Industry News: December 1997

By Robert M. Hausman

Analyst: Military Ammo Ban Efforts Based On Economic, Not Humanitarian Concerns

Forthcoming proposals to ban fragmenting types of small arms munitions, particularly the 5.56 x 45mm and the 7.62 x 51mm cartridges with an open-tipped bullet design, are detailed in a paper prepared for presentation at the American Defense Preparedness Association’s (ADPA) Small Arms Conference held last June in Reno, NV. The paper, prepared by Hayes Parks special assistant to The Judge Advocate General of the Army, but who did not actually attend the ADPA event, warned that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), working in tandem with a Swiss ballistician, Beat P. Kneubuehl, are the instigators behind a call for an international conference of “experts”-drawn from an ICRC list-which could be convened before the end of the year, to examine the issue of banning small caliber fragmenting projectiles for military use. If such a ban were to be enacted, it could be used as the basis for a public relations drive to influence public opinion to favor banning such ammunition not only for use by the armed forces, but also for use by civilians or police with the rationale that such ammo is too terrible in its effects, even for use in war.

“Their objective is to arrive at a new prohibition on small caliber projectiles that may fragment or yaw prematurely in the body, based on the argument that the resulting wounds are worse than those caused by the nonfragmenting 5.56 x 45mm projectiles developed by Kneubuehl at Switzerland’s Federal Department of Defense Ballistics Test Centre at Thun, during the Cold War, apparently in part to defeat Soviet body armor. With the end of the Cold War, the market (and funding) for Kneubuehl’s projectile dwindled. The military purpose for the ammunition was quickly put aside to emphasize the ‘humanitarian’ value of nonfragmenting ammunition,” Parks wrote. “The Swiss proposal that followed,” Parks continued, “was, and remains, two-fold: (a) to create an international prohibition of small arms ammunition that may yaw prematurely and/or fragment on impact with soft tissue, and (b) establish an international wound ballistics testing center at Thun, to be run by Kneubuehl.” Parks felt that in this time of post-Cold War worldwide downsizing of defense industries, the proposal amounted to little more than “buy my patent, and save my job.”

“Response to this proposal was,” Parks says, “at best, underwhelming. It is technically flawed and offers a solution to something not viewed as a problem. There is no 5.56mm projectile that can begin to wound as severely as an artillery fragment, a landmine, or a .50 cal. Projectile, for example. Virtually every small-caliber projectile used by military forces in this century has had the potential to fragment on impact with soft tissue at initial velocities. The U.S., U.K. and countrys states opposed it, and the Government of Switzerland subsequently withdrew its support for it.”

In an aside, Parks wrote, “Initiatives to regulate or ban antipersonnel landmines have been based on the indiscriminate effect or irresponsible use of antipersonnel landmines in recent or on-going civil wars, and the concomitant deleterious effect this illegal use has had on innocent civilians. They never have contained any suggestion that the wounding of enemy military personnel by antipersonnel landmines constitutes unnecessary suffering in violation of international law.” UN Initiative On another front, Parks, a former member of the US Delegation to the United Nations Review Conference for the UN Conventional Weapons Convention (which concluded its meetings in 1996), warned that at this UN group’s next scheduled meeting in 2001, the conference will focus on banning certain types of small-caliber munitions, as well as unexploded ordnance, incendiary weapons, flechettes, depleted-uranium and cluster munitions, and naval mines. During the two years of negotiations which occurred at the first UN Review Conference, the parties (which included the US) adopted an amended protocol regulating landmines, booby-traps and a prohibition on blinding laser weapons.

Ammo Ban History

Some insight into the history of attempts to ban various types of military ammunition was also offered by Parks. “In 1899, at the first Hague Peace Conference, Germany attacked the new British caliber .303 Mark IV bullet, which was being produced at the Dum-Dum arsenal near Calcutta, India. The rationale for the Mark IV was clear. The British experience in the Chitral Campaign of 1895 revealed that the then new full-metal jacketed bullet used in its .303 Lee-Metford rifle was inadequate in its ability to incapacitate, whereas following the battle of Omdarman in 1898 the larger caliber .577-450 Martini-Henry rifles of the Egyptian army sufficed to disable. The British government then directed experiments to be undertaken toward obtaining a jacketed bullet possessing equal stopping power with that of its larger caliber, lead bullet predecessors. The committee investigating the question recommended two bullets, one of which proved to cause more severe wounds than the other. The British government elected to adopt the less destructive bullet, known as the Mark IV,” Parks explained.

“The attack on the Mark IV was politically motivated, as Germany opposed British actions in the Anglo-Boer War. The criticism depended heavily on experiments allegedly conducted on the British Mark IV at Tubingen by a professor Dr.von Bruns, who used a bullet substantially different from the British Mark IV to skew his tests to support the German political argument,” Parks wrote.

“The German deception worked, and the conference adopted the 1899 Hague Declaration Concerning Expanding Bullets that prohibits, ‘...bullets that expand or flatten easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard envelope which does not entirely cover the core or is pierced with incisions.’ The U.S. never became a party to this treaty, but generally has applied it through this century (as have other nations) for the practical reason that, until recently, most military small arms would reliably function only with full-metal jacketed ammunition,” Parks noted.

Swedish Effort

A similar occurrence took place in the 1960s and 1970s when the US developed and adopted the M-16 rifle with its 5.56 x 45mm projectile. “Sweden immediately condemned the M-16 for two reasons,” Parks noted. “First, Sweden disagreed with US military operations in Viet Nam; and second, the 5.56 x 45mm cartridge represented a revolution in military small arms in which Sweden found itself totally unprepared to compete. As such, it (the new cartridge) represented a serious economic threat to Sweden’s arms industry.
“The U.S. experience in defending the M-16 at the first UN Conference on Certain Conventional Weapons, conducted in Geneva from 1978 to 1980, paralleled the 1899 British experience. Swedish claims about the horrendous wounding effect of the M-16, erroneously claiming that the M-193 bullet was designed to ‘tumble’ and fragment, were vastly exaggerated,” Parks noted. This was especially so often the U.S. changed the rifling twist, which further stabilized the 5.56 mm round.

A small-caliber working group was convened of which Parks was a member. While initially attended by representatives of more than thirty nations, participation rapidly diminished to representatives from Sweden and the US. “Once the rhetoric died down, it was agreed the wounds inflicted by the M-16 and its 5.56mm projectile were no worse than wounds caused by other, contemporary military small arms, much less other, conventional weapons. Therefore,the warranted neither further regulation, nor a new prohibition,” Parks reports.

“It was also determined that a number of factors ultimately determine the serious nature of wounds by delivered military small-arms ammunition. They include: range, velocity at time of impact, bullet yaw at time of impact, point of impact, intervening impact (deflection), whether or not the injury involves multiple wounds, the preceding condition of the person wounded, and the length of delay to treatment. This last item is regarded as the most essential element. The working group arrived at no new criteria for determining the legality of small caliber weapons,” Parks wrote.

A fallacy common to arms prohibitionists efforts, Parks pointed out, is that their argument attempts to isolate and exaggerate the wounding effects of the targeted weapon to stigmatize the arm’s effect in the public’s eye to force a policy change, rather than evaluate the arm based on accepted international law criteria.

“The international law standard is that, in determining whether a weapon causes unnecessary suffering (and therefore violates international law prohibitions), its effects must be measured against comparable, lawful wounding mechanisms in use on the modern battlefield. As indicated, on those rare occasions when a small arms projectile fragments, its wounding effects still pale when compared to other lawful wounding mechanisms in use on the modern battlefield.” “We are at a point in time where new programs are being undertaken that may enhance the soldier’s ability to accomplish his or her assigned missions. Two examples are the Army’s Objective Family of Small Arms, which may include bursting munitions, and Fabrique Nationale’s 5.7 x 28mm P90 Personal Weapon and FiveseveN TM pistol. With the additional threats of state-sponsored terrorism and use of weapons of mass destruction by rogue states, our military forces require the best small arms and ammunition that can be provided them. The U.S. has opposed the Kneubuehl proposal in the past and I see no reason for a change in that position,” Parks concluded.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N3 (December 1997)
and was posted online on November 24, 2017


Comments have not been generated for this article.