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  • On the battlefield, there are few things  as terrifying as a machine gun firing away.  

  • What is even more terrifying is how big some  of them can be. Two of the biggest machine  

  • gun rounds still in common use around the world  today are the .50 caliber BMG and the 20mm round.  

  • These two rounds have been used for decades  due to their immense power yet versatility  

  • and ease of use in the number of weapon  systems they can be employed against

  • But how exactly do they compare? After all, they  are both billed as long-range anti-personnel,  

  • armor, and anti-pretty much anything you can think  of. In deciding which one causes the most damage,  

  • there are two main categories to considerThe first one includes its intended targets  

  • such as personnel, tanks, aircraftarmored vehicles, and ships. The next  

  • category is ballistics characteristics  like velocity, flight path, and power

  • Both the .50 caliber BMG round and 20mm  cartridge for autocannons have a similar history.  

  • John Browning designed the first .50 caliber  machine gun during the First World War.  

  • The US Army was inspired by French and German  anti-tank and anti-aircraft rounds and wanted  

  • something similar. While the machine gun to fire  the .50 caliber round had its first prototype  

  • by him around 1900, he redesigned it in 1917 to  make the very first M2 machine gun, or Ma-Deuce,  

  • as it is affectionately known by troops. The 20mm cartridge first came into existence  

  • as the Oerlikon autocannon. The origins for  the caliber actually came from Germany at  

  • the end of the First World War for its use as an  anti-aircraft weapon. But Germany lost the war and  

  • as a result of the Treaty of Versailles was forced  to give up most of their heavy weapons industry  

  • including anti-aircraft weapons. Realizing the now  futile venture, the inventors now found themselves  

  • in and wanting to make a quick buck, they sold  the rights to a Swiss company named Oerlikon

  • Oerlikon developed the world's first  20mm autocannon that was quickly adopted  

  • by countries around the world. The USBritain, Germany, Japan, Poland, Finland,  

  • and others used either Oerlikon autocannons  themselves or locally made derivatives of it

  • Both the .50 cal and 20mm autocannon are  devastating to personnel. Contrary to the popular  

  • myth that these weapons are only designed for  use against hard targets like bunkers and tanks,  

  • these are both excellent anti-personnel  weapons. While it might seem like overkill,  

  • there are no rules explicitly banning their use  against personnel in the law of armed conflict for  

  • most nations. If you were unlucky enough to be on  the receiving end of one of these rounds, there is  

  • not much you can do about it even with body armor. The strongest body armor on the planet today is  

  • known as Level IV armor. There are four levels  of body armor with each level giving increased  

  • protection. The highest protection level plates  can stop up to a 30-06(pronounced thirty ought  

  • six) round which produces about 2,500-foot  pounds of energy. Compare that to the average of  

  • 15,000-foot-pounds produced by the .50 cal and the  38,000-foot-pounds made by the 20mm round and it  

  • is easy to see why no one hit by either of these  powerful cartridges stands a chance of survival

  • How the weapons perform against tanks isdifferent story. There are many types of .50  

  • caliber ammunition types and the most powerful  one of those is the .50 caliber Saboted Light  

  • Armor Penetrator. The SLAP round was designed  in the 1980s by the US Army and Marine Corps to  

  • punch through the armor of armored  personnel carriers and light tanks.  

  • It works by using sabot technology of pushingsmall, steel rod through the armor that allows  

  • the energy of the bullet to pass through itThese rounds are capable of penetrating up to  

  • 19mm of armor out to a 1500 meter range. Such capability is impressive for light  

  • armored vehicles and mounted machine guns but  not so much for tanks. The most capable Main  

  • Battle Tank in the world today is undoubtedly  the US M1A1 Abrams. This tank's advanced armor  

  • offers up to 700mm of protection for standard high  explosive rounds and up to 350mm of protection for  

  • sabot-type ammunition. Even other less capable  tanks like the T-72 offer 450mm of protection  

  • and about half of that for sabot rounds. The 20mm autocannon fares equally as bad against  

  • tanks and performs worse against lightly armored  vehicles. The 20mm round can penetrate up to 6.3mm  

  • of armor at the same 1500 meter range as the  .50 caliber SLAP rounds. They perform better at  

  • shorter distances with up to 12.5mm of penetration  out to 500 meters before it starts declining

  • For a reference point, some of the most common  armored vehicles around the world include the  

  • BTR-70 and BMP, both Soviet-designed vehicles  that inspired many locally produced versions,  

  • each has 7mm and 23mm of armor respectively. A  ZSU anti-aircraft gun, again a commonly used and  

  • exported Soviet design used for anti-aircraft  and anti-armor purposes, has 9mm of armor

  • Now, the US Navy does use a similar sabot  technology in its Close-In Weapon System that  

  • fires 20mm rounds as a last resort against missile  threats but this makes up only a limited amount of  

  • the ammunition. Why the .50 caliber round performs  better against armored targets than the 20mm round  

  • is simple physics. Though the 20mm produces more  foot-pounds of energy, this energy is dispersed  

  • over a wider surface area. The .50 caliber SLAP  rounds produce less overall energy but have a  

  • much smaller surface area making this energy more  concentrated that punches through armor easier

  • Now, of course, the .50 cal SLAP rounds are not  as common as the .50 cal BMG ammunition, but  

  • this comparison includes all types of ammunition  that can be shot from one of these weapon systems  

  • since they are all the same caliber. Besides armor, both rounds perform  

  • equally well against aircraft. After all, that  is what they were designed to do. Aircraft,  

  • as a general rule, do not have as much  armor as ground targets do since their  

  • main defense against ground fire is their speed  and maneuverability. Adding extra armor increases  

  • the weight and cuts down these critical factors  actually making it more dangerous for the pilots

  • For use against ships, the advantage has to go to  the 20mm round. When one says ships that does not  

  • mean you could take down a battleship or even  a modern destroyer. Rather, use against small  

  • surface contacts like powerboats and speedboats  such as what pirates and terrorists use is what  

  • the intended targets would be. The 20mm round wins  here because of its range. The max effective range  

  • of a .50 caliber BMG is about 2000 meters. The  20mm round is almost double that. In a maritime  

  • environment, distance is your friend since it  gives you more time to assess the situation  

  • and more opportunity to strike the enemy. Though  both weapon systems are employed by naval forces  

  • around the world, including the US Navy, the 20mm  round is the go-to for these kinds of targets

  • As far as the kind of damage the .50  caliber round and 20mm round can inflict,  

  • they are equally devastating rounds. Against  personnel targets, they both slice through  

  • with ease. The edge for armored vehicles has  to go to the .50 caliber round only because one  

  • of the variants specifically designed for it can  punch through most armored vehicles in the world.  

  • The 20mm still packs a wallop in this case  but just not enough to beat the SLAP rounds

  • Against hardened targets like tanks, they  both lose out just because tank armor has  

  • advanced so much over the past fifty years  that a man-portable anti-tank rifle round  

  • is not truly feasible anymore. They both perform  well against aircraft, and against small surface  

  • vessels the 20mm round wins due to its ability to  deliver effective energy over a longer distance.

On the battlefield, there are few things  as terrifying as a machine gun firing away.  

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B2 armor mm caliber armored anti aircraft

.50 Cal Machine Gun vs 20mm Autocannon - Which Inflicts the Most Damage

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/11/29
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