Last week one of our readers questioned why the military clings to a 111-year-old guideline in the 1899 Hague Convention that prohibits combat units from using of bullets that “expand or flatten easily” inside the human body.
I, too, have long questioned this attempt to make warfare humane at a time when opposing sides routinely bludgeoned each other to death with rifle buttstocks, shovels and nail-tipped trench clubs.
W. Hayes Parks, international affairs legal guru for DoD, spoke on this subject at length at the National Defense Industrial Association Joint Armaments Conference last year.
I’m not going to get too deep in the weeds on this, but at the time of the Hague, the U.S. did declare bullets that “inflict uselessly cruel wounds, such as explosive” ammunition are forbidden and that has remained the legal standard our country has followed ever since.
This is a problem.
I listen to experienced trigger-pullers who grit their teeth in frustration with the legal bureaucracy that has the final say on the types of ammo they take to war.
Ammunition approval is granted only if the requirement passes a legal review. This means that the military has to get creative when they describe what they need.
Tier-1, special-mission units are authorized to use jacketed hollow-point bullets instead of standard ball. How do they do it? They classify themselves as counterterrorism forces, a legal distinction that allows them to use the same hollow-point ammo used by all law enforcement agencies.
Some will argue that hollow points are designed to prevent over-penetrations that endanger innocent bystanders. That may be true, but any ballistic expert will tell you that they also create a larger wound cavity than standard ball.
The military has some recent success in getting past this stringent legal standard by fielding two enhanced-performance 5.56mm rounds.
Special Operations Command’s new MK318 round is designed to penetrate battlefield barriers such as windshields, car doors and walls without losing any of its terminal performance inside the enemy.
The open-tip match design makes it highly accurate but also tends to flatten and expand when it penetrates up to 18 inches of flesh. But you won’t find that little tidbit in any document Pentagon lawyers approved.
The other new round is the Army’s M855A1. It has a steel penetrator tip that sits on a solid copper slug, a design that helps it penetrate barriers and even steel plates.
But there’s another nuance about the M855A1’s design that didn’t make it into the legal review. Ballistic testing and recent battlefield feedback about its effects on enemy KIA show that the steel penetrator tip tends to separate from the slug when it enters the body and veer off while the slug continues to travel forward.
The result appears to be increased internal damage but the jury is still out.
I’m not suggesting that we don’t need laws of war. But I don’t see how expanding bullets are inhumane when it has always been perfectly acceptable to shower your enemy with limb-shearing weapons like high-explosive mortar and artillery shells.
I’m just sayin’.