Tuesday, February 20, 2007

In a comment to this post on Michael Specter's piece on Russia, Jason wrote:

One thing that did bother me about the linked article, is that the author obviously knows nothing about firearms. There is no such thing as a plastic 9mm Makarov (they only make them in steel) and the 5.45mm bullet used in the standard AK74 is not illegal to use. It has a hollow space in the tip of the bullet that supposedly allows it to tumble more quickly in flesh, but all bullets either tumble or fragment (or both) when they hit a person.

(Thank you, Jason!)

One thing that needs to be added to this comment is that the passage about the 5.45mm bullets is actually a quote from Anna Politkovskaya, not Specter's words.

I myself probably wouldn't be able to tell a hunter's rifle from a Kalashnikov, but I realize that Makarov and 5.45mm are pretty basic stuff - and it's very upsetting that such errors do manage to slip into the texts of otherwise reputable reporters. Especially Politkovskaya.


So I decided to educate myself a little and bought a book on the Russian spetsnaz (special purpose units): Taktika spetsnaza, by Gennadiy Kazachkov. It's got pictures and descriptions of the most common guns and stuff in the appendix, which is useful, but it's also got some narrative, some analyses of the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan and the Russian involvement in Chechnya - which should be interesting.

I'm still reading the intro, though - and am beginning to feel dirty. Here's one passage, the bullet statistics:

The emergence of more precise, complex and diverse weapons and ways to use them has changed the role of traditional firearms. This is a fact that can be confirmed statistically. In WWII, 25,000 bullets were spent on the average to kill one soldier, during the Korean War - 50,000, and in Vietnam - 200,000 bullets already. To compare: in Afghanistan, the Soviet troops were spending about 6,000 bullets on one killed enemy, and in Chechnya - about 7,500. [...]

Not that the Third World infant mortality figures are any less shocking, but, unlike here, we're used to that kind of stuff, I guess.


And here's what Kazachkov writes about 5.45mm bullets:

When the 5.45mm bullet hits the body, it may start moving chaotically, causing substantial damage. But it doesn't always happen like this. These qualities of the new bullet brought into existence legends about "a bullet with the displaced center of gravity that enters through an arm and exits through a leg." Amazing, but such an opinion is still popular among dilettantes.


  1. "These bullets, weighted at the edges, have been forbidden by all international conventions as inhumane."

    To get at the facts, do an internet search on dum-dum bullet. The original dum-dum bullet was abandoned because the metal jacket tended to separate and stay in the rifle barrel causing blocked barrels. The Hague Convention of 1899 banned this type, but not all nations signed the convention.

    There are now much more effective designs for expanding bullets, and they are favored by police. There is much propaganda and nonsense related to this. These are sometimes called "cop killer bullets" because allegedly they penetrate bullet proof vests, when in fact their propensity to flatten out makes them less likely to penetrate. Also the more they expand and use up their energy in the target the less likely they are to come out the other side and hit bystanders.

    The AK74 5.45mm is similar to the .223 caliber used in the M16. The idea in this type of weapon is to use a burst of lightweight tumbling (on impact) rounds that do far more damage than a dum-dum. Why the dum-dum was considered immoral, when stabbing with bayonets or blowing people to bits with artillery was not, is a result of diplomatic hypocrisy and war propaganda.

    Practically speaking the reason for the 5.45mm is that the lighter weight allows the infantry soldier to carry more rounds of ammunition and the recoil in an automatic weapon is less so that the shooter can control the direction of fire better. Also, almost all combat in which rifles are used is at close distances where the range of the heavier 30 caliber bullet of WWI WWII and the AK47 is not needed.

  2. Your welcome! *blushing*
    I figure most people just roll their eyes when they see my posts and move on. Nice to know that sometimes something I write might have a little bit of value to others, as rare as that may be.

    I kind of know what you mean by dirty. When I was first exposed to discussions on terminal ballistics (what bullets do inside people), I felt a little queasy about the whole thing. But if you look at the subject from a more clinical perspective (like a doctor) it gets easier. While there isn’t much use for this type of information in everyday life for most of us (thank goodness), it is information nonetheless, and it can't hurt you by knowing it.

    It should also be noted (for what its worth) that small arms innovation and development is one area that the Russian Federation still excels at and could be considered a world leader in.

  3. thank you very much for your insight, tim wilder!

    and jason, thanks a lot for all of your comments here - i feel very bad about never responding. i owe an apology for this to nearly everyone commenting here, actually... i do love getting comments (with just a few minor exceptions)!!!

    as for the bullets stuff, i find it very interesting to read about - but i always have this strange feeling as if it's some tiny part of me that's really into it, while the rest of me is smoking nervously out on the balcony? :)))

  4. There isn't such a thing as a humane bullet.

    I have a .243 hunting rifle and I know the damage it does on a big game animal. I've cleaned out a number of animals and know the results. Animals have much thicker skins than people do.

    The .243 is slightly bigger than a .223 in diameter and also bigger in shell size containing more powder. I have loaded my own for hunting. It is a fast and flat shooting round as is the .223. If any of these bullets strike a person they won't deflect much unless they hit a bone. Of course it depends on how far away the target. They move so fast that that they will cut right through the target in pretty much a straight line unless they meet resistance. The .243 bullet travels at over 2500 feet per second. And it can be loaded so it will go over 3000 feet per second. That's fast. The others you mention aren't much different in reality. The range of a .243 is about 300 yards.

    So I suspect that if a .223 hits a person at around 100 yards it will go straight through for the most part. Especially with a full metal jacket. I would expect a bullet that isn't weighted evenly to be less accurate, but I doubt it would cause it to turn inside the target unless the target is at a great distance and the bullet has slowed down quite a bit. These things spin and travel very fast. It's still going to hurt, and it isn't humane either way.

  5. i missed you, don - hope you're doing well!

    if i had to choose, i'd rather read about ammo as it applies to humans, not animals... i think 'bambi' is one of the cruellest books out there...