Tag Archives: Video

M855A1: Beyond the Hype And the Hate

M855A1 (one)

Many articles have been written about M855A1 since the US Army first announced plans to adopt a new “green” 5.56x45mm cartridge to replace M855. Often, those articles have been highly speculative or have referenced results from earlier versions of the M855A1 cartridge, before it was fielded widely. There has been a reflexive tendency to look poorly on the new cartridge because of its supposedly environmentally friendly design. It is popular to denigrate anything labeled “green” as being inferior to the original flavor, non-filter, leaded, trans fat version, but that is not always accurate. “Electric car” sounds like some sort of weak, hippie nonsense, but a Tesla Model S can do 0-60 mph in 2.8 seconds. As the ammunition filters out into the public, and independent testers get hold of it, some remarkable results are coming to light.

This test used a chrome lined, 14.5”, 1:7” twist barrel to match the M4 barrel that this round will be fired through most commonly in combat. The most immediately apparent result is the almost complete absence of a neck. Typically, when a projectile enters tissue, it travels some distance before it begins to yaw, expand, or fragment. This leaves a relatively narrow wound channel visible in the gel before the upset begins and this narrow portion is referred to as the “neck”. M855 is notorious for having erratic performance in this regard, with the neck sometimes being somewhat reasonable (4”-5”) and sometimes being so long that the projectile is likely to exit a target before beginning to upset. This erratic performance is due to a variety of factors including muzzle velocity and in-flight projectile yaw, but the end result is that it can sometimes produce the ice pick wounds that we often hear of anecdotally. The extremely short neck exhibited by M855A1 in this test is very encouraging in that it seems to indicate M855A1 is more able to reliably produce incapacitating wounds than M855.

The question that remains is how M855A1 performs out of short barrels or at longer range. Does it continue to produce an extremely short neck at lower velocity?

The answer appears to be “yes”. It retains the practically nonexistent neck seen in the longer barrel test. This gives us a peek into what the performance could be at about 100 yards. It is important to remember that it is a sample size of one, so it is by no means conclusive. It does present a rough idea of what we could expect, though. As mentioned above, M855 can perform adequately at close range, but as distance increases and velocity decreases, fragmentation occurs deeper in the target, if at all. As velocity decreases beyond 2,700 fps or so, fragmentation may not occur at all. The fact that M855A1 was able to fragment almost instantly, even when fired from a short barrel is very encouraging.

M855A1 (two)

As good as the performance in tissue looks, it is irrelevant if the projectile cannot even make it to the tissue because of intervening obstacles. M855 was adopted in part for its ability to penetrate Warsaw Pact steel helmets at 800 meters. M193, which was replaced by M855 can penetrate level III steel body armor, when fired from a 20” barrel at 50 feet or less, due to its relatively high velocity. M855 typically cannot penetrate that same armor. M855A1 has an exposed steel penetrator that is pointier and about twice the weight of M855’s penetrator, so it looks as though it was designed with penetration in mind, but how does it actually perform?

The test does show that M855A1 can penetrate steel armor, but it isn’t quite that simple. The armor used in this test is not just level III, but an improved version the manufacturer refers to as level III+. The plate used in the test stopped M193 in a previous test so M855A1 is seen here penetrating a plate that neither M855 nor M193 could penetrate. This does not mean that this armor is inferior in any way, it simply means that M855A1 is significantly better at penetrating hard barriers than its predecessor.

M855A1 might be considered “green” because of its lead free design, but it appears to be a dramatic performance improvement over M855. Rather than compromise performance for the sake of environmentalism, as some critics have claimed, it seems very likely that the Army used the political desire for environmentally friendly ammunition to develop and field a more effective replacement for M855. Time will tell, but it appears that American soldiers finally have a better small arms cartridge.

Can a Tiny 45 gr .223 Varmint Bullet Defeat Level III Steel Armor?

Note:  I want to take a moment and thank Andrew Betts for this article.  I often have tried to explain this to people and I don’t think they believed me.  If you choose or have to wear body armor, be aware of its limits.  And as always, try not to get shot.  -Howard

Can a Tiny 45 gr .223 Varmint Bullet Defeat Level III Steel Armor?

By Andrew Betts


Level III AR500 armor is rated to stop 7.62x51mm NATO. It seems obvious that anything “less” than that would also be stopped. Is it possible that such a tiny bullet from a much less powerful cartridge could perforate armor designed and rated to stop the mighty 7.62x51mm?

As it turns out, yes. That tiny bullet can zip right through the steel armor, even when fired from relatively short barrels. How is this possible? It seems counterintuitive. It seems that it would require more power to get through steel armor but in fact, velocity is the primary factor that influences steel armor penetration. Sectional density, bullet construction, and mass all play a role, of course, but the roles they play are minimal compared to the role played by velocity. In the case of ¼” thick AR500 steel, 3,200 fps is about the cutoff point. Anything faster than that will usually pass through and anything slower will probably be stopped. The actual V50 rating is not published by the company, but it is apparent that it is somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,200 fps. The V50 rating is the velocity at which 50% of the projectiles of a given type pass through. To determine the V50 rating, a laboratory increases the velocity of the bullet being tested until it perforates the armor, then tests statistically relevant sample sizes at velocities near that point to determine the velocity at which 50% of bullets pass through.

It may be tempting to declare that this armor is garbage, but that is far from the case. This test simply demonstrates the design limitations of this type of armor. The plate shown in this test is available for $65 from http://www.ar500armor.com and will stop all handgun rounds and most common rifle rounds such as 7.62x39mm, 7.62x51mm, .300 Blackout, and even most .223 or 5.56x45mm ammo. While it is not specifically rated for M855, this plate will stop multiple hits of it. It will not stop M193, if it is fired from a long enough barrel and impacts at a close enough distance, but it will stop virtually any 60 grain and heavier .223 Rem projectile. Moreover, it will do so even after significant abuse. As we saw in the video, the plate stopped two rounds of 7.62x51mm, even after it had been perforated multiple times by the varmint ammo. Rather than focusing on the few threats that it will not stop, consider that you cannot purchase any lower threat level for the same cost. It stops far more than Level IIIA soft armor does and costs much less.

It is also worth noting that, while the high velocity varmint ammo does a good job of getting through the steel plate, it is not a good choice for defense. As seen in the test below, it penetrates far too shallowly to achieve reliable incapacitation.

Finally, it bears mentioning that the same company that produces this armor also produces Level III+ steel armor, which is designed to stop many of the threats that can defeat Level III armor. Be wary, though. Level III+ is not an actual NIJ rating, just an affirmation by the maker that the plate exceeds Level III by some degree in their assessment. Some manufacturers have had independent labs test their Level III+ plates and give them a special threat rating for specific rounds and others have not. Just because the plate is advertised as a Level III+ does not mean the same thing for various manufacturers. As with any other purchase you must do your own research. You should do your level best to find independent testing results from qualified labs and where that is not available, amateur testing as seen in the video above can help to inform your decision. As always, software > hardware. What is between your ears matters far more than what is on your chest. Train hard.

Trying Floor Tiles As Body Armor, Can It Really Work ?

By Andrew Betts

It could be the recent growth in interest in “prepper” shows or it could be the more general trend toward self-reliance and a DIY attitude, but for some reason making homemade body armor has become a popular thing to do. It may sound sketchy, like a homemade parachute or homemade aqualung, but one guy is taking a somewhat unique approach to the task.

Rather than simply slapping some tiles together to see what happens, The Chopping Block channel is taking a systematic approach to developing a dependable and repeatable design. The goal is to use experimentation and specific metrics to create a design that anyone can build, regardless of skill level. The other unique facet of his open source armor project is his insistence on leveraging the ingenuity of the community as a whole.

But why would someone want to build a homemade plate of dubious quality when quality professionally built body armor is readily available and affordable? While armor is available in most US states, it is not legal for civilians to purchase everywhere and it is always possible that future legislation could restrict the purchase of body armor. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to regulate body armor at the federal level over the last decade. It is also worth noting that while an entry level plate may not exactly require a second mortgage, the $65 price tag is more than the $10-$20 that some of these home built projects cost. Is your life worth more than $65? Of course it is, but when you add the cost of a carrier, it can start getting far more expensive to outfit a family of four with Level III plates, especially if you wanted to keep a set in more than one vehicle. The point is not that a homemade solution is better than a professionally made plate, but that the homemade solution is better than having nothing at all due to cost or legal hurdles. If you have the ability to purchase quality, professionally built armor, you should do so. It still might be handy to know how to build a field expedient rifle plate from a few dollars of home improvement supplies. Aside from any practical application, though, projects like these are fun and fascinating. The project has some interesting challenges to overcome and it will be exciting to see how they address them.

Man Shoots Soldiers’ Armor With .44 Magnum, What Happens Might Make You Cringe

By Andrew Betts

Our service men and women are issued body armor systems composed of a carrier, soft panels, and hard plates. One of the most common systems is the IOTV, or Improved Outer Tactical Vest. The military faces different threats than law enforcement does and therefore military body armor is not NIJ rated, but the soft panels are widely said to be roughly equivalent to NIJ level IIIA. That means that they should stand up to a .44 magnum 240 gr jacketed soft point at 1,400 fps with no more than 2.7” of back face deformation in a modeling clay backer.

We wanted to know if the armor would meet that standard so we tested a groin protector panel from an OTV. Be warned, this video might make you cross your legs.

It was interesting that the aramid layers are not stitched around the edges, as they are in many other armor panels. They had just a single stitch in the center. Nevertheless, the groin protector panel came very close to passing this IIIA standard. It stopped the bullet and the back face deformation was only slightly over the standard. Of course, .44 mag is not exactly a common threat on the battlefield.

Military armor is designed with other threats in mind, but it is encouraging to know that our soldiers are protected by excellent armor.

Fox News 10 – Civil Rights Activist Experiences Shoot or Don’t Shoot Scenarios

I was forwarded this via email from the local 3 Gun match director Mark Meek. I think a good many people don’t realize how quickly a situation can escalate, and how hard it can be it identify the good guys from the bad guys. Many anti-gun people believe that their mantle of innocence is a shield from violence. That belief leads to impotent inaction which can cost them, or their loved ones their lives.

Shotgun vs. Pistol for home defense

Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch posted up a video comparing the overall length of a shouldered shotgun to a pistol held at arms length.

I like Clint Smith’s teachings and while this is a valid point, I still prefer the pistol. Why?
The pistol can be fired from compressed shooting positions, something not so much possible with a shotgun.
I can better employ a pistol one handed then I could a shotgun. Try calling the police while holding a shotgun, opening doors, or carrying an infant.

Longarms have many advantages over handguns but they have their own downsides. You really need to pick the one that best fit your needs.