Ball Bearings = Bullets?

Might as well get this one out while it’s somewhat timely. A day or so after the bombings in Boston when we learned that ball bearings had been used as an injury multiplier, my family like all others in the nation were sat in and around the living room talking about a whole bunch of relevant stuff.

One of the topics we landed upon were the ball bearings and why someone would use them, what effect they would have, etc. At this point I did mention that at least they weren’t nails as is common in these devices, though unfortunately, we learned later on that those were included as well. In any case, one family member mentioned that ball bearings weren’t like bullets and that being hit by one wouldn’t necessarily be comparable to a fired bullet. That is a good observation, but it’s missing some details. Here’s the gist of what I filled in.

Why Fill A Bomb With Extra Projectiles?

The concussion, the force, of an explosion is more certain to cause instant or otherwise fatal damage. It can even do so through solid objects, like say, a concrete wall. That is often a hidden danger and one that I don’t know how to avoid besides getting the hell out of range. The good news is that the range is limited to a degree. It depends on the type and amount of explosive and method of detonation. Here’s where fragmentation or embedded projectiles come in. By fragmenting and/or including physical projectiles, you significantly increase the effective kill radius. The wound radius is even more dramatically increased, and that includes the lower but still present chance of death.

The good news here is that, being physical projectiles, they are theoretically much easier to avoid. The concrete wall example above could keep you safe from projectiles. It’s gotta be thick enough, though, and the thicker the better. Concrete barriers would do, building walls can work, too. Additionally, and used in conjunction with cover whenever possible, the immediate measure is to hit the dirt. Get down and squash your face, body, extremities (don’t forget the heels) down to the ground. If an explosion is detonated on the ground, it’ll backblast a lot of that force into the air at an angle. The lower (and of course, farther) you are, the less chance you have of being struck and killed by a projectile.

If you know where the bombs are and you have enough time to take steps to protect yourself, the threat of a bomb isn’t nearly as great as it could be. However, the element of surprise is on the side of the bomber. Always pay attention. Check out my post last week on how me and my family paid attention at a public gathering and handled what eventually turned out to be a benign situation.

Ball Bearings Contrasted Against Common Bullets

Some of the key differences are that most common bullets contain a large portion of lead or lead alloy that is mostly lead (plus a few things such as tin and antimony). Many bullets also have a jacket and a gas check, both generally made of copper. The shape of your average bullet in single-projectile cartridges is more ogived, more cylindrical or pointed in a particular direction. Ball bearings are typically made of solid steel or ceramic (no jackets or cores). I’d figure that steel would be more common and that those would be the kind used in the bombs. Most if not all steels also have a lower density than pure lead and lead alloys fit for bullets. As you can imagine, this will greatly affect velocity and force across the board. Internal, external, and terminal ballistics will all be quite different. In what ways? I’m not so sure. Let the physics people sort out the specifics, but I’m fairly certain that they wouldn’t go as far, hit as hard and fly as straight. A non-deformed ball bearing is also quite polished and smooth. While it’s gross to think about its effect on flesh, one would assume that the wound channel would be quite clean as steel doesn’t shatter or fragment if tempered properly and not ridiculously cold. Theoretically…

Ball Bearings Compared With Bullets

All that being said, there are some striking similarities. In ye olde days and today wherever muzzle-loading firearms can be found, the common projectile in the United States (at least before the Civil War) was in fact a round ball. Made of lead, of course, but round nonetheless. Similarly, many multi-projectile cartridges, such as those you might load a shotgun with, contain round balls (sometimes with jackets, usually not) that are also lead, generally speaking. So, the round ball is not an uncommon bullet. Furthermore, if deformed by a great force such as an explosion, the shape of the ball bearings will change and so will their flight characteristics and effect on target. At the end of the day, they are small metal missiles just like bullets are. Even if they don’t penetrate (which they can), they could still break bones and cause internal hemorrhaging. And for the record, for any gamers out there, Metro: Last Light has this little pneumatic gem. Here’s a close-up of the ammo below (from the game’s wiki page):

From the Metro: Last Light wiki page. Note the “Caliber”- 15mm/0.59

Stay tuned, and stay safe.
-DH

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~ by demonhide on June 7, 2013.

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