Special Operations Command Is Experimenting With Bullets That Shoot Through Water

By Patrick Tucker

November 20, 2019

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C.There’s a reason bad guys in spy movies use harpoon guns when they have to fight underwater. Regular bullets lose their deadly momentum when traveling through liquid or other dense substances. U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, has begun experimenting with new bullets that could allow frogmen to shoot up into enemy boats or helicopter gunners to strafe periscope-depth submarines.

How does it work? The tungsten-tipped CAV-X bullet from Virginia’s DSG Technologies has a nose that creates a small air bubble as it moves through the water. The bubble greatly reduces drag on the bullet, a supercavitation effect that has been part of torpedo design since World War II and is now a feature on some types of boats.

DSG provided bullets to Special Operations Command for testing earlier this month. Odd Leonhardsen, the company’s chief science officer, said the tests will include firing up toward the surface from underwater, and some others he said he wasn’t told about.

SOCOM officials haven’t returned calls for comment.

But the company mounted its own demonstration on Wednesday morning at a shooting range outside Fayetteville, North Carolina. Using a Colt AR-15, a company employee fired a CAV-X bullet through 13 blocks of ballistic gelatin, each 1.3 feet long  — the kind the FBI uses in testing. The cubes, a bit denser than water, stand in for human flesh. A normal bullet will penetrate just a couple of cubes. 

Here’s an exclusive video:

DSG officials said the demonstration, which was part of a larger event put on by the Global SOF Foundation, bested an “unofficial” world record that DSG had set just the day before, and another record that they had bested in May.

The company also demonstrated different bullets that can shoot through sandbags, through 2 cm of steel (with no ricochet), and through body armor. 

Only recently, said Leonhardsen, has the company entered a phase where it can mass produce the special bullets. 

DSG is also selling to other governments, Leonhardsen said. He declined to identify them. He did say those governments were testing how well the bullets performed when fired from helicopters into the water. One potential target: submarines. In tests performed by DSG, the .50-cal. bullets can travel 60 meters through water or penetrate 2 cm of steel through 17 meters of water.  

By Patrick Tucker // Patrick Tucker is technology editor for Defense One. He’s also the author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? (Current, 2014). Previously, Tucker was deputy editor for The Futurist for nine years. Tucker has written about emerging technology in Slate, The Sun, MIT Technology Review, Wilson Quarterly, The American Legion Magazine, BBC News Magazine, Utne Reader, and elsewhere.

November 20, 2019