Technologies that will shape the Small Ammunition Market

Small caliber weapons are used by law enforcement and the military, such as a patrol rifle, sub-machine gun and light machine guns. Small caliber ammunition can be used for both long range fire at enemy targets and for close quarter’s fight. The shell of the round impacts upon firing, creating a “shock wave” which propels the bullet down the barrel. The expanding gasses on striking the shell cause massive pressures to subside inside the bore creating intense velocity, however this also causes them to expand faster than those in smaller calibers creating more dynamic pressure equaling greater ballistics potentials. They are available in many different forms, including shot, shells for cannons, and shotgun pellets. They may be spherical or less common ogives. Projectile types include armor-piercing (AP), partially penetrates and flat nosed. Buckshot is designed to expand in a target upon impact, while expanding soft points tend to cause more damage to the target but will usually only expand so much that they hit hard enough to punch holes in the target but do not penetrate the target sufficiently to cause significant damage.

The US military continued to favor the M4, undertaking upgrades in the last decade to the M4A1 Carbine. However, by the turn of the century, a new generation of infantry squads required more lethality than 5.56mm ammunition could provide. So a new 6.8×51 mm cartridge was put forward as a viable alternative. The winner system from Sig Sauer entered the competition with a hybrid case cartridge – part composite and brass. This would help make the ammunition lighter whilst increasing range and lethality. Most interesting of all, the NGSW competition also featured a new breed of polymer cased ammunition developed by True Velocity. In addition to the fact that most of the time we would consider military hardware very reliable in laboratory conditions, it is also much easier to design and mount a prototype on a gun than develop a new cartridge. The armed forces should therefore play a project management role and provide feedback while staying away from dictating the technology. Material supply and embargoes are risks that must be considered by innovators and manufacturers.

Small caliber ammunition is segmented on the basis of bullet type into lead, copper, brass and others. Copper bullets are generally harder and retain better momentum at impact, and have deeper penetration power compared to other bullets. Brass-cased cartridges are projected to remain the most popular among all materials owning to properties including its better durability. The polymer used for ammunition casing, Ceradyne Polymer, is a proprietary proprietary formulation. The ammunition production process can be broken down into 4 steps: 1) Casing material generation, 2) Cleaning and annealing of the raw materials to make them ready for further shaping, 3) Shaping in process change-over, 4) Annealing and burning out of heat treatment residues.

Ammunition contamination with carcinogenic and mutagenic principles was a serious problem for which a technical solution is required. Elimination of ozone-depleting substances, volatile organic compounds, and heavy metals from primers and projectiles resulted in more than 90 percent reduction in amounts of harmful substances in relation to safety requirements. Use of tungsten will reduce the need to clean ranges contaminated with lead periodically. There are health benefits as well. In the past, worms have eaten the lead, birds have eaten the worms, and duck hunters have eaten the ducks — spreading lead poison into humans. Tungsten is very similar to lead but is expensive. A lead bullet costs around half-a-penny apiece. Tungsten costs eight cents. Hence manufacturers are reluctant to produce tungsten bullets since they cost more. However training bullets have already been migrated to lead free alternatives.

DARPA is developing both a laser-guided round and a bullet capable of turning .50 caliber bullets into guided rounds. The technology involves optical sensors in the nose of the bullet and fins capable of adjusting the bullet’s flight path in the tail. The optical sensor apparently homes in on a spot illuminated by a laser designator. The guidance system is similar to laser-guided missiles that are currently in service. DARPA claims that snipers can now engage targets more quickly and with greater accuracy at longer ranges. The technology is unaffected by sudden environmental changes, such as a sudden gust of wind. A guided bullet capable of hitting moving targets could also be very useful against drones and unmanned aerial vehicles. It is evident that ecofriendly green bullets and smart bullets will shape the future of small ammunitions market.

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