The recent Lethpora village encounter of Pulwama District in Jammu and Kashmir where three Jaish-e-Mohammed Fidayeen members who stormed the CRPF camp with Kalashnikovs and grenades fired steel-core bullets, which is a new trend in the three decade-old terrorism in the State. It could be alarming because of its lethality. The use of armour-piercing rounds by terrorists could be a major security nightmare as several VIPs use bulletproof vehicles. In 2015, the Obama administration scrapped a ban on armour-piercing bullets in the face of fierce opposition by gun owners, lobbyists and members of the Congress. The green tip bullets can easily pierce the light body armour used by the American police. The Law Enforcement Officer Protection Act, 1986, makes the import, distribution and manufacture of armour-piercing ammunition illegal unless primarily intended for sporting purposes. The overnight encounter that started with the attack on a CRPF centre in Lethpora claimed the lives of four CRPF men. The rounds proved fatal for one CRPF jawan as the bullet pierced his bulletproof shield. The hardened steel penetrator, encased usually in a copper jacket, in such bullets is a pointed mass of high-density material which retains its shape and strikes the target with maximum energy. The CRPF personnel were surprised when the bullets penetrated the heavy metal bunker vehicle, widely used during such encounters. Even during the July 27, 2015 attack three heavily armed terrorists dressed in army uniforms hijacked a Maruti car from the outskirts of Dinanagar in Gurdaspur after opening fire at the occupant of the car. Subsequently, these terrorists opened fire indiscriminately in the area around the bus stand, Dinanagar and also fired at a Punjab Roadways bus coming from Bamial. Subsequently, the terrorists entered Dinanagar Police Station and opened fire on the sentry standing on guard duty. There is no doubt that Pak-supported terrorists have been testing and trying these high caliber lethal bullets to increase casualty rate which could be an alarming trend.
Regarding the alleged use of the so-called armor-piercing 7.62x39mm bullets by the terrorists in the recent Lethpora, Pulwama encounter in which 5 CRPF personnel were martyred and the resulting brouhaha over a supposedly new threat dimension, there are compelling reasons to strongly suspect that it is a hoax rooted in abject ignorance of the whole science and engineering of weapon systems in general and bullets in particular.
True armor-piercing bullets have to have cores of extremely hard and dense material like tungsten-chrome alloy, tungsten carbide, manganese-molybdenum steel or depleted uranium. No other material would penetrate RHA steel or ceramic armor.
The media and the lay people deriving their knowledge from Internet forums of the uninitiated and similar unauthentic sources are talking of a steel core bullet as if it were something new or extraordinary. It is not so. The steel cores commonly used in 7.62x39mm bullets are made of mild steel, not the hardened steel. The MHA specifications for the BP jackets also speak of resistance to 7.62x39mm mild steel core bullets. There is nothing new in it.
Mild steel cores with or without a little lead cladding have been extremely common since the 1940s. The reason is simple. Mild steel cores are way cheaper than using lead-antimony alloy. They are not armor-piercing by any chance and, in fact, their lethality on human bodies is a little less because they do not deform like lead. The Chinese firm Norinco is, in fact, known since ages for its very cheap mild steel core bullets. Using manganese-molybdenum steel would increase the cost dramatically and defeat the very USP of low cost. In fact, even the jacket engaging the rifling is made of mild steel which is copper washed to prevent corrosion and save cost. This is mistakenly thought to be a copper jacket!
At least 23 different makes of the 7.62x39mm bullets are available in the international market. Not one of them is mass-produced as AP bullet. It is possible to make AP bullets in any calibre, though the ballistics would have to be sacrificed, it has to be custom-made because mass production would not be economical. Any reason to suspect custom-making becomes an entirely different and very serious matter.
While a laboratory analysis of the bullets recovered is supposedly pending, I must caution against placing undue trust in the analysis. The Indian labs are known neither for knowledge nor for integrity. The instances of the totally botched up laboratory analyses of the samples of Maggi; the so-called PETN in UP Assembly; CD of the Anara Gupta case; and description of arsenic sulphide as explosive capable of derailing trains are some of the glaring examples of how they fumble and bungle. The lab findings often seem to cater to the popular notions prevailing about a certain thing.
It would be better to carry out some systematic scientific testing of our own BP jackets and BP materials for their resistance first before jumping to any conclusion about AP bullets.
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