the Army on the JSWB-IPT findings. Please see my comments below on some of the more glaring problems with the article.
p26. “Small Caliber Lethality”
The nebulous term "Lethality" is inappropriate and misleading and should ideally be banned from all discussions of terminal performance. What if an enemy combatant is hit with a projectile and immediately ceases hostile actions, but is not killed? If “Lethality” is the measured and defined metric, then the projectile has failed, because the opponent did not receive a lethal wound, although in actuality the projectile was extremely effective in stopping hostilities. Similarly, if an opponent is fatally shot, but manages to wipe out an entire squad of friendly personnel before succumbing to their wound, the projectile demonstrated 100% “Lethality”, but was utterly ineffective at stopping the enemy from continuing their attack. The phrase "Terminal Effectiveness" is far more accurate and appropriate than “Lethality”, as the death of an enemy combatant is then only one possible consequence instead of a stated intent and defined requirement for success.
Likewise, “Incapacitation” is something that is impossible to accurately calculate or predict. Physiological damage potential is the only factor that can be accurately measured and it is the only metric that has been shown to have any correlation with field results in actual shooting incidents, based on law enforcement autopsy findings, as well as historical and ongoing combat trauma results. In other words a “Damage” based metric has relevance to and accurately reflects the real world, while other measures of "Lethality" and "Incapacitation" are elaborate fantasy games of mathematical calculations and engineering statistics that fail to truly reflect the fact that in the gritty realm of face-to-face combat, incapacitating the enemy is about rapidly inflicting sufficient physiological DAMAGE to the enemy’s critical anatomic structures in order to stop that opponent from continuing to be a lethal threat. Thus, valid wound ballistic testing procedures measure DAMAGE.
The words of a U.S. Marine Corps Battalion Commander with extensive combat experience are telling:
“With damage based measures we are showing the end-users a picture of a gel block with a big hole through it and saying "Imagine that is a human, wouldn't that hurt." With dynamic based measures we are saying "Trust my math".
The damage based metric defines the potential of the round, under specific circumstances, given a single engagement. Measuring “incapacitation” seems to focus more on the statistical likelihood the target is still functioning at the conclusion of an engagement. In my own simple mind I am hesitant to place too much confidence in level of incapacitation for the following reasons:
1. It's too squishy - The measure is based on someone's guess as to a percentage of the time the target will choose to stop doing what he is doing because of a particular engagement. Everything is averaged; average target with average motivation, average hit placement, average effect on target. If down the road we redefine any of these average values the result is completely different. However if we shoot a gel block with a particular round today and say "Damn, that's a big hole", we don't introduce a bunch of changeable values and the result is roughly repeatable.
2. It gives an illusion of precision and scientific rigor that is just that; illusory - I don't mean to call in to question any of the rigor applied in the process of achieving the result. I trust fully that in dynamic modeling those who are doing it are correct in how they apply the statistical magic to arrive at the result, but the assignment of values to what does or does not equate to incapacitation are just as much of a guess as they are in the static method.
3. Accepting Level of Incapacitation is the first step down the road towards accepting the comparison of systems by "stowed kills" and "unit lethality". - Assessing the effect of a particular system on unit lethality over the course of a engagement or series of engagement has some place in evaluating small arms, but it must always take a back seat to evaluating the system based on it's performance in a single shot and what costs you accept to get that result (weight, maneuverability, range, etc). I understand if you are going to run a couple of million iterations through a computer model, it is necessary to look at it from the perspective of percentage incapacitation, unit lethality, etc. But the danger is someday looking at two systems - A has a 10% chance of killing my target in a single engagement, B has a 1% chance of killing my target in a single engagement. I can only carry 50 rounds of A, but I can carry 1,000 rounds of B. If I compare "stowed kills" I am carrying 5 kills with A, and 10 kills with B, so B must be better. Yet when I walk around the corner and there is a single bad guy waiting there who wants to kill me, I would rather be carrying system A.”
As noted by one of the JSWB-IPT researchers, the number of variables in combat is nearly infinite and terminal ballistic performance has a tremendous deviation surrounding the average result--anything can happen on any given day. Nonetheless, when an end-user experiences a terminal performance result in combat that is far different from the average effect he was told to expect by wound ballistic modeling, he no longer trusts the math. When using models like WTAI that overly average terminal performance and physiological factors, simplistic ideas such as “stowed kills” begin to pre-dominate and the predicted “average effectiveness” for most small arms systems appear similar. Note--the Stowed Kills (SK) metric has been used for both small and large caliber weapon systems; it is, essentially, a balance of the “killing potential” of the system against the weight of the system. Due to the modeling flaws when averaging “lethality” metrics, the SK philosophy ultimately favors weapon systems with the lightest weight and largest ammunition load, even if their actual terminal performance in combat proves less than desirable. Unfortunately, such modeling failures often leads to individual incidents were combat personnel find their weapons systems fail to meet their needs in specific engagements.
Damage-based metrics like the static gel testing are highly attractive to end-user personnel because of the immediate relation they can make between their weapon system and what they can expect it to do to enemy combatants. The young Corporal kicking in a door in hostile village cares little about complex calculations, theoretical computer modeling, or physiological averages--his only desire is that his rifle can accurately, reliably, and rapidly deliver projectiles that will rapidly create enough physiological damage to rapidly stop the AK47 or PKM wielding terrorist he might have to engage once inside the structure.
p.26 “Wound Ballistics (JSWB) Integrated Product Team (IPT) was eventually able to conclude that: (1) there were no commercially available 5.56mm solutions that provided a measurable increase in CQB performance over fielded military ammunition”
Anybody who has seen the actual data from some 10,000 test shots collected by the JSWB-IPT at 3-10m, 100m, and 300m distances or who has read the original 331 page final draft report dated 12 April 2006, knows that this statement avoids the factual truth. The clear and unequivocal best performing cartridge in the JSWB-IPT was 6.8 mm. In addition, several other 5.56 mm loads performed better than current M855. This was validated by the 11 August 2006 USMC Phase I ammunition study report conducted jointly with the FBI that demonstrated the 5.56 mm 62 gr bonded tactical load used by the FBI and other LE agencies offered superior terminal performance to current military issue 5.56 mm ammunition; the Marine/FBI testing once again illustrated that 6.8 mm offered the best terminal performance of ALL calibers tested.
p.29 “Static CQB Analysis methods measure real damage in gel, but have difficulty translating that damage to results in human tissue.”
While this is the position taken by ARL and PM-MAS, most other wound ballistic researchers do not ascribe to the ARL “dynamic” Wound Task Assessment (WTAI) methodology; many researchers, including Dr. Martin Fackler, former director of the Army Wound Ballistic Research Laboratory and progenitor of modern wound ballistic research, have strongly criticized the flawed ARL computer modeling and statistical manipulation. In fact, virtually every noted wound ballistic researcher and facility in the nation DISAGREES with ARL's methodology and conclusions.
In addition, the comment on page 29 is not accurate based on the significant amount of data collected by Law Enforcement agencies when analyzing their officer involved shooting (OIS) incidents. There is great value in the use appropriately gathered and interpreted surgical and/or post-mortem data. Gene Wolberg's San Diego PD analysis of nearly 150 officer involved shootings was the first study to begin using such protocols, but several other agencies, such as the FBI, CHP, SJPD, with strong, scientifically based ammunition terminal performance testing programs have conducted similar reviews of their shooting incidents with much the same results--there is an extremely strong correlation between properly conducted and interpreted 10% ordnance gelatin laboratory studies and the physiological effects of projectiles in actual shooting incidents.
On the other hand, over the past 20 years, ARL has NEVER published any information in peer reviewed journals or demonstrated to the wound ballistic community any correlation of their “dynamic” computer simulation “lethality” methodology with actual shots into living human tissue.
p.29 “The JSWB IPT began work to standardize test protocols among the participating agencies to allow results to be compared.”
This is true…and the test protocol that was found to be correct, valid, and became the agreed upon JSWB-IPT “standard” evolved from the one first developed by Dr. Fackler at LAIR in the 1980’s, promoted by the IWBA in the 1990’s, and used by most reputable wound ballistic researchers, including the FBI BRF, CHP, and us here at Stanford for the past two decades…the main folks who object to this standard are ARL and PM-MAS.
P29. “The IPT was ultimately able to determine a reason for the differences.”
While this first sentence is true, the remainder of this paragraph is not. The apparent differences in 5.56 mm performance were obvious on viewing high speed video of the projectiles’ flight paths from muzzle to impact and noting the differences in yaw behavior. Discovering this had NOTHING to do with the ARL “dynamic” methodology which uses the flawed computer simulated “virtual human target” (ie. a naked man with his hands at his sides standing directly 90 degrees frontal to the shooter).
As touched upon by MAJ’s Dean and LaFontaine on p31, Angle-of-Attack (AOA) variability at impact can substantially affect wound severity; this factor is more prevalent with certain calibers and projectile types. JSWB-IPT testing demonstrated that 5.56 mm projectiles are highly susceptible to AOA variations, particularly when using full metal jacket (FMJ) loads such as M193 & M855. For example, with 5.56 mm FMJ, at higher AOA’s, for example 2-3 degrees, bullets had a shorter neck length (NL) and upset rapidly, thus providing adequate terminal effects; at low AOA, like 0-1 degree, the projectiles penetrated deeper than ideal prior to initial upset (ie. long NL) with significantly reduced terminal effects. Note that OTM’s were less susceptible to AOA variations than FMJ. Other calibers were less susceptible to AOA variations than 5.56 mm; the 6.8 mm proved to have less AOA inconsistencies compared with other calibers tested.
Fleet Yaw is the other significant yaw issue discovered by the JSWB-IPT. Fleet Yaw is the terminal performance variation caused by inherent variability in each rifle and occurs in all calibers. 5.56 mm FMJ appears to suffer more Fleet Yaw induced variability than other projectile calibers & types. 6.8 mm OTM’s appear to have less Fleet Yaw variations than other projectile calibers & types tested.
What this means is that two shooters firing the same lot of M855 from their M4’s with identical shot placement can have dramatically different terminal performance results: one shooter states that his M855 is working great and is effective at dropping bad guys, while the other complains his opponent is not being incapacitated because M855 is zipping right through the target without upsetting. Both shooters are telling the truth…
p.30 Graph labeled “Figure 3”
There were in fact better performing 5.56 mm loads than M855 in the JSWB-IPT testing and 6.8 mm clearly performed best of all. The “Figure 3” graph is misleading at best and is an example of scientific dishonesty at worst. It uses needlessly complex calculations, skewed graphing, overzealous mathematical averaging, and poor statistical manipulation to obfuscate important differences between test samples.
p30. “1. No commercially available alternatives perform measurably better than existing ammunition at close quarters battle ranges for exposed frontal targets.”
This is NOT true, as clearly proven by the JSWB-IPT test data. The JSWB-IPT listed the Effective Damage Rankings of the 53 different systems tested; 6.8 mm systems (including 20”, 16”, and 12.5” barrels) dominated the testing, taking 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 6th places. The best performing 5.56 mm system was Mk262 in 7th place. M855 out of a 20” barrel managed to squeak into 10th place. Despite MAJ Dean’s and LaFontaine’s assurance to the contrary, 5.56 mm M855, especially fired out of shorter barreled weapons like the Mk18 and M4 is not a wise choice for CQB. If you need a barrel shorter than 16”, 6.8 mm is a better CQB option than 5.56 mm.
p30. “2. Shot placement trumps all other variables; expectation management is key.”
Again, this is NOT a wound ballistic discovery, but rather is a training issue, as I noted in my original critique of the publicly released JSWB-IPT “findings” that I sent to MAJ LaFontaine in June of 2006.
p32. “ Further, we currently cannot control yaw within a single type of ammunition, and all ammunition displays this tendency to some degree.”
Gee, there is a simple solution here—let’s just pick a combat load that exhibits minimal AOA and fleet yaw characteristics to eliminate this potential variable. Of course, as noted above, that immediately rules-out most 5.56 mm ammunition, especially FMJ loads like M193 and M855, as these show the WORST variations of AOA and fleet yaw. On the other hand 5.56 mm OTM and bonded bullets exhibit less yaw variability. Of course the caliber that demonstrated the LEAST yaw variability in the JSWB-IPT testing was 6.8 mm; too bad MAJ’s Dean and LaFontaine forgot to mention that in their article…
p32. “The technique of engaging CQB targets with controlled pairs--two aimed, rapid shots as described in Chapter 7 of FM 3-22.9--was shown to be significantly better than single aimed shots (see Figure 8).”
Please…as I noted in my original JSWB-IPT critique to MAJ LaFontaine, this is NOT a wound ballistics revelation, but purely a training/TTP issue. To pretend otherwise is ludicrous.
p32. “Soldiers and leaders everywhere should take heart from the fact that despite all the myth and superstition surrounding their rifles and ammunition, they are still being provided the best performing weapons and ammunition available while the armaments community works to develop something even better.”
It is hard to take heart or remain silent when being force-fed such vile B.S., especially in the wake of other “well intentioned” wastes of resources by the "armaments community", such as XM8, OICW, ACR, 6 mm SAW, SPIW, SALVO, etc...
Last edited by DocGKR; 04-17-10 at 21:55