Ammunition and pressure effects in scuba operations

Ammunition and pressure effects in scuba operations

Generally speaking freshwater certainly has a less corrosive effect compared to salt water, but due to the modern arms production technology and application of new protective coats, there will be no permanent damage to a weapon even if it is used by divers in a salt water environment. That is, if immediately after the operation is over, all the proper steps are taken to clean, dry and oil the firearms that were used in the operation. This procedure is already mandatory for most waterborne operation teams.

With ammunition the situation is a bit different as manufacturers have various standards when it comes to water and pressure effects. In units with staff highly experienced in waterborne operations, the standard request for hand held arms are that ammunition can be exposed to 7 at. Pressure under water which is equivalent to 60m depth, without any changes which can have an effect on quality.

In any case it is recommended that in the course of preparing an operation divers test the ammunition by leaving it in water for 2-3 hours and afterwards carry out a shooting test. Unfired shots, changes in gun powder gases, occurrence of micro-pockets and air bubbles are signs that the ammunition is not suitable for use in waterborne operations.

On return to a base, ammunition not used in action or in water training needs to be put aside, and should not be kept with ammunition that will be used during the next shooting session (training). As a rule this ammunition is not to be used in action again.

The biggest problem when carrying out waterborne operations can come from sand and mud which can sometimes can be the cause of a malfunction. When divers transport weapons and ammunition through underwater situations the following rules should be applied:

• Equipment and arms should be packed in special water proof bags designed for those specific purposes;
• All equipment must be ready for use immediately after removal from bags;
• Never pack all arms into one bag;
• Pack essential parts of the equipment together, e.g. batteries and radio devices;
• Compress all soft parts of equipment as much as possible to reduce the volume;
• When packing a sniper rifle, optical parts like scopes should be taken off, properly protected and packed in the water proof bag;
• Parts of equipment with sharp edges should be taped with protective tape;
• Bags should be numbered in order to know which equipment can be found in each bag in case few of the same type of bags are used. 
Water proof bags used for waterborne operations are mostly made of vulcanized rubber supplied with a special pressure valve so that the arms and equipment can be stored under water for a longer period of time without any problems, which is an important detail when it comes to operations carried out behind enemy lines.

Companies such as DUI, KME, and VIKING have a long tradition in manufacturing such products as they are used by almost all special forces for waterborne operations.

During operations that do not anticipate diving but have a surface approach, meaning that the firearms are exposed to water without the added pressure, it is possible to get by with strong plastic sacks.

As far as the selection of arms used for waterborne operations is concerned, most of the pistols manufactured by renowned companies have passed the tests following exposure to salt water. GLOK, a company from Austria has tested their models after prolonged stay in salt water and introduced the model 17 as one of the first pistols with polymer frame.

Heckler & Koch, a German manufacturer in armament production, have altered their famous product MP5 submachine gun to create a “Navy” version suitable for use in operations on water. I have had an opportunity to use an MP5 (Navy version) for several years in the Middle East in demanding climate conditions and extremely high temperatures and have not had any problems in its operation.

Most scope manufacturers test their products so they are waterproof and can be exposed to pressures up to 2 at. Deep so they can be used in waterborne operations.

In the last few years there has been a noticeable tendency in massive use of Teflon, polimax, nytex, electroform and a number of new materials to protect firearms from the harmful effect of salt water. Application of these materials is a topic in itself and should be further discussed in another article.

I hope this article will cause my fellow colleagues and instructors to pay more attention and detail in selection of appropriate arms and ammunition.

Zoran Bogdanovic
 4* Instructor
 Special Response Diver International