By Al Paulson
Most shooting cognoscenti know that SSK Industries, Inc. is the premier source for accurate and robust barrels for Thompson/Center Contender and Encore pistols, as well as a great source of precision rifles for unusual applications. What is less well known is that SSK has been supplying silenced weapons of proprietary caliber to armed professionals, animal-control personnel, and discriminating sportsmen for some time. Many of SSK’s approximately 27 proprietary rounds belong to the “Whisper” family of cartridges, which are designed to be used with sound suppressors.
The Whisper concept began a decade earlier, when J.D. Jones initially used the .221 Remington Fireball cartridge case as the basis for the.300 Whisper. From the very beginning, this round was intended for use in the M16 rifle. Initial publicity, however, focused on Jones’ work with the .30 Carbine case, which was called the .30 Whisper. The sole reason for publicizing the .30 Whisper was to misdirect potential competitors into focusing on unproductive tangents with regard to their own R&D on clones of the .30 Whisper using the .30 Carbine case. The .30 Carbine case was too weak for using 220 grain (14.3 gram) bullets at 1,050 fps (320 mps) without getting pierced primers and gas leakage around the primers. That’s a loud and nasty event, rather like having a cap pistol fired in your ear. Within its limitations, the .30 Whisper is nevertheless an interesting cartridge, and it is still available for Thompson/Center Contenders and for bolt-action guns. Jones also experimented with Whispers based on the .32 H&R Magnum case and the .32-20 Winchester case.
I’m more fond, however, of Whispers based on .30 Luger and .30 Mauser cases, which are known as the 7.62 Micro-Whisper and the 7.63 Mini-Whisper, respectively. Standard chambers are used for both the Micro-Whisper and Mini-Whisper, so factory cartridges still shoot well in them. Using a 200 grain Sierra bullet in the Mauser case with a 7 inch Contender barrel and a Choate folding stock, the subsonic Mini-Whisper will print 2 inch groups at 200 yards. Using the Luger case requires going to a projectile weight of no more than 168 grains for that subsonic load. These are very efficient and accurate cartridges, which are two qualities I value highly when using a silenced firearm. Only accurate weapons are interesting, and efficient cartridges tend to be quieter when a silencer is added to a system. That said, the pick of the .30 caliber litter for tactical applications, animal control, or hunting—in my opinion—is clearly the .300 Whisper, which is based on the .221 Fireball case.
According to small-arms scholar N.R. Parker, “Independent work by the U.S. Air Force also started with the .30 M1 Carbine case when they developed their subsonic cartridge version of the IMP, and then the Air Force used the 5.56x45mm cartridge to develop the final subsonic cartridges used with the suppressed version of the IMP. For some strange reason, the Air Force ignored the original cartridge used with the IMP, the .221 Remington Fireball, which J.D. Jones has demonstrated is better suited for a .30 caliber subsonic round by virtue of its smaller case capacity. SSK’s design goal was to develop a family of subsonic cartridges featuring a high loading density for use with both heavy and lightweight projectiles that would deliver consistent ignition and excellent accuracy out to 500 yards. The impressive Whisper family of cartridges includes the .300, .338, and .50 Whisper cartridges plus the 6mm, 6.5mm and 7mm Whisper cartridges. The smaller caliber Whisper cartridges are designed as anti-personnel cartridges while the .50 Whisper is intended for both anti-personnel and anti-materiel roles.”
SSK offers suppressed upper receiver conversions of the AR-15/M16 using specialized subsonic cartridges such as the outstanding .300 Whisper and 6mm Whisper. These conversions use unmodified lower receiver assemblies and 5.56x45mm magazines. An M16 chambered for the 6mm Whisper, for example, can deliver 1.5 to 3 inch (3.7 to 7.6 cm) full-auto groups at 100 yards (91 m) when fired in three-round bursts; try doing that with an issue M16.
My own bias is that the .300 Whisper is ideal for military SpecOps where two very different weapons are required: (1) a silent weapon for up-close and personal killing, and (2) a rifle or carbine with plenty of reach and power for team security at conventional engagement distances as operators approach and egress from their objective. A single weapon with a .300 Whisper upper receiver can be used for team security using magazines loaded with supersonic .300 Whisper rounds, and the weapon can be instantly converted to silent operation by inserting a magazine with subsonic .300 Whisper cartridges. Only one weapon need be carried for a raid, hostage rescue, or CT (counter-terrorist) operation.
Perhaps the best way to provide a glimpse of the Whisper family of cartridges and other interesting developments in the SSK pipeline is to discuss a demonstration J.D. Jones conducted at Fort Dix, New Jersey in 1999. It is safe to say that Jones and his creations impressed everyone who saw the performance at the 1999 annual meeting of the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA).
Jones put on a thoroughly impressive demonstration with a variety of Whisper and other SSK cartridges. For those who came in late, I should mention that Jones is not only one of the 20th century’s brightest and most prolific cartridge designers, he’s also an extraordinarily gifted shooter. He began his demonstration by engaging steel silhouette targets out to 300 yards (274 m) with SSK’s .300 Whisper Incognito rifle from a sandbagged foxhole. Jones described the foxhole as “hellishly hot” and offering a “very uncomfortable but pretty stable shooting position.” Based on a Winchester Model 70 action and match barrel, the Incognito rifle features a suppressor tube of small diameter that completely covers the barrel, giving the impression that the rifle is simply a normal (i.e., unsuppressed) barrel of target weight. Such visual stealth can pay substantial dividends to operators who benefit from hiding the fact that a silenced weapon is being fielded.
Jones then used an M16 fitted with a suppressed .300 Whisper upper receiver assembly. The weapon featured a 10 inch (25.4 cm) barrel and the suppressor increased weapon length by another 6 inches (15.2 cm). The optical sight was a 1-5x Micro Dot scope with crosshair and a fiber-optic illuminated center dot, enabling the operator to use the scope like any red dot sight at 1x and like a conventional scope at greater magnifications. The ammo featured 240 grain (15.6 gram) Sierra MatchKings and a muzzle velocity of 1,050 fps (320 mps). Jones began this phase of the demo by engaging steel silhouettes at 100 yards (91 m) with the selector set on SEMI and AUTO. He then fired 10-round bursts at a tank at 200 yards (183 m), which was a real crowd pleaser. Just as the soft coughing of the rifle stopped, the 10 rounds began to impact noisily on the armor. The hatches were open, making the tank a very impressive acoustic instrument.
Jones then debuted his impressive new .50 Peacekeeper cartridge, which is designed to provide much of the anti-materiel capability of a precision rifle chambered in .50 BMG in a considerably more portable and user-friendly rifle. The proprietary SSK cartridge uses a .460 Weatherby Magnum case opened up and modified to accept .50 BMG bullets. Using a modified Ruger Model 77 Magnum action with 23 inch (58.4 cm) match barrel as a single-shot proof of concept gun, Jones used rounds loaded with Santa Barbara API (armor piercing incendiary) and APIT (armor piercing incendiary tracer) bullets. The rifle had a 6-power Leupold scope with mildot reticle. The muzzle velocity of the .50 Peacekeeper was about 2,400 fps (732 mps)—which is about 88 percent of BMG velocity—in a prototype rifle that weighs just 13 pounds (5.9 kg). Remarkably, this cartridge is just as accurate as the .50 BMG round, if not more so.
Jones started shooting the .50 Peacemaker at targets 200 yards (183 m) downrange, moving on to targets at 500 yards (457 m). He then turned his attention to a tank at what he thought to be 900 yards (823 m) but range officials claimed was 1,000 yards (914 m). Jones began to repeatedly hit the turret of the tank, producing a 12-15 inch (30-38 cm) group. As this went to press, Ed Brown had developed an impressive new bolt-operated rifle action for this round expressly for SSK Industries. The first prototype of the Brown action featured a 30 inch (76 cm) barrel producing a maximum muzzle velocity of 2,550 fps (777 mps) with 650 grain (42.25 gram) API projectiles. It is interesting that this system still provides a muzzle velocity of 2,300 fps (701 mps) using 750 grain (48.75 gram) projectiles.
The demo took a dramatic turn when J.D. Jones produced an integrally suppressed .50 Whisper built on a Winchester Model 70 action with a Leupold 3.5×10 center focus scope with mildot reticle. Subsonic ammo was loaded with Santa Barbara 650 grain API projectiles. Jones placed his first shot on the side of a tank at 200 yards to determine his point of impact. He then engaged a target at 500 yards and guessed right at selecting the appropriate mildot in his scope. Finally, he aimed at a tank 900-1,000 yards downrange. The first round didn’t produce a flash but some folks heard it; he’d put it through the open hatch into the empty engine compartment. Using a spotting scope, his assistant watched the second round hit when a flash appeared inside the engine compartment. Jones didn’t change his hold and put several more rounds into the compartment, surprising even himself. “I never thought I could drop them continuously into that little hole,” he later confided to me. Jones then raised his point of aim to a somewhat imprecise point on a hill behind the tank and repeatedly put subsonic .50 caliber rounds onto the tank turret, shooting about a 3 foot (1 meter) group from the foxhole. It is interesting that Jones could shoot and reload, and then look through the scope and watch the bullet strike when the incendiary ignited.
The show-stopper (both figuratively and literally) was a Thompson/Center Encore pistol featuring a 12 inch (30.5 cm) barrel and muzzle brake chambered in SSK’s variation on the .50 Alaskan cartridge, which requires a different barrel throat and rate of twist than SSK’s .50 Whisper. The ammo is made by modifying .348 Winchester brass into a straight case and loading .50 BMG projectiles. Using 650 grain API bullets, the pistol produced a muzzle velocity of about 1,450 fps (442 mps). Jones had previously pushed this velocity up to 1,650 fps (503 mps), but he found the recoil to be objectionable for a pistol at that velocity. Using a 4-power Bausch & Lomb scope sighted in at 200 yards, his first shot at the 200-yard tank turret was dead on. The second shot was about 3 feet (1 meter) high but dead center on the turret; his first shot had damaged the erector tube in the scope. He placed a few more rounds into the center of the target for effect and the damaged scope held together. Jones then took a wild guess at the required holdover for the 500 yard tank and nailed it dead center. He hit it again and again dead center, and people in the crowd began to shout encouragement to try nailing the “1,000 yard” tank with the pistol. Jones held somewhat over what he termed the “900 yard tank” and touched off a round, which his spotter called a few inches over the turret. He adjusted his point of aim down slightly and hit the turret dead center, blowing the scope once and for all (he’d lost 50 percent of his field of view, which had assumed an oval shape due to the demise of the erector tube). Consummate showman that he is, Jones simply turned around and held the pistol aloft, yelling, “I quit” to the crowd as if he’d had enough fun for one day.
Nailing that turret at 900-1,000 yards with a .50 caliber pistol proved once and for all that SSK’s approach of employing heavy projectiles with relatively modest powder charges can provide workable solutions to problems out to much greater distances than many folks were prepared to believe. And the remarkable performance of the .50 Whisper rifle proved that problem-solving could be remarkably stealthy when using SSK’s subsonic rounds and a properly engineered sound suppressor.
For more information, contact SSK Industries, Inc. (Dept. SAR, 590 Woodvue Lane, Wintersville, OH 43953; phone 740-264-0176; fax 740-264-2257; URL http://www.sskindustries.com/).
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V4N10 (July 2001)|