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How the FBI Protocol sparked innovation in ammunition

Federal and Speer have continued to evolve their ammunition to keep pace with the needs of law enforcement

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Duty ammunition has evolved for added penetration in the years since the infamous Miami FBI shootout in 1986.


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By Warren Wilson for Police1 BrandFocus

Why does law enforcement trust these brands over so many others? In the case of Federal, it’s partially because they’ve been offering ammunition solutions to law enforcement for 100 years. Speer has been providing quality ammunition to law enforcement for decades.

The 1980s was historically significant for law enforcement in many ways. For one, technological advancements in handgun ammunition. The infamous FBI shooting in Miami spurred the agency to conduct the most in-depth research project in the area of ammunition effectiveness in history. Federal and Speer were and are at the forefront of the movement to provide the best ammunition possible to law enforcement.

The FBI spent years studying wound ballistics and ammunition effectiveness. The result of those studies was what we commonly call today, “The FBI Protocol.” It is considered to be the standard by which law enforcement ammunition is measured. Testing is conducted in bare 10% ballistic ordnance gelatin as well as eighteen inches behind the following intermediate barriers:

1. Heavy Clothing – four layers of clothing which is defined down to the thread-per-inch count and type of material.

2. Steel – 20-guage, hot rolled steel with galvanized finish set three inches apart.

3. Wallboard – Two pieces of ½” standard gypsum board set 3.5” apart.

4. Plywood – One piece of ¾” fir plywood.

5. Automobile glass – One piece of 15” x 18” ASI ¼” laminated safety glass set at a 45-degree angle and 15” to the side.

It’s important to understand the FBI uses calibrated, organic gel and not the less expensive and easier-to-use clear gel. Some departments have made poor choices in duty ammunition for lack of understanding the differences in the way bullets perform in these two mediums. Ballistic gelatin is not supposed to be analogous to human tissue. One inch of penetration in gelatin does not equal one inch of penetration in a human. That’s not the point of gelatin. The point is that it is a medium that in which we can test defensive ammunition and get consistent, “apples to apples” comparisons. The lab guys at Speer and Federal explain it very well here.

The Bureau concluded that for a handgun round to be consistently effective, it needed to penetrate 12”-18” in calibrated gelatin and expand to at least 1.5 times its original diameter. That was a tall order for ammunition at the time. Few of the ammunitions that were in production at that time met those standards.

Refining the Hydra-Shok to meet the FBI protocol

One of the first rounds fielded directly in response to this testing was the slightly reworked Federal Hydra-Shok. It offered a large hollow point cavity with a center post which aided in both penetration and expansion. It was hugely successful. As law enforcement agencies migrated to semi-autos, many of them were stoked with this load.

Reducing lead exposure

Something else that happened in the 1980s was an increased concern about lead exposure, particularly in indoor ranges like at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). In 1987 Speer introduced their Total Metal Jacket bullet, which was fully encapsulated with copper, minimizing lead exposure. In 1990, CCI-Speer introduced the CleanFire primer which eliminated harmful barium, antimony and lead from the primer mix formulation to further enhance air quality and therefore safety. This bullet is used in the Lawman line of practice ammunition which emulates the weight and velocity of duty ammunition.

Shoring up for short-barrels

In 1992, Speer introduced the Gold Dot bullet which was specifically designed to meet the FBI protocol. To this day almost every knowledgeable professional pistol carrier I know has either HST or Gold Dot in their gun. That says a lot. In 2005, Speer Law Enforcement introduced the Gold Dot Short Barrel .38 Special ammunition. This caliber is often carried as a back-up/off-duty gun by cops but doesn’t generally expand that well due to a lack of velocity created by the short barrels of the most popular guns chambered in it. The Gold Dot Short Barrel expands and penetrates much more reliably than previous loadings. Gold Dot isn’t just for handguns, though. In 2008, Speer introduced Gold Dot rifle ammunition. Guess what I carry in my duty rifle?

The next generation of the Gold Dot was introduced in 2015. The Gold Dot 2 is re-engineered with some interesting features. It has a show-dished, elastomer-filled nose. Upon impact, the elastomer puts force on engineered fissures, forcing expansion. Its core is structurally plated and pressure formed, virtually eliminating the possibility of a jacket/core separation. And, of course, it performs excellently in the FBI protocol.

Expanding the FMJ

In 2001, Federal introduced the Expanding Full Metal Jacket for agencies prohibited from using hollow points by policy or whose firearms didn’t function well with them. EFMJ bullets have the same smooth, rounded profile of a standard full metal jacket bullet but still expand on impact, maximizing effectiveness and preventing over-penetration.

Giving LEOs performance in their duty handguns

The current generation of Federal law enforcement ammunition is the HST, introduced in 2002. No matter the caliber or bullet weight, it is a consistent and effective performer. It’s my chosen defensive round that I carry in every one of my defensive handguns.

Why Federal and Speer lead the pack

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a big fan of Federal and Speer ammunition as are law enforcement officers and agencies in general. Why? Because they’ve been providing consistent, effective ammunition to us for decades and have never let us down ─ and at a price lower than many other company’s offerings. Why do we use Federal and Speer? I submit why wouldn’t we?

Warren Wilson is a captain, training commander and rangemaster with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team leader, current firearms instructor and writer. He has been a full-time law enforcement officer since 1996.