Blended Metal Rounds in Iraq

Maybe it's not all hype.Interesting...

1-shot killer

This 5.56mm round has all the stopping power you need -- but you can't use it. Here's why:

By John G. RoosSpecial to the Times

Ben Thomas and three colleagues were driving north out of Baghdad in an SUV on a clear mid-September morning, headed down a dirt road into a rural village, when gunmen in several surrounding buildings opened fire on them.
In a brief but intense firefight, Thomas hit one of the attackers with a single shot from his M4 carbine at a distance he estimates was 100 to 110 yards.

He hit the man in the buttocks, a wound that typically is not fatal. But this round appeared to kill the assailant instantly.

"It entered his butt and completely destroyed everything in the lower left section of his stomach ... everything was torn apart," Thomas said.

Thomas, a security consultant with a private company contracted by the government, recorded the first known enemy kill using a new -- and controversial -- bullet.

The bullet is so controversial that if Thomas, a former SEAL, had been on active duty, he would have been court-martialed for using it. The ammunition is "nonstandard" and hasn't passed the military's approval process.

"The way I explain what happened to people who weren't there is ... this stuff was like hitting somebody with a miniature explosive round," he said, even though the ammo does not have an explosive tip. "Nobody believed that this guy died from a butt shot."

The bullet Thomas fired was an armor-piercing, limited-penetration round manufactured by RBCD of San Antonio.

A new process

APLP ammo is manufactured using a so-called "blended-metal" process, said Stan Bulmer, president of sales and manufacturing for Le Mas Ltd. of Little Rock, Ark. Le Mas is the distributor of RBCD ammo.

Various bullet types made by RBCD are designed for different effects, Bulmer said.

The frangible APLP ammo will bore through steel and other hard targets but will not pass through a human torso, an eight-inch-thick block of artist's clay or even several layers of drywall. Instead of passing through a body, it shatters, creating "untreatable wounds."

Le Mas gave Thomas a small number of APLP rounds after he contacted the company.

After driving off their attackers, Thomas and his colleagues quickly searched the downed enemy fighter for items of intelligence value. They also took time to examine the wound.

"There's absolutely no comparison, whatever, none," to other wounds he has seen from 5.56mm ammo, Thomas said in a telephone interview while on home leave in Florida.

He said he feels qualified to assess a bullet's effects, having trained as a special-operations medic and having shot people with various types of ammo, including the standard-issue green tip and the Black Hills Mk 262, favored by spec-ops troops.

Thomas was the only member of the four-man group who had RBCD ammo. He said that after the group returned to base, they and other members of his group snatched up the remaining rounds.

"They were fighting over it," he said. "At the end of the day, each of us took five rounds. That's all we had left."

Congress wants tests

Last year's defense budget included $1.05 million for testing blended-metal bullets, Bulmer said. Fourteen months into the 24-month period during which those research and development-testing funds must be spent, the military has not purchased a single bullet from Le Mas.

Publicly, at least, military officials say RBCD ammo is no more effective than other types now in use and, under certain conditions, doesn't even perform as well. Those conclusions are derived from a series of tests conducted a few years ago in which RBCD ammo's effects were observed in ballistic gelatin, the standard means for testing bullets.

Naval Reserve Lt. Cmdr. Gary Roberts, a recognized ballistics expert and member of the International Wound Ballistics Association, conducted the gelatin tests in March 2002.

According to his findings, "Claims that RBCD bullet terminal performance can vary depending on target thickness, size or mass were not shown to have merit, as bullet performance remained consistent irrespective of gelatin block size."

Roberts found that in gelatin, a 9mm, 60-grain slug exhibited "tissue damage comparable to that of other nonexpanding 9mm bullets and is less than that of standard 9mm [jacketed hollow point] designs, since the RBCD bullet does not create as much tissue damage due to its smaller recovered diameter."

A .45-caliber bullet "offered average terminal performance in bare and denim-clad gelatin, similar to that noted with the 9mm bullet. ... The RBCD bullets do not appear to be a true frangible design, as significant mass is retained after striking a target."

Not surprisingly, Roberts' assessment remains a major impediment to getting RBCD ammo into military hands. Considering his standing in the ballistics community, his findings are accepted as gospel by many influential members of the special-operations community.

But Bulmer insists that tests in ballistic gelatin fail to demonstrate RBCD ammo's actual performance because the gelatin is chilled to 36 degrees. Their bullets seem to shatter most effectively only when they strike warmer targets, such as live tissue. Bulmer said tests using live animals clearly would show its effects. Despite his appeals for such testing, and the funds set aside by Congress to conduct new tests, the military refuses.

Bulmer said authority to spend the testing funds initially went to U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., which delegated testing responsibility to the Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Queries to the command confirmed that it was aware of the testing requirement but had not decided when, or if, the tests will be conducted.

Bill Skipper, president and CEO of the American Business Development Group, is a lobbyist representing Le Mas on Capitol Hill. "When I heard of the ballistic characteristics of this ammo, as a retired military officer, I realized it has to stay in the good guys' hands," he said, adding that SOCom's reluctance to test it is "irresponsible."

"This is an issue of national security," he said.

Some supporters of RBCD ammunition suggest SOCom officials may be reluctant to test the ammo because it threatens "in-house" weapons and ammunition programs underway at the command.

Special-operations forces long have sought a more potent standard round than the 5.56mm, which lacks the punch needed during the long-distance engagements that frequently occur in Afghanistan and Iraq. In response, SOCom is working with weapons and ammunition manufacturers to develop a new round and new upper receivers for M4 and M16 rifles.

The command apparently has narrowed its search to a 6.8-by-43mm round.

Indication of industries' involvement in this effort was seen in October during the annual Association of the U.S. Army exhibition in Washington.

If Le Mas' 5.56mm APLP round delivers the performance SOCom is seeking in the new 6.8mm ammo -- and Bulmer insists it does -- the rationale and the potentially lucrative contracts for producing a new ammo type and modifying thousands of weapons used by special-operations forces would disappear.

Thomas said he isn't familiar with the reasons that might keep RBCD ammo from getting a realistic test within the military.

"The politics, that's above my pay grade," he said. "All I really care about is that I have the best-performing weapon, optics, communications, medical equipment, etc. I'm taking Le Mas ammo with me when I return to Iraq, and I've already promised lots of this ammo to my buddies who were there that day and to their friends."

When military officials in the United States got wind that Thomas had used the round, he quickly found himself in the midst of an online debate in which an unnamed officer, who mistakenly assumed Thomas was in the service, threatened him with a court martial for using the nonstandard ammo.

Although Thomas was impressed by RBCD ammo's performance, he feels it should not be the standard ammunition issued to all U.S. forces.

"The first thing I say when I talk to people about Le Mas' ammo is, make sure that 22-year-old infantrymen don't get a hold of this, because if they have an accident ... if they have a negligent discharge, that person is dead. It doesn't matter how much body armor you have on.

"This is purely for putting into bad guys. For general inventory, absolutely not. For special operations, I wouldn't carry anything else."

This page has some video, too. Check out the pot roast that almost vaporizes on impact.

Yeah, we had a post on this some time back and I was pretty impressed by what I saw.

It's the roast that gets me. Nasty.

YES to say RBCD ammo is controversial is quite an understatement.

In one camp, you have photos and videos of exploding meat and one would think that if they make meat shatter like that it would be absolutely devastating. Other studies have shown this stuff to work very well on bulletproof (resistant) glass, plywood, light armor, etc.

The other side says first, if it's not broken, don't fix it... i.e. even these bullets cannot substitute for poor shot placement. At $35 for a box of 20, people won't be as inclined to practice with these cartridges, so training might ultimately suffer because the point of impact, recoil characteristics etc. are most likely different due to the light/fast nature of the bullet.

I think Ammolab did a study on cartridges that were supplied to them and came up with some interesting results. I COULD be wrong, but when the sectioned the bullets and fired some of the cartridges they found poor QC - bullet weights being out of acceptable tolerances weight wise... speed variations, etc.

Also, some have commented that the contractors mentioned in this article are paid to be security... so... who knows if they are paid to carry the ammo as well. Might not be objective as we would like. I'm not saying they are BSing but just mentioning that as a reminder.

The bottom line IMO is that these cartridges might be a great thing... but... do they allow for rapid, accurate shooting? Superlight/fast bullets might not function correctly in some weapons, so testing is of upmost importance, even in a revolver one should test for POI, recoil and look for chance of the bullets coming unseated in the lightweight snubbies. If you want solid penetration, heavy/slow within the given caliber should work well... if you want shallow penetration and good expansion then light/fast should work fine. Conventional hollowpoints do as good a job as I expect from a handgun and are easier on the pocketbook. Perhaps if the price comes down and I get a revolver I'd consider using them but for now I'll stick with Gold Dots or Golden Sabers.

sorry for the ramble



i am the asst. Entry Team leaderof the Faulkner Co. Metro SWAT team in Conway, Ark. that's 24 miles from little rock, where you get these rounds. Our snipers brought us some of this stuff in 5.56. It is amazing. It's almost like magic. You can shoot it through a 55 gallon drum and it goes through. However, it makes watermelons EXPLODE and doesn't go through to a piece of cardboard behind them. It also does that with full sixe .308....the watermelon blows completely apart but the carbboard 6 inches on the other side isn't touched. Sci-fi type stuff, yall. truly unique. we have some and we love it. It IS a magic bullet. It'll go through hard stuff...but waterbased organic material that is made up mostly of water, like flesh or fruit makes it explode and let its energy loose all at once. I can't really explain it. it's cool stuff.

editing to answer questions: yes...the bullets/ammo are high quality and function flawlessly just like other factory ammo. WE loved them.


ET don't forget that LE stuff is a different mix than the civvie rounds.

my main problem is that it's so expensive, people most likely won't put it through thier weapon for a good function test.

Also, I'm not sure how it would perform if the target were behind light cover like glass... i.e. would it come apart due to the glass and fail to get a KO?

But again... if your talking 5.56 or 7.62... a shot in the kill zone will basically end it. A peripheral shot even with the magic stuff probably wont. Because of the watermelon example it sounds like your guys are more concerned with collatoral damage (i.e. overpenetration on a COM shot)... my understanding of the non green tip .223 is that it will also not penetrate thru and through under 100M which is clearly within CQB distances.

bottom line for me is if they were equivalent in price to quality HP ammo I'd give them a look, but at $35 for 20 cartridges of the civvie loadings, no.

interested in your input.




they aren't stopped by glass.


just a quick question, what is the main purpose of ammo used by military? I mean, is it supposed to be able to penetrate, or maximize damage of a soft target?

a lot of ammunition is designed to penetrate light cover or vests, helmets, etc.

I can't remember exactly what the terminology but the Geneva Convention restricts rounds that (IIRC) were specifically designed to expand in soft tissue and therefore maximize damage.

The fragmentation of the 5.56x45 and tumbling effects of the 5.45x39 are technically incidental to their design, but they do cause much soft tissue damage under ideal circumstances. It seems that the military has moved in favor of steel or tungsten cored rounds so the philosophy is more to ensure penetration rather than hope for it while maximizing wound trauma.

With the 7.62 cartridges, there is so much energy there that expansion really isn't all that necessary. When the bullet hits and yaws to 90* it does a lot of damage.

With ammo, there has always been tradeoffs. Go with a bullet that has a hard core and you will get maximum penetration but to the detriment of tissue damage. Go with frangible rounds or hollowpoints and you maximize soft tissue damage while penetration suffers.

Supposedly with the blended metal rounds you get a great armor/light cover penetration AND expansion. Some say it's as if the bullet is programmed to penetrate until it reaches soft tissue and then it expands. I'm not so sure... time will tell.

Again, because handguns are such poor stoppers I can see interest in these. But with 5.56 and 7.62 if you operate within their limitations (sub 120 yards or so for the former, no CQB with the latter) then I think both will go a long way at taking care of the threat and not cost over $1 per shot.

just my opinion...


Did anyone else do a double-take at the name in the article?

lol, yep - guess he wasn't full of shit about everything....

was this guy on the forum at one time?

I need some of those for patrol (j/k)!

Former SEAL eh?... it appears that his bullshitting skills are still up to snuff.

I remember David DiFabio (sp?) from posting on glocktalk and warriortalk forums about the stuff. Apparantly the QC was horrible, with massive variations in speed, and weights as someone said above.

Also, there are two different types, LE/Military, that all the testing is done with, and civilian. The civilan is actually made of a different material than the military/LE stuff. I'm thinking one is regular lead, and one is tungsten.

If they could get the cost down, the bullets would probably catch on like no other. The velocities they put out are unreal, ammolab listed 45acp ammo in the 1500-1600 fps range. That's smokin for a 45 (normally 850fps)