We didn't expect the incredible amount of interest that followed the cover story featuring True Velocity’s polymer-composite-cased ammunition (truevelocityinc.com). That June issue was Guns & Ammo’s best seller at newsstands for 2018. Predictably, the first question that came from readers as a response to Tom Beckstrand’s exclusive was, “When will it be available commercially?” While visiting True Velocity’s headquarters north of Dallas, Texas, I learned the answer to that question: In 2020. I wasn’t able to extract a specific date, but I was permitted to examine the company’s production facility, which is as clean and organized as any scientific lab.
If you’ve ever visited the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, Missouri, you’ve seen a 3,935-acre, government-owned, contractor-operated facility that is a product of 1941. Comparing Lake City to True Velocity is akin to analog versus digital. The machinery and processes reflect the age of ammunition production technology in both places.
Lake City’s manufacturing exists in stark contrast to True Velocity’s smaller footprint of efficient, computer-controlled machines. True Velocity is ISO9001.2015 certified, which is an achievement if you know what that means. On leaving, I couldn’t help but to think, this really is the future.
Enter Sierra Bullets
True Velocity has partnered with Sierra Bullets (sierrabullets.com) for its first commercial venture. Founded in 1947 by three aircraft machinists, Sierra MatchKing (SMK) bullets took advantage of the bullet shortage that followed World War II. Along the way, it earned an enviable reputation for producing accuracy due to high ballistic coefficients.
First was the Sierra #1400, a .22-caliber 53-grain SMK. It was the first time that boattails were applied to bullets sold commercially. By the late 1960s, the 168-grain SMK came alive and in the mid-1990s, after leaving California and creating its own advanced manufacturing and testing facility in Missouri, Sierra’s bulletsmiths developed the 175-grain SMK bullet at the request of the U.S. military. Uncle Sam required that the heavy .30-caliber bullet remain supersonic past 1,000 yards to extend the effective range of its snipers and designated marksman armed with bolt-actions and variants of the M14. The cartridge was type classified as the M118LR, “LR” for “long range.”
Consider Sierra’s history and it is no surprise that Sierra’s bulletsmiths have partnered with True Velocity. The relationship started with a cold call from Tim Janzen, vice president of innovation at Sierra bullets, which then led to a tour of True Velocity, one similar to the visit I recently made.
“The takeaway is that we’re not simply your grandfather’s bullet anymore,” said Pat Daly, president of Sierra Bullets. “We are modern and have every major feature. We also watched as several companies tried to perfect a composite case because we think there are advantages that make us even more competitive as a precision product. The 168- and 175-grain MatchKings are top sellers for a reason: They’re a mainstay in the U.S. military as the M118LR and Mk 316 Mod 0.”
To Daly’s point, the .30-caliber, 168-grain SMK has long proven itself friendly to all current to fleet production small arms that chamber it. It’s reliable in anything from an M240 belt-fed machine gun to the long-range accurate M2010 sniper rifle. Arguably, the 175-grain SMK is even more lethal.
After 2½ years of development, Sierra unveiled the Tipped MatchKing (TMK) bullet in 2014. Whereas the SMK was a jacketed hollowpoint, Sierra installed a green-colored acetal resin tip to enhance BC, reducing drag. Merging characteristics of a match bullet and a game bullet, Sierra thickened the copper alloy jacket for controlled expansion, but made it thin at the mouth and thick on the base. Like the SMK, the TMK features uniform wall thickness, lead alloy cores and consistent weight. As the TMK mushrooms, it peels and stops. Six bullet types in .224 and .308 caliber appeared in early 2015 that allowed handloaders to experience the BC of a heavier bullet in a lighter projectile that could be pushed faster. Most of the BC gains were achieved in reshaping the ogives seen on legacy SMK bullets. The plastic point on the tip is smaller than the meplat on the SMK. Though not supplanting the SMK, the TMK has earned its own respect among long-range shooters.
“Pairing [True Velocity’s] loading capabilities and our bullets bring together the two best components,” Daly said.
To bring complete cartridges to market, True Velocity will be loading the ammunition as a co-branded product and Sierra will be using their distribution channels and sharing marketing costs.
The Final Product
Making ammunition is one thing as a reloader. Loading as a fleet system is challenging. The business relationship between Sierra Bullets and True Velocity is an ideal marriage because both companies think the same way. There can be no mistakes. Together, they work through intricate details in load design, which is why they wouldn’t give us an exact date to share with consumers.
“Putting a date on it could place a rush on it,” said Chris Tedford, True Velocity’s president and chief operations officer (COO). “We’re going to make it right. It’s simply 2020.”
During my tour, I observed cases molded, assembled and loaded with the same Sierra bullets that handloaders use with one exception: Sierra doesn’t apply a cannelure. For True Velocity, this design element is unnecessary and shaves a small amount of cost.
The end product is aimed at precision. True Velocity tests for single-digit standard deviation (SD) figures and achieves it by controlling primer installation, the exact number of grains of powder poured into the case and the bullet’s concentricity, depth and neck tension after being loaded in the case mouth. Each of these elements are obsessed over by the few human hands that control quality.
Being that its cases are injection molded, True Velocity can even modify the shape of the case’s interior to control volume and how powder sits inside. This capability influences powder burn and minimizes waste. Never before have I seen this degree of control in case engineering.
This all means that the possibilities are endless, which is why True Velocity and its partner General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems were recently selected as one of three finalists to develop futuristic ammunition for the U.S. Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapons (NGSW) contract featuring a new, hybrid 6.8-caliber bullet designed by Picatinny Arsenal. The NGSW contract not only updates the military’s duty carbine and light machine gun, it required finalists to rethink conventional cartridge design to optimize the performance.
By The Numbers
Logistically, composite cases make sense, especially for the military. A basic combat load is 210 rounds. Troops could carry 300 rounds at the equivalent ammunition weight. A pallet of 7.62 NATO brass weighs about 3,090 pounds, while the same pallet of True Velocity-cased ammo weighs 2,168 pounds. Weight is a big deal because transporting it costs money. To send a $3 gallon of gas to Afghanistan costs $300 per gallon when you factor in how it was moved and the overhead.
True Velocity’s composite cartridges are not only lighter, but the composite acts like an insulator against heat, a factor that accelerates wear on any host firearm. The case reduced the chamber’s heat of a short-barreled Mk18 in a 90-round test by 26 percent with 28 percent lower bolt temperature and a 12 percent drop in the gas port’s temperature when compared to shooting brass ammunition. Those numbers are a result of one round a second over 90 rounds. To be sure that I don’t under emphasize the heat reduction advantage using True Velocity composite cases, when you shoot only a single round, the percentage of reduction in heat transfer is even more significant and pronounced.
The composite cases are also recyclable, including the steel-insert rim, which makes spent cases more easily picked up at a range with a magnet. This can also mean that soldiers can stop putting brass in their hat, which exposes their scalps to lead and copper emulsification.
Due to the efficiency of the burn inside the case, True Velocity estimates that up to 10 percent less powder is needed to deliver the same muzzle velocity as a comparable brass-cased cartridge. With changes to interior geometry, True Velocity could potentially make the ideal subsonic rounds by molding thicker case walls. Powder burn efficiency also minimizes muzzle flash, which is just a burn of unused powder after the bullet has left the barrel.
Notably, True Velocity can produce its cartridges anywhere in the world with minimal personnel needed to run the operation. Production cells were designed to be transported and delivered with existing shipping means. One 8-hour shift is all that is needed to convert a line from producing one caliber to another.
For their first joint project, True Velocity demonstrated these capabilities to Sierra by parking their manufacturing and loading equipment cells in their parking lot, while Sierra set up for testing. True Velocity’s loading process involves secret sauce that prevented me from taking photographs of the equipment, but the mobile versions of their production and loading cells can readily fold up for transport.
The chemical and mechanical secrecy behind how True Velocity loads bullets and primers into ammunition leads me to address the next two most common questions readers asked following our initial story: “Are True Velocity’s cases reloadable? Will reloaders be able to buy these composite cases as components?”
The short answers are “no” and “no.” When I challenged company leadership about this, their response revealed a complicated situation. Currently, their ammunition is being evaluated by the U.S. military and its allies for all the benefits you can imagine, particularly weight savings and performance consistency. To add, True Velocity doesn’t want to aid our enemies by providing them with a reloadable component that could be picked up on the battlefield. Once the cartridge is fired, the spent case is useless to them. I can appreciate that.
Second, traditional reloading practices do not support the process of loading these cases. They are not drawn, sized or crimped, which means that conventional reloading machines and procedures cannot process and seal a bullet in these cases. Those processes and components make up a number of the patents held by True Velocity, which is what guards their business.
A Case for Accuracy
What you will see in 2020 are super-accurate competition-level cartridges. True Velocity claims that its ammunition will be as accurate (or more accurate) than any handload with single-digit SDs and very low extreme spreads (ES). They intend to make it easier for the precision shooter to buy the most accurate ammunition rather than attempt to handload it.
True Velocity will initially produce four offerings of .308 Winchester loaded with Sierra’s 168- and 175-grain SMK and TMK bullets. Later, we expect to see a 6.5 Creedmoor round with a 142-grain SMK bullet and a .338 Norma cartridge with a 300-grain SMK bullet. As new tooling is developed, other chamberings will follow.
To evaluate the partnership between Sierra Bullets and True Velocity, I tested each grain weight and bullet profile in an Accuracy International AXMC bolt-action rifle chambered for .308 Win. Using a LabRadar chronograph, SDs were in the single digits with True Velocity’s loadings. The 168-grain loads averaged an SD of 8.4 and the 175-grain loads averaged 8.9. Extreme spreads in velocity were as little as 8 feet per second (fps) with 168-grain SMK.
For comparison, I also tested Lake City’s M118LR through the same rifle; SD measured 17.6 and velocities varied 47 fps. Though the M118LR performed well enough for production ammunition comparisons, the numbers from True Velocity’s loads featuring the same Sierra bullet demonstrated performance gains.
Downrange, I had fired a best five-shot hole measuring .3215 inches at 100 yards with Sierra’s 175-grain SMK. I nearly repeated myself minutes later with two other groups that measured .34 and .37 inch. My overall average shooting five shots of this load was just .43 inch, a personal best for five, five-shot groups.
Within the next 25 years, I expect that drawing brass to form cartridge cases on Industrial Age machinery will be replaced by a process like this one developed by True Velocity. There are many possibilities yet to be explored through computer-controlled manufacturing and composite cases that can be molded for optimization. Creativity is just the first step in engineering tomorrow’s ammunition.
In the same way, Sierra Bullets is about maximizing precision, building bullets for a particular application. True Velocity can build cases to match any spec, which makes the possibilities of their union limitless.