Everyting you wanted to know about Ammunition manufacturing

Forum for discussing factory & reloading non-5.7x28mm ammunition.
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sabotteur
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Everyting you wanted to know about Ammunition manufacturing

Post by sabotteur » 04 Apr 2010, 05:08

This is an old post that I was asked to resurrect and add some more detail to. I’ll leave it to the mods if they think it’s worth a sticky, but anyone who purchases ammunition should probably read through this when they have the time.

First, a little background as to why I think I'm qualified to write this. I’m former military with a masters degree. I currently work for the U.S. Gov’t where I work on ammunition development and procurement for the USMC. I specify in 40mm high and low velocity grenades (think M203 and MK19s) but I’ve also worked on 120mm all the way down to 5.56mm programs. In essence, I blow up stuff for my day job to ensure that what we buy actually works for the marines over in the sandbox, and that it is safe during the entire factory to grave life cycle. The FFL is just our weekend gig, and is more of a passion turned into a business to further my addiction more than anything else.

With that said, here’s some simple facts about consumer ammunition.

1. 95% of what we can buy off the shelf is going to be hazard classification 1.4S.

Department of Transportation explosive classification
- Class 1: Explosives
- Division 1.1 Explosives with a mass explosion hazard
- Division 1.2 Explosives with a projection hazard
- Division 1.3 Explosives with predominantly a fire hazard
- Division 1.4 Explosives with no significant blast hazard
- Division 1.5 Very insensitive explosives
- Division 1.6 Extremely insensitive explosive articles

This basically means if effected on by an explosive or heat based stimulus it will just burn. In most cases, all small arms ammo will be a 1.4S (the only real exception will be some of the funkier .50bmg and newer shotgun rounds we are playing with where they are putting small amounts of HE in the ogive of the projectile), which basically means that unless the packaging has been degraded by fire, that all hazardous effects arising from accidental function are confiened within the package.

What that means in laymen terms is that is that if you have ammunition stored properly in side functional ammo cans then if there is a fire at your house, any reaction will be contained in side the can. There are a few discriminators here, but as a whole this is a safe assumption. Unlike you see in the movies, ammunition doesn’t start blowing off when exposed to fire. Drop a few 5.56 rounds in the camp fire next time your out. You’ll hear some hissing and the primers will pop out, the propellant will burn, but the bullets won’t go shooting off into the sky or into your knee. There’s no pressure to build up to allow the bullet to escape the cartridge case like you see inside the chamber of a gun. So, like any other reaction, the escaping gas looks for the point of least resistance, and on most small arms that is going to be the primer. In some cases it will be the projectile, but even a crimped bullet is going to just drop out, it won’t go flying out at 1000+ fps.

So to summarize point one, As a whole, if you have 1.4S in a can, it doesn't matter how many cans you have stacked, or what proximity they are to one another. 1.4S ammo will burn, it will not explode. If your can has a good seal, you'll get some venting of gas, resulting in deformation of the can, and a crap load of heat, but the integritiy of the can will usually stay in place unless it is exposed to an extreme environment.

2. Difference between military and commercial ammo. Military ammunition during development undergoes a litany of test to qualify it prior to being accepted by the USG for use. These test include but are not limited to environmental, hazard classification, insensitive munitions, and functional testing. There is other stand alone testing done depending on the intended usage (think of off-gasing if the ammo might go a sub) but as a whole, most of the testing falls into the above categories.

Production of military ammo is also under a fine tooth comb of DCMA inspectors and quality auditors from the in-service engineering folks who ensure that the manufacture is building to the design technical data package and isn’t try to cut corners by slipping in substandard materials or process. Finally, military ammo also undergoes a lot acceptance test each time a new lot comes off the line. The test parameters look at random samples of the ammo for dimensions, weight, velocity, trajectory, etc.

Commercial ammo doesn’t fall under the same restrictions. Each manufacturer will have their own internal quality inspection process to ensure the safety of items, but they won’t run their ammo through the same qualification testing the USG does. The cost for a standard USG qualification run starts around $3 million and takes a solid year assuming no design changes for a simple piece of ordnance and can run upwards of $10 million plus for ordnance with a fuze in it. This is why when you put your PNC bronze 5.56 through a chronometer you STD is much greater than your lake city.

3. Gov’t Testing of Ammunition

Environmental testing looks at the life cycle of the ammo to determine what stresses it might be subjected to from the time it leaves the factory to the time it is either consumed or demilled. This includes all of your transportation vibrations, temperature extremes, exposures to humidity, salt, sand, drops, etc. The key here is that all this testing on small arms is done inside the package. I could go into further detail on all the specific test, but you’d be asleep before I get to the end of the next paragraph. Suffice it to say, that if you buy military ammo still sealed in the factory can, your can expect that ammo to last over 50 years regardless of how you store it, assuming you leave the seal in place. Commercial ammo, doesn’t get the same level of scrutiny.

Hazard testing and Classification. Ever see those big orange diamond signs on the sides of trucks that say 1.4 in big orange letters, or even better 1.1E? (You see this on tank rounds, artillery projectiles and most things that have high explosive) These are the guys you want to do your best to avoid rear-ending as they are carrying things that go boom! All ammunition, regardless of commercial or military has to undergo Haz Class testing in accordance with Department of Transportation guidelines. With 1.4S, it’s pretty simple. Do a thermal stability on the energetics to make sure they don’t break down from temperature variation and then do a 12 meter (40 foot) drop to make sure that sudden impact doesn’t cause them to react. There are some other tests we do, but they get combined in the insensitive mention testing I’ll describe in a minute.

In most cases commercial manufactures can use the data provided by the manufacture of the energetic material (propellant and primer) to qualify the all up round and hence is the reason they usually get a classification of ORM-D instead of 1.4S. ORM-D basically stands for other regulated material, and is defined as A material which, although otherwise subjected to regulations, presents a limited hazard during transportation due to its form, quantity, and packaging. Note this only gives you a pass on transportation, and says nothing to storage. We’ll get to that at the end of this little dissertation.


Insensitive munitions testing. This is the cool stuff. This is where we blow up the ammo to see how it reacts to stimuli it might face during the life cycle. Testing is broken down into 6 test. They include fast cook off, slow cook off, bullet impact, fragment impact, shaped charge impact, and sympathetic detonation. Once again, these test are conducted on the cartridge in
their packaged configuration (in the can).

In a nut shell, fast cook off (basically a fuel fire, where we put the ammo in both a palleted configuration and alone in a box or two above a pool of fuel and set it off, while getting temperatures in excess of 850 C), Shaped Charge Jet (simulates a copper shaped jet from a 81 mm RPG), Bullet Impact (3x 50 cal AP rounds hitting within microseconds of one another), Slow Cook Off (put it in an oven and bake it for a week with progressivly raising temperature), Fragment Impact (basically fling a high speed fragment at a can and see what effect it has), and finally sympathetic detonation (blow up one round or several rounds with a charge of C-4 in a stack, and see what effect if any it has on the rest). The shaped charge, bullet impact, and frag impact all damage the cans, thus we see a bigger reaction. The Fast and Slow burn, along with the sympathetic, usually result in just burning, and in the case of sympathetic, the burning is confined to the can that the charge is set off in.

Function testing is just that, we test the ammo for function. Does it fire safely from the platform of weapons we plan on using it in? Does it fire safely at the temperatures that we think we’ll use it in? Does it effect the target the way the specification requires it to? Does it meet velocity requirements?


4. Storage of personal ammunition. Your ammunition should be stored in a cool dry place that sees as little temperature variation as possible through the year. The best is to place it in a metal ammo can with an intact seal. Pack the can as full as possible and place a desiccant pack or two in the can. You can stack your cans in the same place, this won’t be a problem. In case of a house fire, they will just add to the heat that is already being generated by the fire itself. They won’t add any incendiary effects.

Do not store ammo in your gun safe. Your gun safe is fire rated, but not necessarily heat rated. If it gets hot enough, which in a two story house fire with the safe on the first floor it will, your ammo will start to cook off in side the safe, and the extra heat created by the propellant and primers will destroy your guns.

If you have commercial ammo that is still in the original packaging with that nice big ORM-D sticker on it, break it out of the packaging and put it into an ammo can.

5. Buying personal ammunition. When possible, buy ammo that is still sealed in a military ammo can from the factory. This stuff is rare but when it comes on the market grab it. The hermetic seal makes a world of difference for long term storage as does the fact that it has been through the above qualification process. Yeah, I can buy that box of priv-partisan for $50 cheaper, but I don’t know what that box has been exposed to since it left the factory. What did all that sea salt do to it as it came over on the freighter? How long did it sit out in the hot humid sun in Miami on the loading dock before being sent to the non-conditioned warehouse? Last time I checked UPS trucks aren’t air conditioned. The other thing to consider here too is what and how did the energetics get manufactured and supplied to the ammo factory? You have all the same problems there compounding the issue.

6. Summary. The key is to be safe. Don’t create any unnecessary hazards to yourself, your family, or your property. Be an informed buyer. Know what you are getting. There is something to be said for you get what you pay for. Store your ammo properly, and it will still be useable by your grandchildren. This is proven by the fact that we are still seeing 1940s and 1950s military surplus ammo on the market today.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line.

ddouglas
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Re: Everyting you wanted to know about Ammunition manufactur

Post by ddouglas » 04 Apr 2010, 09:29

Very informative. Thank you.

Mister Freeze
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Re: Everyting you wanted to know about Ammunition manufactur

Post by Mister Freeze » 04 Apr 2010, 10:29

does EA rate 1.4s or ORM-D?

sabotteur
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Re: Everyting you wanted to know about Ammunition manufactur

Post by sabotteur » 04 Apr 2010, 12:12

They would rate ORM-D. At some point, when Jay get some gov't contracts, that will change, but for the time being they are no different than any other commercial manufacturer.

Mister Freeze
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Re: Everyting you wanted to know about Ammunition manufactur

Post by Mister Freeze » 05 Apr 2010, 08:19

I guess myquestion is could they rate 1.4s? My interest is the long-term storage. I guess 195LF doesn't cut it?

oregunbob
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Re: Everyting you wanted to know about Ammunition manufactur

Post by oregunbob » 06 Apr 2010, 13:43

Thanks Charles.

Now i feel even better about that FN 5.56 M193 in the can I bought from you. ;-)

Any idea what govt that was orginally manufactured for?

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