Analysis of FBI Ballistics Data - Part 1: Muzzle Energy and Momentum

Analysis of FBI Ballistics Data - Part 1: Muzzle Energy and Momentum

This is a discussion on Analysis of FBI Ballistics Data - Part 1: Muzzle Energy and Momentum within the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; I found a website that listed 90 results from the 1989 FBI Ballistics test. There are some good thoughts on this but no-one really went ...

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Thread: Analysis of FBI Ballistics Data - Part 1: Muzzle Energy and Momentum

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    New Member Array matt787's Avatar
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    Analysis of FBI Ballistics Data - Part 1: Muzzle Energy and Momentum

    I found a website that listed 90 results from the 1989 FBI Ballistics test. There are some good thoughts on this but no-one really went in depth analyzing the data. I'll cover the important findings in several parts over the next couple of weeks. I know the data is old, but even after this much time the relationships stay the same. There were many hollow-points that performed well even in 1989. Looking at the data you can also pick out which ones fragmented and which ones didn't expand when penetrating clothing, so it is easy to point out what would be different if these tests were repeated today. I also managed to get some more recent data from 1991-1997 which followed the same general relationships. Unfortunately I couldn't find enough modern data to do a good analysis on so I'm stuck with 1989.

    Caution: I'm going to try to keep this easily readable but it will get technical at times.

    Part 1: Muzzle Energy and Momentum
    Part 2: Recoil
    Part 3: Bullet Expansion, Speed and Weight
    Part 4: Penetration
    Part 5: Overview

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The tests were conducted on bare ballistic gelatin and clothed ballistic gelatin. Wound channel volume is the total volume of the permanent wound cavity created by the bullet. The wound channel values are in cubic inches. I'm going to consider wound channel volume the same as damage. Remember I'm just looking at total damage today - I'll talk penetration in another part!

    Muzzle Energy vs Bare Wound Channel Volume.jpg

    This first graph shows the relationship between muzzle energy and total wound channel volume. This is for bare gelatin. I said in another post that there should be a rough correlation between muzzle energy and the amount of damage done. There is a correlation but it is pretty rough. For a good correlation you would want to see all those values very close to the orange trend line, but in this example they are spread apart. The correlation coefficient (r-value) is .35 which is low. 1 is a perfect correlation and 0 is no correlation.

    You can interpret the orange line as average performance. Points below the line were below average where points above the line were above average.

    Something very interesting however is the caliber. You can see the different calibers portrayed on the graph with the various symbols. .45 ACP was the best in terms of translating muzzle energy into damage. .40 S&W was very very close behind .45 ACP. 9mm was 3rd and .380 was 4th. 10mm, .357 mag and .357 sig were also tested, but there are far few data points to draw any reasonable conclusions here.

    Muzzle Energy vs Clothed Wound Channel Volume.jpg

    This is the same graph as the last one but it looks at clothed gelatin instead of bare. The correlation co-efficient is .42, a little better than the last graph, but still not great. This graph shows the same general trends although .45 ACP seemed to be a little less effective at translating muzzle energy into damage. It still maintains a slight lead over .40 S&W.

    Bullet Momentum vs. Bare Wound Channel Volume.jpg

    Surprisingly bullet momentum had good correlation with wound channel volume. The correlation coefficient was .73 which is considered pretty strong. That means despite all of the other variables involved, if one load has a higher momentum than another, generally that load will cause more damage. I was very surprised at the degree of correlation considering how many other variables can affect the damage done.

    Remember the orange line represents the general trend of the data and a kind of average. Points below the line can be considered below average while points above the line can be called above-average.

    Looking at the calibers .45 ACP caused the most damage. This isn't suprising considering .45 ACPs have more momentum than the other rounds tested. 10mm seemed to be around the same area as .45 ACP, but one 10mm round fell far short of the average. This round likely fragmented during penetration which would throw off the test results. .40 S&W took a strong second. .357 Mag and .357 SIG seemed to be hanging around the same performance as .40. You'll notice there are a couple of .357 Mags that are very low. These were rounds that fragmented and we need to ignore them for the analysis. 9mm was next in terms of damage caused and .380 took last.

    If you look left to right along any line you can see that there is overlap between calibers: High-performing 9mm rounds did the same amount of damage as some of the lower performing .40 S&W rounds. Some of the high performing .40s did the same amount of damage as the lower-performing .45 ACP. It should be noted that load choice is extremely important! No matter what caliber you shoot the right load can make a big difference in the amount of damage you can inflict. But despite this fact, calibers that could produce more momentum were able to cause more damage. That's why .45 ACP came out on top - It can launch heavy, large diameter bullets at pretty fast speeds. This is also why .380 came in last, it has far less momentum than other calibers. This does not mean .380 cannot be a good choice for a self-defense round, it just means it will inflict less damage than other rounds.

    Bullet Momentum vs. Clothed Wound Channel Volume.jpg
    In clothed ballistics gel the trend is roughly the same. Average wound channel volume decreased among all calibers but you will notice that .40 S&W decreased much less than .45 ACP and 9mm. Now the reason this probably happened is the .40 S&W hollow-points expanded much better in clothed ballistics gel than 9mm and .45 ACP. If this test was repeated with modern hollow-points I think this graph would look almost identical to the last.

    Average wound channel volume by caliber
    1. 45 ACP 5.53 cubic inches
    2. 40 S&W 4.88 cubic inches
    3. 9mm 3.6 cubic inches
    4. 380 2.21 cubic inches

    10mm* 5.38 cubic inches
    .357 SIG* 4.54 cubic inches
    .357 MAG* 3.24 cubic inches

    * The lack of data points and inconsistent results makes any comparison for these 3 rounds difficult - so don't put too much faith in these results. I need more data.


    Key Takeaways:
    1. Muzzle energy is an OK method to compare the potential damage a round can do, but momentum is MUCH MUCH better. In other words if you want to see what round can do more damage to living tissue compare the bullet momentum. Generally higher bullet momentum numbers mean more damage.

    2. Your load choice matters! A high-performing 9mm load can do as much damage as many .40s. A high performing .40 can compete with many .45 rounds!

    3. .45 ACPs on average did 13% more damage than .40 S&W, 54% more damage than 9mm and 150% more damage than .380

    4. .40 S&W did on average 36% more damage than 9mm and 121% more damage than .380

    5. 9mm did on average 63% more damage than .380. 9mm did suffer a few fragmenting rounds so if this test were to be repeated with modern rounds, 9mm's damage numbers should be a little bit higher, but the trends will remain the same.

    6. 10 mm had average damage comparable to .45 ACP, .357 SIG performed slightly lower than .40 S&W and .357 Mag performed a little lower than 9mm. However very few rounds for these calibers were tested so this may not accurately represent average performance. Furthermore several of the ,357 mag hollow-points fragmented which changed the results dramatically. With modern bullet design these results could be much different today.
    Last edited by matt787; March 23rd, 2014 at 06:37 PM. Reason: Added Links
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    Distinguished Member Array Nmuskier's Avatar
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    #1 bullet diameter. Bigger is better
    #2 mass. momentum=mv. Again, bigger is better.
    #3 velocity. Matters, but appears to be less significant than caliber and mass. Once critical velocity has been reached to ensure reliable penetration and expansion, more fps has less significant affect.

    Thanks for the data.

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    VIP Member Array Stevew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nmuskier View Post
    #1 bullet diameter. Bigger is better
    #2 mass. momentum=mv. Again, bigger is better.
    #3 velocity. Matters, but appears to be less significant than caliber and mass. Once critical velocity has been reached to ensure reliable penetration and expansion, more fps has less significant affect.

    Thanks for the data.
    Never under estimate velocity. That's what separates the all mighty rifle from the lowly handgun.
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    VIP Member Array Stevew's Avatar
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    And never over estimate FBI testing and research.
    Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around laws. Plato

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    Interesting information. I would caution against relying too heavily on momentum, however. A .45 ACP from a handgun has substantially more momentum than a 5.56 NATO out of a rifle, but depending on what the bullet does, a 5.56 carries far more wounding potential. As far as handgun rounds go, it may be close enough, but I suspect the apparent correlation would start to break down when looking at higher energy and higher velocity handgun rounds, .357 Magnum and up, where they start to nip at the heels of rifle rounds in terms of energy.
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    Thanks for your efforts.
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    Distinguished Member Array Nmuskier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stevew View Post
    Never under estimate velocity. That's what separates the all mighty rifle from the lowly handgun.
    A .45 ACP from a handgun has substantially more momentum than a 5.56 NATO out of a rifle
    Very true. We need to separate the handgun vs. rifle data. This data only discusses handguns, thus my conclusion only considers the data discussed.

    Regarding 5.56, it doesn't need to loose very much velocity to "ice pick", and effectively become a .22lr.

    I love the .357 in a lever action carbine!
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    VIP Member Array Stevew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nmuskier View Post
    Very true. We need to separate the handgun vs. rifle data. This data only discusses handguns, thus my conclusion only considers the data discussed.
    But the same principles of physics apply to both.
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    Quote Originally Posted by LimaCharlie View Post
    Although the general points made in this document are probably valid, I always feel compelled to advise people NOT to take it as gospel. The errors regarding physics made on page 9 would earn a failing grade for any sophomore-year science or engineering student. Experts are sometimes not.
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    @ OP -On what website did you find your data?
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    QUANTITATIVE AMMUNITION SELECTION

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    I find it hard to believe that a .357 magnum had a smaller permanent cavity vs. a 9mm.

    What loads and barrel lengths were used for this test?

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    I appreciate statistical analysis. However I do not feel differences in the amount of "damage" done by typical handguns amounts to much. If it did, you would not expect to see failures to stop with large bore handguns like this:

    Why one cop carries 145 rounds of ammo on the job

    And of course this is only one of many.

    Most handgun "stops" are due to fear and/or pain. If you end up facing someone with no fear or who feels no pain, and you have nothing but a handgun at your disposal - then I hope you can make the head shot. As stated many times before, bleed out can take a long time - even if the heart is destroyed.

    I do not subscribe to the "shoot them COM until they fall down" school of thought. To me, that is the definition of insanity. If the first few shots COM do not work, I will make every attempt to shoot the head.

    Take a look here:

    An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power

    And note this:

    What matters even more than caliber is shot placement. Across all calibers, if you break down the incapacitations based on where the bullet hit you will see some useful information.

    Head shots = 75% immediate incapacitation [emphasis added]
    Torso shots = 41% immediate incapacitation
    Extremity shots (arms and legs) = 14% immediate incapacitation.

    No matter which caliber you use, you have to hit something important in order to stop someone!

    I applaud the OP for his analysis, but again, I'm not convinced the differences between calibers, bullet types, momentum, and KE levels really amounts to much. Train hard, and put the bullets where they matter.
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    Distinguished Member Array Nmuskier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stevew View Post
    But the same principles of physics apply to both.
    Steve, when viewing the effects of projectiles at handgun vs. rifle velocities, it becomes clear that somewhere above 2,000fps, tissue reacts in a violently different manner. So yes, the same physics apply, but handguns are incapable of creating the velocity necessary for the secondary trauma caused by rifle velocities. There is a spectrum, but generally speaking these are two separate conversations.

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