Afghan soldier took 14.5mm bullet to head and survived!

I missed this when I happened, but last year Fox News reported on an Afghan soldier who had a 14.5mm bullet embedded in his head. Neurosurgeon Maj. John Bini, anesthesiologist Maj. Jeffrey Rengel and a member of the bomb disposal team removed the bullet at the Bagram Air Field hospital.

Fox News indicated that it was a high explosive round. A high-explosive (HE) 14.5×114mm load does exist, but judging from the x-ray photo it looks like it contains a solid metal core with a cavity in front. The bullet looks almost identical to the Chinese 14.5mm API (armor-piercing incendiary) bullet pictured below.

14.5mm Round Cut-Away. Photo © Paul Smith / International Ammunition Association

We have some ammunition experts here (Tony, I am looking at you!) whom might be able to tell us if the bullet did or did not contain high-explosives. Regardless, a 14.5×114mm round, originally designed as an anti-tank cartridge, is far more powerful than a .50 BMG and it is a miracle that he survived. He must have been hit at an extreme range, or a colleague fired a round directly up in the air and he was hit by the bullet falling to the ground. I would put my money on the latter scenario 😉

[Hat Tip: Max Popenker ]



Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • I’m going to say you’re right about the latter scenario. They do like to fire things at the heavens over there.

  • Joel

    From what I remember of the story, he survived by a combination of long range, and a kevlar helmet (it’s better than nothing).

  • jdun1911

    That bullet does not contain high explosive from the looks of it.

    Yes .50 caliber does contain HE otherwise known as High Explosive Incendiary/Armor Piercing Ammunition or HEIAP. However the point of the HE is to help in penetration. HE part act like a sharp charge allowing the penetrator to increase penetration. The HE part doesn’t blow people to bits.

    Personally I prefer SLAP rounds (M948, M903, M962) over HEIAP.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjTsRju6W-Y

  • Nater

    SLAP rounds are not particularly accurate and they are not to be used in the M82/M107 rifles. They are for machine guns and machine guns only. The Raufoss, or Mk 211, is not a Saboted Light Armor Penetrator, it’s HEIAP. The .50BMG SLAP rounds are the M903 and M962.

  • I agree that the bullet was probably AP or API, that’s certainly what it looks like. Anyway, the HE rounds in 14.5mm are relatively modern and rare and I’d be surprised if any had got into use in Libya.

    I also agree that this was probably the result of some idiot firing a gun into the air in celebration. Both the angle of penetration and the shallow depth of penetration indicate that. I do keep wondering where those bullets are coming down every time I see them doing that.

    • Tony, it was Afghanistan, but I also would also be surprised if they would go to the expense of buying HE and transporting them around the mountains, when they probably have loads of conventional rounds lying around.

      Did anyone stationed over there ever hear about or encounter HE 14.5mm rounds?

  • W

    I would say it is a AP or API round, as there is a abundance of such ammunition from the former Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact nations, and PRC. The 14.5mm is a interesting round originally conceived as a anti-tank rifle round (PTRS anti-tank rifle of WWII) and was later put into use for anti-aircraft purposes (see ZPU-4) and as a heavy machine gun (KPV).

    For Steve: The ANA and IA (even the Iraqi police) employ ZPU and KPV machine guns as heavy infantry support weapons, which they are devastatingly effective in such roles. I have not heard of the Taliban using the KPV machine gun simply because the gun itself and ammunition is too heavy to practically lug through the Afghan mountains (there is a wheeled modification that weighs about 100 lbs), though it is not terribly impossible.

    If I was this ANA soldier, I would invest in a lottery ticket also…

  • Totenglocke

    Any word on brain damage? There have been several incidents of people having things rammed through their brain and surviving, but they almost always had brain damage afterwards.

  • Max M.

    Allah must love him!

  • Steve – my mistake, sorry, I should read more carefully. The British news has been full of Libya for months, with very little said about Afghanistan, so I tend to think of that first!

    I have not heard of any 14.5mm HEI being encountered anywhere (which doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been, of course). It is instantly recognisable as the whole bullet is painted red. The Russian designation is MDZ (there is also an improved MDZ-M). Romania makes a copy of it.

    The Chinese also make a 14.5mm HEI, but I don’t know if that’s a copy or their own development. Incidentally, they also make an APDS in this calibre.

  • SpudGun

    There was obviously some sort of explosive content in the round, otherwise why have a bomb tech assisting in the surgery?

    As for speculating on how it got into his skull without killing him – there are loads of different scenarios – ricochet off the ground or a similar soft target, losing energy by passing through a medium first, the bullet could have been fired from extreme range and lost energy as it landed, bad powder load, etc.

    If the Afghan soldier was wearing a helmet, I’m not sure if the gravity driven bullet would have had enough energy to puncture the Kevlar. (However, I could be wrong, somebody call the Mythbusters!).

  • charles222

    Yeah, on my deployment to Afghanistan I saw the 14.5mm gun at least once; at an Afghani Police station. You could see the damn gun barrels from a klick and a half, it made us all very nervous.

  • Jay

    That’s one lucky guy.
    That 14.5mm is a damn nasty round to hit people with. 900+gr at 3300fps is just scary. The gun that shot that round must have been over five kilometers away. Or some trigger happy ANA soldier shooting in the air.

  • don dallas

    my guess is that the bullet went through armor, or a comrade before it hit him.
    Even 14.5 bullets don’t have the energy to do that after being launched straight up into the air.
    I agree that the round is not explosive, the news is always off on things like that, like a 500 magnum handgun being a popular gang gun, and a “vest buster”.

  • Vorpalis

    My understanding of physics is that when you shoot a bullet (or anything, really) straight up into the air, it comes back down with the same velocity that it went up with. I mean, why would the pull of gravity and air resistance be any different on the way down than on the way up?
    In any case, it’s a miracle he survived.

  • F_Dog

    Considering its an anti-air round, might it being used as such account for the angle of fire, shooting a 50kg machine gun into the air in celebration is a bit crazy even for Afgani standards

  • Somewhere in the story should have been this line: “But to be fair, the lad wasnt that smart to begin with”….

    =)

  • Lance

    OUCH!!!!!!!!!!! Thats one BAD! head ache!!!!

    Sue its from enemy fire?? The way Arabs shoot in the air when celebrating like in Libya could explain this wound.

  • Pedro C.P.

    I`m unlike the bullet hit from a “to the sky commemoration shot”, at such angles the bullet wouldn’t make a fast transition from the ascending part of the ballistic trajectory to the descending part; it would have almost stopped in mid air. And since bullets aren’t auto stabilizing because of their streamline profile and weight distributing (look at a WW1 flechette for just the opposite) it would have started to tumble erratically and assumed a much more inefficient aerodynamic profile rendering it’s terminal velocity much much inferior to a true ballistic fall. At such velocities not even such a huge and heavy bullet would have the energy to bury itself that deep in a human skull. And by judging the appearance of the bullet the man was probably using a turban or whatever what would have at least deflect the trajectory of a falling tumbling bullet that just happened to hit with its tip. My guess it was a stray bullet aimed to nowhere in particular, but with an arch low enough to keep the bullet on a ballistic trajectory.

    The man still a very un/lucky bastard.

  • Sid

    Spudgun,

    Any ordance in a patient automatically gets an EOD tech in the surgery. From the X-ray, there is no way to tell that it is only a really large bullet. They were taking precautions. Nothing more.

    The bullet is not deformed. The tip is fairly untouched. I doubt the bullet passed through anything prior to resting in his noggin. It may have been a weak charge/older ammo. I don’t believe it was fired straight up (as that is all but impossible to accurately attempt). More than likely, it wsa a shot taken at a medium angle and the bullet lost speed but was still travelling ballistically.

    Just my guess.

    He is very lucky it did not pop his head open.

  • @Steve, I’ve never had the pleasure of firing something as big as a 14.5mm and never seen the effects of the MDZ.

    @SpudGun, if they had a bomb tech there it was presumably because they didn’t know what kind of bullet it was, so prepared for the worst.

    @don dallas, the bullet didn’t go through armour or anything other hard beforehand or the jacket would have been damaged or ripped off.

    @Vorpalis, a bullet would only come down at the speed that it went up if the planet had no atmosphere at all. Air resistance slows it down on the way up, and limits the speed it achieves on the way down.

    @Pedro, there’s a whole section on vertically-falling bullets in the “NRA Firearms Fact Book”, a wonderful compendium of odd bits of information.
    To summarise: the US Army did some practical tests of firing .30-06 rounds upwards and measuring the result. The bullets climbed to about 10,000 feet in c.20 seconds, but the return to the ground varied according to whether they tipped over and came down point-first, came down in a stable base-first configuration, or tumbled on the way down. In the second case they measured the time from firing to impact at 60 seconds with a terminal velocity of c.320 fps. If it tumbled the figures were 80 seconds and 180 fps. They weren’t able to measure the figures for a point-first descent, but the NRA has calculated a time to impact of 50 secs and a terminal velocity of about 460 fps (for a 180 grain pointed SP at 2,700 fps).

    Obviously, a 14.5mm bullet would carry a lot more energy than a .30-06.

  • Nater

    @Vorpolis

    You’re physics are way off. Assuming the bullet is fired into the air, eventually it will run out of the energy the expanding gasses imparted on it. It will come to a standstill and then start falling back towards the Earth. The only thing powering it on it was back is gravity. It will eventually reach it’s terminal velocity (drag imparted by the atmosphere causes acceleration to slow and eventually stop). The terminal velocity of a falling 14.5mm bullet is substantially less than the velocity of that same bullet fired from a machine gun.

    It all depends on how high the bullet goes, atmospheric density, bullet cross section, ect. I’m not an engineer, but I’d guess that 100-200m/s would be a pretty good guess to how terminal velocity for a 14.5mm bullet.

  • JT

    Don’t you watch myth busters? A falling bullet can’t kill you 😛

    No, not even if it was a 105mm howitzer round. can’t kill you. cuz their impeccable testing criteria prove it.

  • Pedro C.P.

    @TW I never though somebody actually tested those thing; at those speeds I suppose a heavy bullet like a 14.5mm could have enough energy to pierce a bare skull. But looking at how much it sunk, right to the begging of the boat-tail I’m surprised it did not went all the way in.
    This fact book have the occurrence percentage of the various fall positions? I still think that the side tumble would be the most common case.

  • John Doe

    I’d imagine the lucky bloke must’ve been wearing a helmet. I’ve seen what a mess a .50 BMG can do to a man, I couldn’t imagine a 14.5mm, even at terminal velocity. I would imagine it would be similar to being hit with a very big pellet from a slingshot, and the X-ray looks consistent with that.

  • News just received – the bullet wasn’t fired from a gun at all, but was part of an IED: http://www.stripes.com/news/special-reports/heroes/heroes-2011/i-didn-t-have-a-lot-of-good-options-1.146265

    • Tony, AHHHHH, thanks for clearing that up 🙂 I am still skeptical about it being HE. Do you think they (being surgeons) are calling the incendiary mix HE?

  • Probably!

  • Lance

    Good he made it but he got to have one massive head ach.

  • Jonas

    @JT

    Thank you, finally someone knows how the physical world works. And even being a larger bullet with more surface area, I highly doubt it was going more than 200-250 fps falling down if indeed it was shot up in the air.

  • ronin8541

    Yes the Taliban use that round and the DSHKA or KPV machinegun as does the ANA and ANP. Mainly in support or stationary roles. They will flatout eat up an 1151 though!

  • @ronin: KPV yes, DShK no – that’s in 12.7×108 calibre.

  • Riceball

    @JT What the Mythbusters showed was that a bullet that was shot perfectly straight up will fall only the force of gravity and would not kill a person. However, if it was shot at even a slight angle then the bullet will go into a ballistic trajectory and will fall with far greater force than when fired straight up.

  • GarryB

    @riceball
    What mythbusters showed was that they need to have more scientific people managing their experiments instead of all special effects people from the movie industry.

    The main thing they ignored was the gyroscopic effect of the rifling in the weapons keeping the bullets flying point first.

    They accurately tested and measured the terminal velocity of a bullet falling naturally as if it had been dropped, what they didn’t do was spin the bullet so that instead of falling sideways based on its centre of gravity and very aerodynamically inefficiently too I might add, it would have fallen point forward and much faster… with the additional effect that with its point forward anything it did hit it would have a much better chance of penetration.

    If this round was part of an IED then you would have to immediately assume it was there as shrapnel, which makes an armour piercing round rather more useful than a HE round simply because of the unlikely possibility of a HE round being armed and then being initiated to work as exploding shrapnel.

    I would expect this round was probably blown very high into the air and the fact that it landed point forward on the victims skull is incredibly unlucky for the victim. I doubt he was wearing a helmet as round would likely have been tumbling and not falling at an aerodynamically efficient speed.

    @Jdun1911
    Armour piercing ammo just punches a hole through a target and is often not particularly lethal because of this.

    HEIAP rounds do not use HE to increase armour penetration, they produce high speed fragments to increase lethality after armour penetration… basic physics tells us that reducing a penetrators weight by replacing metal with HE will reduce penetration performance, and detonating HE at the point of impact.

    That first video you linked to was a brick wall… even at 1.8km a 50 cal ball round will go straight through. The tungsten penetrator will go through the wall and hit the target, the HEI mix on the other hand will send lots of hot burning fragments into the room to set fire to things and do more damage than a single tungsten penetrator could.

    • Arrkhal

      A lot of that depends on the angle, though I admit I have no idea about what angle will allow a ballistic trajectory for an average rifle round. One going absolutely straight up, should usually come back down base first, since the spin should stabilize it in that position. And the base being heavier, there’ll be a slight tendency to fall that way if it’s otherwise not stabled (like a shuttlecock, but pointy instead of hollow on the light end).

      But if there’s enough of an angle for ballistic flight, and the bullet is properly stabilized, then yes, like you said, it’ll impact point-first. Wish I knew the approx. angle for that, though. From what I see, people shooting guns into the air often do so at about 60 degrees up from the ground, which I would DEFINITELY bet is low enough for tip-forward flight, and lethal velocity when it hits the ground again. But I don’t know the math for sure.

  • BivviBaz

    I would doubt it passed through anything like armour/helmet. The round looks to be in too good a condition for that, although nothing is impossible.

    With regards to bullets killing/penetrating on the way down after being fired into the air, ive seen a guy take Two rounds this way, in Kosovo whilst the locals were celebrating Christmass in the typical way.
    The guy took One in the shoulder/collar bone area, which passed through the meat, and was delfected out by his ribs(?), and the second hit just above his ear, but didnt penertate the bone. His chest injusry was pretty large.
    This looked to me to be a 5.45 round (i had a good look at one of them), so i dont doubt that a falling 14.5 could do this kind of damage, although i expect it is a result that may be hard to duplicate in tests!

    • GarryB

      If it was fired into the air it comes down to terminal velocity, but the 14.5mm projectile is a very heavy projectile and would have a higher terminal velocity than a standard 7.62 cal rifle bullet.

      The angle it was fired at will also effect whether it is traveling stabilised point forward, or sideways around its centre of mass.

      A bullet traveling point forward and stabilised will have a higher terminal velocity than one not stabilised and tumbling or falling sideways.

      From the info given however this round was part of an IED, so for all we know the guy might have been taking cover or looking down and been hit sideways by a tumbling projectile that was in this case not so much a projectile but a fragment blown clear of its shell case from the explosive force of the primary explosive.

      I suspect the depth of penetration was achieved because the 14.5mm projectile is heavy and would retain energy much better than other material.

      The fact that there doesn’t seem to be other shrapnel damage to the head suggests he wasn’t close to the explosion as he would likely have been peppered with smaller pieces, but their absence suggests he was further away and those smaller pieces lost enough velocity to become harmless. The heavy 14.5mm projectile retained its energy by virtue of being heavier.

      • John Doe

        Somebody doesn’t know their physics. Heavier has no effect on a falling piece of metal. A 1lb ball falls just as fast as a 20lb one. What matters is aerodynamic coeffiecient, and if anything, the smaller 7.62 would fall faster.

      • Arrkhal

        Why can I reply to GarryB’s thing, but not John Doe’s? Oh well.

        Someone doesn’t know their physics, that’s for sure. When Newton dropped his two balls, the heavier one actually hit first, and the difference matched his air resistance calculations perfectly. Given the same material, a larger ball has the same drag coefficient, but a higher sectional density. Higher density means it bucks wind resistance better. Heavy things DO fall faster. Thanks to the way the square-cube relationship works, increasing size while maintaining shape increases terminal velocity, because mass increases faster than area.

      • John Doe

        Yes, weight helps with wind stability, but given the same aerodynamic coefficient, two objects regardless of weight will fall at the same rate. Gravity is still 9.8m/sec^2, and the only thing that changes how fast things fall is air resistance. Both Galileo and Newton proved that.

      • GarryB

        Physics applies to everything, but relates to everything in a vacuum, which is not the case on Earth.
        Drop a helium filled balloon and a small coin and the hellium filled balloon will fall at the same rate as the coin… but only on the moon where there is a vacuum.
        On Earth there is something called an atmosphere, and it creates friction on moving objects.
        When you jump out of a plane you don’t keep accelerating till you hit the ground, you accelerate till you reach what is called terminal velocity… the point where the friction with the air slowing you down is perfectly balanced with the force of gravity pulling you trying to speed you down towards the Earth.
        Having a parachute would be pretty pointless if everything did fall at exactly the same rate no matter what.
        The terminal velocity of a falling object is directly related to its density… large light objects will not pick up as much speed as smaller heavier objects.
        You can try it yourself… take a balloon filled with air from your lungs and see if you can throw it more than a few metres. Now pick up a baseball and see how far you can throw that.
        The simple fact is that you couldn’t apply enough velocity to the balloon to get it to go very fast and once out of your hand it would rapidly slow down because of its lack of mass.
        The baseball on the other hand is heavy enough to easily push aside the air in front of it and you can accelerate it to a decent speed with your arm so it would go 30m or more.
        Shape also has influence… stick your hand out the window of your car… hold it out horizontal and flat with your palm down and you can feel the force of the air pulling back on your hand. Turn your hand so it is at an angle to the air and your hand will be forced up or down depending on which direction you turn it.

        A spin stabilised bullet falling point forward will have a much higher terminal velocity than a non stabilised bullet falling sideways… just like a sky diver with their arms and legs spread out falling on their belly will fall slower than someone standing up or diving down like into a swimming pool.

  • Charles P

    i find it more feasible that it could have been part of an ied. put those around the main charge and it would make epic shrapnel.

    • GarryB

      Looking at the photo of the projectile there are no rifling marks on the round so this round is unlikely to have been fired.
      If the round was dropped into a pile and used as shrapnel for an IED then the mass of the projectile would make it effective shrapnel and it would not have retained its cartridge case in the explosion.

      Of course it is a waste of a 14.5mm round if it was used because an explosion will accelerate any heavy metal object and make it very dangerous so a bucket of 6 inch nails would have been even more effective as it would have given better shrapnel coverage without wasting a round that could have been used for its original purpose…. for the same reason that you could have put 5,000 30 cal rifle bullets in the IED and each projectile would become lethal shrapnel but because the projectiles are not stabilised they will be tumbling and have a lethal range that is a fraction of the effective lethal range if they were fired through the barrel of a rifle.

      • Nater

        Not only the accuracy, but also velocity. Bullets can make good shrapnel I suppose, but they obviously have better uses.

  • obsidian

    Haji pissed off his buddies and one took a mallet or hammer and pounded the unfired bullet into his head.
    If he was lying on the deck when the IED went boom the round could have entered this way while spinning on it’s axis just by happenstance.

  • Sam Suggs

    wonder if it was the whole cartrige or just a bullet