Tactical Briefs #6, 1 May 1998
The IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification Package
In response to defects in the FBIs ammunition testing and performance evaluation protocol, the International Wound Ballistics Association recently developed and released an improved, state-of-the-art IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification Package.
The new specification focuses on terminal ballistic performance, and is directed at requiring ammunition with the most reliable expansion in the shooting scenarios most common and important to the majority of law enforcement officers -- clothed humans not protected by hard barriers.
The faulty FBI methodology prompted the development of bullets that do not reliably expand when clothing is encountered. This is due to the FBIs insistence on testing bullets against hard barrier materials, which forced ammunition manufacturers to design rugged bullets that would work well against these materials and bare gelatin, but compromised bullet performance through soft barriers (clothing).
These flaws were brought to the attention of the FBI by several participants at the January 1993 FBI Wound Ballistics Seminar, however the FBI has resisted any suggestions to improve their test program.
The FBIs unwillingness to incorporate any of the recommended changes to improve their testing regimen resulted in the undesirable effect of inhibiting development of better law enforcement ammunition. All of the manufacturers involved in the development of the new IWBA specification expressed great reluctance to produce ammunition that demonstrated clearly superior performance but might not receive the FBI stamp of approval because the improved ammunition may not perform as well in the FBI test series involving wallboard, plywood, laminated automotive windshield glass, and sheet metal. Without a good showing in the FBI tests, the manufacturers feared law enforcement agencies wouldnt purchase their product.
As a result, the IWBA eventually realized that an entirely new test and evaluation specification was required in order to encourage the ammunition manufacturers to improve the performance of handgun ammunition. If the FBI wasnt interested in improving their test method, the IWBA would step in and prepare a new protocol for law enforcement ammunition. The new specification takes advantage of an increased understanding of bullet penetration dynamics that wasnt available when the FBI began its test program in 1988.
The IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification was developed with the participation and/or assistance of the California Highway Patrol (CHP), Los Angeles Police Department SWAT and Firearms Training units, Winchester, CCI-Speer, and Remington. It has since been adopted by the CHP and LAPD, and is being seriously considered by many law enforcement agencies nationwide.
The IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification was designed to be an example of a specification that is precise and realistic in format, with identified parameters that can be specified by law enforcement agencies to satisfy their requirements and desires. The requirements have been selected to identify the parameters that require definition by the agency and to otherwise eliminate requirements that are ambiguous, technically unachievable, irrelevant, impractical to verify, or otherwise unsound. The Specification Supplement provides suggested parameter values that are based on knowledge of the dynamics of bullet penetration and human anatomy.
The IWBA test regimen has been simplified to two test events. The first test event involves bare ordnance gelatin. Ammunition is considered acceptable if it demonstrates a ten shot sampling average of between 12.5 and 14 inches penetration depth, with a recommended standard deviation in penetration between the ten bullets of 0.6 inches or less, but no more than 0.8 inches. The second test event requires the bullet to penetrate four layers of 16 ounce denim that is placed in front of a block of standard ordnance gelatin. A cartridge should exhibit a ten shot sampling average range of between 13 and 16 inches of penetration in the gelatin, with a recommended standard deviation in penetration between the ten bullets of 0.8 inches or less, but no more than 1.0 inches.
The new Winchester Ranger Talon and CCI-Speer Gold Dot cartridges were engineered to meet the new Specification, and independent tests appear to confirm this level of performance. The improved Ranger Talon cartridges can be visually identified by the lack of the controversial black Lubalox coating on the bullet, whereas the new CCI-Speer cartridges can be visually identified by the presence of six serrations in the bullet jacket. (The older Gold Dot design had eight serrations.)
The IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification is equally valid and applicable to personal defense handgun ammunition used by private citizens. In fact, we endorse the IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification and encourage private citizens to choose ammunition that meets this new, and very well conceived, performance criteria.
Shortly after the IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification was published in the IWBA journal, Wound Ballistics Review, we requested and received authorization from the IWBA to reprint the entire IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification Package on our web site. To fully understand the rationale involved in the development of this new Specification, we suggest you examine the Specification Supplement which immediately follows the Specification. Also, if youre interested in learning more about the history and development details behind the Specification, we encourage you to obtain a copy of Wound Ballistics Review, Volume 3, Number 3, and read Duncan MacPhersons excellent article "Improved Handgun Ammunition."
Click here to go to the IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification Package.
Remington Golden Saber brochure provides all the right information to personal defense ammunition consumers
In this day and age of political correctness, most of the ammunition companies are reluctant to publish terminal performance data for their personal defense cartridges. Apparently, many of these manufacturers feel this kind information is too inflammatory.
You can call the companies and, if you explain that youre simply a consumer who wants to make an informed choice, they might provide you this information over the telephone or mail it to you. Some companies will do this if they have it, others wont.
Wed like to take this opportunity comment on the Remington Golden Saber HPJ High Performance Jacket brochure. Remington has not caved-in to political correctness and provides prospective customers all the right information needed to make an informed choice. Instead of simply publishing vague marketing hype and performance figures that are of no practical value to personal defense ammunition consumers (muzzle velocity and bullet energy data), Remington is thoughtful enough to publish ordnance gelatin test data (average values for bullet penetration and bullet expansion) for their entire line of Golden Saber cartridges. The data includes bullets shot into both bare gelatin and gelatin covered by heavy clothing. The Remington brochure also documents the barrel lengths of the guns involved in the testing of each cartridge, which is important for consumers to determine if they can expect similar performance from their own guns.
Remington has done a commendable job in producing this brochure. Their marketing claims are supported with hard technical data that they volunteer up front. Attention to detail is evident throughout, especially in the photos showing gelatin blocks which have been shot with their .40 S&W cartridge: a ruler is provided that allows consumers to obtain an accurate perspective of the extent of gelatin disruption. The brochure also contains photos of recovered bullets that were shot through heavy clothing and into ordnance gelatin not just one or two recovered bullets mind you but bullets from almost their entire line of Golden Saber cartridges.
Remingtons Golden Saber brochure is a welcome step in the right direction. Lets hope the other ammunition manufacturers follow Remingtons lead. As consumers of personal defense ammunition, we need, and should demand, more technical data about bullet penetration and expansion and less unsupported marketing hype.
Why we havent published any personal defense cartridge recommendations.
One concern were hearing from you is that youre puzzled at why we havent published any specific recommendations for personal defense ammunition. The reason why we havent done this yet is because we never intended to.
Weve been considering publishing bullet performance data (average penetration and expansion measurements) that were in possession of, and feel is reliable enough to share with you. The idea has been to simply provide you the raw data and encourage you to choose a personal defense cartridge that penetrates between 12 and 18 inches deep. However, with the release of the IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification Package, were going to encourage you to choose ammunition that meets these performance specifications as theyre ideally suited to civilian personal defense applications.
Our handgun bullet performance data base consists of the FBIs Ammunition Tests reports from 1989 - present, as well as IWBA Wound Ballistics Review articles. The problem with much of this data is that it applies only to full-size law enforcement-type handguns whose barrel lengths are 4-5 inches long, or the data is old and obsolete. We feel that if the data is more than two or three years old, its unreliable due to the possibility that the manufacturer redesigned the bullet since it was last tested.
With the recent passage of "shall issue" concealed carry licensing laws in several states, many of you need performance data that applies to handguns with barrel lengths that are less than 4 inches. The problem is no valid data exists for these small handguns. IWBA members havent conducted any recent wound ballistics testing involving small concealed carry-type handguns, the FBI hasnt, the ammo companies havent (the industry standard is to test most cartridges using a 4 inch long test barrel), and the testing performed by many gun writers and published in newsstand gun magazines is of questionable quality and is unreliable.1
The catalogs and brochures provided by the major ammunition manufacturers, with the exception of Remington, are a waste of the paper theyre printed on with regard to providing information that is critical to personal defense ammunition selection. Consumers need penetration and expansion data derived from firing the bullets into standard ordnance gelatin, and this is not supplied.
We recently received a beautiful color brochure from Hornady ("The XTP Field Report") that has photographs showing recovered expanded bullets from their complete line of XTP-JHP cartridges. The brochure states: "The results of the gelatin test are used in designing bullets that will consistently penetrate 12-16 inches, and expand to 1˝ times their original diameter." Yet, nowhere could we find any published penetration data in the brochure to support this marketing claim. Unwary consumers of .25 ACP, .32 ACP, and .380 ACP ammunition might believe this hype and believe the XTP-JHP will deliver this kind of performance, when in fact it does not.
Personal defense ammunition consumers are becoming more knowledgeable and sophisticated and the major ammunition companies need to recognize this. When we contacted several companies, many stated that they didnt have any of the kind of information that we were seeking (ordnance gelatin penetration and expansion data) available to share with us. Are we supposed to believe these companies are marketing "personal defense ammunition" without any clue as to how their ammunition performs?
We have shortcomings too. We hadnt taken into consideration that much of our law enforcement data wouldnt apply to many of you. Once we realized this, we needed to consider how we were going to address this deficiency. Personal defense is serious business and were not going to publish any information that we dont have full tactical confidence in.
As a result, this is what were doing to correct this situation:
1) Were going to publish the latest FBI Ammunition Tests data for bare gelatin and heavily clothed gelatin, listing the date of the test and the handgun used.
2) Weve been in contact with the major ammunition manufacturers seeking to obtain as much of their bullet performance test data as possible. We intend to publish this data as its received.
3) Were going to encourage you to get involved by contacting the major ammunition manufacturers to complain about the lack of valid and useful information from them. The bullet companies need to supply consumers with data that is relevant to personal defense gun/ammunition combinations, like the data published in Remingtons Golden Saber brochure. For example, if a manufacturer claims to have developed a load specifically for 2-inch .38 Special handguns, they should provide you (and you should demand) technical data about bullet penetration and expansion that is relevant to a snub nosed revolver, not a 4-inch vented test barrel.
Heres contact information for the major ammunition manufacturers. Nag the hell out of them until they provide the kind of information you need. Make a pest of yourself and insist they publish a brochure like Remingtons Golden Saber and tell them youll refuse to buy their ammo until they do:
4) We plan to perform limited ballistic gelatin testing of personal defense handgun ammunition to verify the validity of the manufacturers claims as well as to test certain gun/cartridge combinations in which theres a dearth of solid data (e.g., .38 Special cartridges fired out of a 2-inch barreled revolver). This is a long term goal and we do not expect to begin testing until this fall.
5) We DO NOT intend to recommend any particular cartridge. Were simply going to publish penetration data and suggest you make your choice based on IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification recommendations. The IWBA recommends choosing a bullet that penetrates an average of between 12.5 and 14 inches in bare gelatin, and average of between 13 and 16 inches in gelatin covered with a 16 ounce denim fabric "soft barrier".
As our web site evolves, we hope to offer the most comprehensive compilation of verified and valid handgun bullet performance data that is free of any bias.
1. Most gun writers shoot only one bullet into gelatin. How do we know this? Look at the photos that are published in their articles. Usually theres only one recovered expanded bullet posed next to a box of cartridges. Also, notice that there never is any "average values" for penetration and expansion. When only one bullet is tested theres no data scatter to average. This is totally inadequate. Coupled with their penchant for using uncalibrated ordnance gelatin, how are their readers to know if the cartridge tested is defective or exhibits erratic penetration and expansion performance? (In defense of these gun writers, ordnance gelatin is extremely expensive and we can understand for economic reasons why they only test one bullet.) We pointed out this haphazard test methodology in a letter published in Police magazine in 1992 (Dodson, Shawn R., Defensive Handgun Institute, Sunnyvale, CA, letter: "Valid Ballistics Testing", Police 16(3): p7, March 1992), and warned law enforcement officers to be very wary of the data and conclusions published in newsstand gun magazines. Click here to return to text.
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