22 July 2016

FWS Armory: Silenced Weapons by Yoel

One of the most notable and recognized sounds of our modern era is the bang blast of firearm discharge. The usually a bright flash of a gun were terrifying to natives around the globe when they first encounter those pale-face wielding slug-throwers. Other than this mild advantage of scaring those least informed, the loud blast noise is a major disadvantage to the shooter and soldiers. It pinpoints their location to any tangos along with alerting and awaking up their base. Unprotected exposure damages your hearing and shooting in your backyard afternoon won't make you the neighbor of the year. Thankfully there is a solution – silenced firearms! In this FWS Armory article you will learn everything you need to know about those quiet agents of death.        

There are several terms used to describe barrel mount device that have purpose to reduce noise levels of firing a gun. The first successful firearm silencer was patented by Hiram Percy Maxim in 1909. If that name sound familiar that is because he was the son of the famous Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, the inventor the Maxim machine gun. Maxim junior coined the term “silencer” which remains in common usage till this very day, although the “silencer” does not completely silence the firing. A more correctly terminological is the “suppressor” or “moderator”, both terms are used to describe such device and are gaining ground in usage. There is no real technical difference between those three terms, though the term “silencer” seems to cling more to pistols & SMGs and “suppressor” & “moderator” are associated more with the formidable cartridges of assault rifles or sniper rifles.              
Why Do We Need Silenced Firearm?

Conceal Presence & Location
Most obvious reason to silence your gun is simply to avoid detection by your adversary, reducing your noise levels reducing the minimal distance your foe became aware to your presence and the minimal distance they can detect your location. This is why we see images of suppressed weapons in low-profile Special Operations missions and the spy thrillers. Suppressed weapons allow you to maintain the element of surprise or even confuse the ability for your enemy to echolocate your position.      

Ear protection
The sound level of firing 5.56mm NATO exceeding 150db when 120db is more than enough to cause permanent hearing damage. Short exposure to firing booms even if not causing long-term damage can easily deafening the shooter, temporary damaging his battle awareness. This problem only doubles within the close quarter environment. The walls, ceiling, and floor echoing the blast and intensify it. The best known example is the various SWAT teams who mount silencers on their SMGs.

Being a Good and Quiet Neighbor
While enjoyable and fun, both hunting and firing at the range causes complains from next door neighbors who very appreciated a good afternoon sleep, thank you very much! Silencing ensures continuing with your activities without been public nuisance. In some countries, namely Great Britain, it is not only legal to own a silencer but also obliged to mount them when hunting! 

Lowering Recoil and Muzzle Rise 
One of the nice and useful side effects of silencers attachments is their tendency to reduce felt recoil and muzzle rise. The silencer directs most of the burned gases laterally like a muzzle break does, reduce the movement the shooter must deal to the bullet movement only. Adding the heavy recoil reducing device to the frontal side of the gun mitigate the muzzle rising.

Preventing Muzzle Flash
Guns muzzle flash is a result of unburned gunpowder residues dispersing out of the barrel after the bullet. Those unburned particles are extremely hot and contacting the air they ignite and produce bright flash. Silencers contain the residues inside where they ignite unseen.   

The Sources of Noise in a Firearm

Muzzle blast
By far, the main source of noise from firearm discharge is the blast of hot burned propellant gases leaving the muzzle at supersonic speed. This blast is accommodated by visible cloud of dust, arose from the ground if the shooter lay or prone on the ground, at day time and bright flash at night. Not too helpful is the fact that most of that energy travels directly forward from the shooter to its target/s, greatly revealing to the target/s of the location their attacker.        
Supersonic Crack
Another major source of noise is that buzz sound that bullets product if you are lucky to miss by it… the motion of bullets above the sound speed produces shockwaves. Since the bullet travels faster than the sound hitting its target before this crack noise will reach the target’s ears, alerting them of the bullet being on its way. If the bullet misses, bypasses, or hits the ground, the continuing sounds of traveled bullet will reach the target at the speed of sound and the audible affect of “something” travels toward the shooter’s target.      

Gun's Mechanics
Nothing in our world is perfect and there is never 100% efficiency, and that true with your car's engine, it also true with your gun as well. Any mechanic action done, manually or automatic, some of the energy will release as sound to the environment: a magazine entering and releasing, reciprocating the charging handle, bolt motion etc. all produce distinctive metallic sound.Though this noise is very weak in comparison to the other two sources mentions, it is something to be considered after the other sources been dealt with.    

Projectile impact  
The final and terminal source of noise generated by firing, is the impact of projectile on either its target or when misses, and impacts on the ground/structure around the target. This source of sound is the only one out of the four listed that don't have or likely will ever have any technology or method to reduce it. 

Suppressing the Muzzle Blast

The silencer, also known as suppressor or moderator, is a device which contains the muzzle blast and suppresses its sound from emitting to the surrounding environment. Internally, the silencer is construct from a series of chambers separates by several partitions. Those chambers are located around the barrel, in case of integral silencer or attached in front of the muzzle, in case of detachable ones. The purpose of these chambers is to provide confined volume for the rapid expanding gas from the firing so that these gases can further expand thus reducing their pressure and temperature without emitting the shockwave from the muzzle blast from these chambers. 
The higher than ambient pressure gas can slowly (relatively of course) bleed into the surrounding air without the sharp decompression and the blast sound. Since the silencer's chambers are at the receiving end for a majority of the hot shockwave, silencer must be fabricated from strong materials; usually aluminum & titanium in order to endure shot after shot. Other than suppressing the sound made by the blast, the silencer also confines the unburned gunpowder inside where it continues to burn inside the visually opaque silencer where the flash is hidden or those residues settle unburned. And last usage - when the shooter is prone or laying on the ground the violent blast can uplift dust, dirt, leaves, snow etc. revealing the shooter position. The silencer prevents that too.         

Integral silencers 
Integral silencers are simply part of the gun; they are manufactured like any other part and can't be disassembled without field stripping the weapon, usually for cleaning and maintenances. The silencer is a series of chambers around the barrel with small ports drilled in the barrel to bleed gas from the barrel to the chambers. As the bullet travels down the barrel the gas deflate to the chambers and when the bullet leaves the muzzle it exits without most of the gas. Another ability of the integral silencer is to slightly reduce the bullet muzzle velocity to subsonic to avoid the supersonic boom. In the last inches of the barrel, the bullet is un-propelled with the barrel friction slowing it down. The firearms equipped with integral silencers are quieter from their detachable cousins. They have more expansion volume and more chambers compare to the detachable suppressors and often than not are used with designated sub-sonic ammo. The down side with weapons with integrated suppressed is that they are less versatile; they are intended for a specific use with specific ammo and they cannot operate without their silencers.

Detachable silencers 
Most notable and familiar silencers are the detachable silencer, which are usually shape like a can or cylinders and mount on top of barrel's muzzle. The silencers contain several chambers separated by partitions, each partition have a round hole where the bullet travels through while the gas expands and blocked. The detachable silencer provides the flexibility of converting regular firearm to suppressed one. Mostly the conversion requires nothing more than screwing off the muzzle break (if there is such) and screwing the silencer on. Yet in some autoloaders, the silencer increases the pressure develops inside the gun and disrupting the cycling. 
In those cases, it necessary to replace to heavier bolts and stiffer springs to compensate for the higher pressure loads. Attaching the silencer on and off the barrel is done with barrels whose muzzle end is threaded and the silencer contains matching threading. Modern military rifles are usually equipped with Quick Detachable Silencers (QDS), in those types of silencers, the gun muzzle break have special groves to match latching of QDS thus reduce to the time to add or remove the silencer. This action of screwing on and off the suppressor is a time honored element of Hollywood action and spy films. 

Disposable Silencer
The disposal silencer is no different in structure from the regular detachable silencer. The difference is the partitions; they aren't made from tough metal, but soft plastic or rubber whips. Unlike the partitions in regular silencer, where the circular holes are larger than the bullet, enabling the round to move through without contact the whips either have smaller holes than the bullet or no holes at all. The bullet penetrates those whips and/or come in contact with as it passes the chambers dissipating the firing gas behind. As stated by its name the disposable suppressing capabilities are short live, the bullets travel and the hot gases degrade the whips and reduce the suppressing level. Usually the disposables are good for just a few shots.       

Wet silencers
Adding water or water gel into the suppressors reduces the sound level, the liquid is evaporate and rob thermal energy from the hot gases lowering their temperature and the small portion of the gas escaping the suppressor will escape with slower velocity. Since hanging around with water in the suppressor requires holding the suppressor horizontally or the water will spill out of the suppressor or back into the gun's barrel, most modern wet suppressors contain water-based gel instead.       

Totally Enclose Piston Cartridges 
One different approach is to confine the burning gases in the cartridge itself, redundant the necessity of a silencer. This is done by inculpate a piston inside the cartridge, the piston is captivate inside the shell and when the propellant is ignited the piston travels only short distance forward, pushing the bullet down the barrel. Since the projectile propulsion is minimal, the projectile leaves the gun at a pathetic velocity, rendering the gun for short-range engagement only. The range handicap did not prevent the Russians from developing a family of handguns around those specialized piston drive cartridges, the SP-3 & SP-4, for the not surprising purpose of assassination. Short range and totally quiet gun is what you want at your side when the party asks you to “retire” someone…          

Totally enclose piston drive (captive bolt)
Similar approach to the piston cartridges is the captive bolt drive mechanism; the principle behind it is simple, have a blank cartridge shot a piston against a spring, both the piston and spring are parts of the gun and the piston movement launch some projectile while the firing noise is fully contain within the gun.The only military application known is the Russian BS-1 "Tishina" grenade launcher. Its piston launches the grenade noiseless to inflict very much loud mayhem without revealing the shooter whereabouts. 
Other than the Russian military, the captive bolt gun can be found in some unexpected industry- the meat industry; the quote unquote "human killing" in non-mechanized slaughterhouses requires killing the cattle by direct shooting in the head (Boom! head-shot!). Shooting a regular firearm in the densely space of the slaughterhouse where any stray bullet can hurt your fellow workers, equipment, or other cattle, is undesired outcome. The captive bolt firearm fed with blanks drive a piston with short sharp rod into the animal skull. To operate, the worker push the gun against the animal skull and pull the trigger, the rod is push into the animal brain immediately kill it and then under the returning spring pressure the rod retracts ready for the next kill… yeah, I think my next hamburger be a veggie. A weapon similar in nature, though operate with compressed air tank rather than blanks, is Anton's device from No Country for Old Men where he used this quiet stabber very effectively to kill and break door locks.  
Quieting the Supersonic-Crack - Sub-Sonic Ammo
Avoiding the supersonic-crack is simple; don't shot bullets faster than the speed of sound! Regretfully though the crack noise pose the problem of been detected only when it accrue in the final meters of travel from the target (behind that range the buzzing of the bullet is too faint) there's yet no method to fine-tuning the bullet muzzle velocity to achieve such a change from supersonic to subsonic to variable distances your foe might be.The solution is firing the bullet at sub-sonic or slightly above sound barrier muzzle velocities to insure sub-sonic velocities to all or most of its path, negating the crack to the entire length. Reducing the amount of gunpowder in the cartridge is the simple way to go for muzzle velocity reduction but as velocity drop so does the muzzle & terminal energies will (at the power of two of course). To compensate the lower speed, the sub-sonic bullets are heavier, either they are longer and extends into the case or made from denser metals or both.    

Silent variant
A silent variant is a standard looking cartridge with external dimensions similar to regular cartridge but with less gunpowder, heavier bullets or both.  Both of those rounds are externally similar to standard ammo, those rounds could be stacked in boring familiar magazines and chambered, extracted and ejected by the unmodified firearms that fed from the regular ammo. Such variants don't eliminate the muzzle blast and the silencer is still needed. Usually, it is detachable one and the conversion between fully silence guns to regular is simple as attaching silencer at the front and replacing magazine in the bottom.     

Specialized ammo
As implied from its name, the specializes silence ammunition is a cartridge designed with the proper bullet/propellant mass ratio, proper nose shape and such and intended to be used by designated silenced firearm. All efforts are devoted to achieve the best results in terms of accuracy, lethality and silence performance.     

Quieting the Gun's Mechanics
Last, but not least, are all those noises the gun's different parts make when slides one against the other during the normal operation of chambering, trigger pull, hammer release and so-on. If the gun is manually cycles using bolt, lever, pump action the user can cycle the gun s-l-o-w-l-y, reduce those distinctive operation noises. Problems begin with autoloaders, not only those guns cycle quickly and produce screeches the guns open and eject the spent cartridges before the pressure in the firing chamber fully return to ambient, thus release small amount of hot burned gases thru the ejection port which of course don't have suppressor attach to it. While the noise levels produced by those sources are by far lower than the two main sources listed, when a gun muzzle been successfully suppressed such minium sources can became the main source of sound.    

Lever Lock
Vietnam was a great and sometime bizarre testing ground for weapons and technologies; one small gun, the MK-22, nickname 'Hush Puppy', was assigned to two special units: the Navy SEALs & the Tunnel Rats. Both of these units needed a very quiet gun to do their bidding. The Mk-22 was a modified Smith & Wesson Model 39 pistol. Other than extended magazine and a threaded barrel end for silencer mounting, the Hush Puppy was also designed with slide stop lever. When engage, the lever lock the pistol's slide to the frame, obviate its auto loading and eliminating all of those pesky problems mention before. The Hush Puppy got its allegedly cute name not of the reasons you might think… it is not the pistol referred to as the puppy. The pistol main use in the hands of the SEALs was for clandestine operation where taking the sentry and/or his dog without them alerting the base or you awaking the base. This is the origin of the name, it is a gun to hush (aka kill) those problematic K-9's… yeah I know, sick and twisted sense of humor.    

M-16 forward assist bottom
Seas of ink had been spilled over the question of “which gun is the best of them all” between the M-16 & AK-47, to the endless comparisons of pro & con, there is the small issue of the charging handle. AK-47's charging handle is a part of the bolt group and reciprocate with it, what that mean is the user must keep in mind that projection movement and keep clouting, gear and body parts out of the handle path. M-16's charging handle doesn't reciprocate and stays still. Since the handle isn't fixed to the bolt carrier it can only pull the bolt group backward not push it forward like AK's handle can.
Usually that so-called handicap isn't a problem, the handle pull the bolt group back and the returning spring well… return it forward. The business becomes complicate when some dirt and dust enter the gun prevent the bolt returning to foremost position and locking, Colt equipped their M-16 with forward assist bottom on the right side of the gun just where your thumb can reach to. Continuously pushing the bottom will push the bolt group forward to position. Although not intended for it by the manufacturer, this bottom been used for silence cocking, before open fire a group of soldiers can slowly pull the handle back than instead of releasing the handle and making an alerting sound as the bolt group slams they slowly return it to forward position, then pushing the bottom to finish the maneuver.


Gyrojet ammunition
In the 1960's, one company named MBA tried to revolutionize the gun industry with their micro-rockets bullets named Gyrojet. Those Gyrojets were fit with rocket engine that slowly (relatively speaking) dissipate the propellant as they accelerate instead of sudden explosive discharge as normal cartridges do. The result was a gun-launcher without any muzzle blast when the rocket leaves the muzzle. The rockets themselves were subsonic thus avoiding any supersonic crack. A low noise produce by the rocket's engine in the first 20 meter of travel is barely hearable and by some accounts sounds like the sound of a tire deflating.    

Silenced Revolver
Revolvers are usually regard as a poor candidates for silencer attachments, not only the revolvers' calibers is almost always more powerful than autoloaders' rounds making the muzzle blast suppressing more difficult, there is also the much serious problem of gases escaping from the gap between the cylinder and the barrel face (known as “cylinder gap”).
Screwing a silencer onto the revolver barrel end does nothing to suppress the blast noise emerge from that gap, one exception is the Russian Nagant M1895, this revolver's cylinder slightly reciprocate back and forward against the barrel face as the cylinder rotates. The Nagant's cartridges themselves designed with necked case encapsulate the bullet that crimped when fire to provide gas sealing. The intended idea behind this oddball of a revolver is to prevent the unnecessary loss of propellant gas and boost the bullet to punch above its tiny weight. An unintended conscious is the ability to silence the gun even below most suppressed autoloader can achieve. Other examples of suppressed revolvers are the Russian OTs-38 Stechkin and the American experimental Quiet Special Purpose Revolver (QSPR). Both fed by totally enclose piston cartridges.                   

Silenced Shotgun
One misconception is that shotguns are impossible to suppress. The reality is that the first silencers were intended for shotguns and hunting rifles suppressing. The problem, of course, is that the adequate suppressor for such a potent cartridge as shotgun shell will be proportionally large and bulky and the noise reduction will serve only as ear protection measure not hiding the shooter presence, giving that tactical shotguns are short range guns and usually used at close quarters combat any tangos will likely to hear the mighty blast, suppressed or not.          

Silenced Bow
A bit off the mandate of this article but a cool example nevertheless. A problem faced by bow wielding hunters since dawn of civilization is the noisy thwack sound an arrow makes when release as it slide against the bow on which it rest prior. The friction between the arrow and bow slows the arrow and spook the target. This noisy exit is as ancient as bow and arrow and seem unresolved till 2007 when Texan name Stuart Minica device a solution; strong neodymium magnets placed around the arrow spine close to the arrowhead, a set of similar magnets are placed inside a ring attach the bow. 
When placed the arrow levitate inside the ring resting on the magnetic repulsion and seemly resting on air along, hence the name “Air-Rest”. Releasing the arrow from its magnetic suspension is completely noiseless. Although its ingenuity the “Air-Rest” suffer critical design flow, the friction that rob some of the arrow energy into a that thwack is also what keep it steady before the shooting, without the friction element the “Air-Rest” arrows wobbling inside the ring after the slightest of the movements including breathing!   

United States Civilian Ownership of Sound Suppressor by William
Firearms have a unique place in the government of the United States as well with her citizens. Being an Texan, I exposed directly to the gun culture of America and all of its rights and privileges...with includes the legal ownership of sound suppressors. With the right paperwork, clean background, some money (about $200 for the tax stamp), and a some time (about 10 months); you can legally own an sound suppressor in 42 of the states in the good ole US-of-A! In 2013, sales of legal suppressors was up 37% from the two previous years, fueling a boom in the number of sound suppressor manufacturers and an backlog on ATF clearance. A few of the RNs I worked with at the hospital own through Gun Trusts suppressors and I interviewed them for this blogpost.
The first major question I asked is why would you own an suppressor in the first place given the hoops you have to jump through and the cost of an suppressor ($700-$1,300 on average)? First off, sound suppressors are very cool and they make the pistol and/or AR15 much cooler looking, especially when you are at the range. Your hushed AR15 is the belle of the ball. They do offer greater ear protection, especially when shooting indoors and allow shooters to not annoy their neighbors when shooting on their property. Hunters like them for not alerting the animals if they miss a shot or attempting to take down several animals in a herd (like Boars). Suppressors dampen more than just noise, but also reduce recoil, allowing for accurate. The reduced noise does allow for better control of the weapon, because it reduces the shock of the weapon.
Most of the people I know that own sound suppressors own them through a National Firearms Act Trust (AKA Gun Trust or NFA Trust), which offers some advantages over individual ownership of an suppressor. Instead of you being registered with the ATF as an suppressor owner, the Gun Trust is, and this allows you to avoid some of the transfer fees on National Firearms Act guns, along with fingerprints, photos, and issues with your personal background. NFA firearms are ones that are banned under the National Firearms Act of 1934 that include short-barreled rifles, sawed-off shotguns, explosives, and fully automatic weapons. Another advantage is that NFA Gun Trusts allow several people to use the sound suppressors, and to remove the suppressors with more flexibility by one of trustees. With the Gun Trust, you do not need to notify the local authorities of using or buying an NFA firearm.

The Future of Silenced Weapons

Near Future

Destructive interference & frequency shift silencers
Two speculative gun suppressing technologies are the destructive interference & frequency shift relied upon the very nature of sound, sound is a wave and those two technologies exploit two separate phenomenon. Destructive interference accrues when two or more waves with different phase shift are interact with each other and cancelling each other. Frequency shift method base on altering the sound frequency higher above human ear threshold. Theoretically silencers can be cleverly designed to achieve one or both of those outcomes and some claims (namely the Russian) to integrate those technologies to their armament but most experts remain skeptic.          

Regulated Gas Valve 
Keeping the bullet velocity subsonic when its supersonic crack could be hearable by the target AND having it travel most of the trajectory at supersonic is tricky as the shooter need to be able to tackle the target in different ranges under different wind conditions. An electronically control gas valve placed in half way the barrel length will vent out a portion of the  propelling gases in order to precisely control the supersonic muzzle velocity to ensure the shift between super-to-sub in the require distance from the gun and from its target.       

Light gas gun (LGG)
Light gas gun (LGG) and one of its variants, combustion light gas gun (CLGG), is an arrangement similar to regular chemically propel projectile that utilize the low molecular mass of light gases like hydrogen & helium as medium or leverage to accelerate projectiles to velocities higher than smokeless gunpowder can generate. Since the maximum velocity a projectile can archive is the sound speed, the propelling gas using hydrogen or helium as propelling gases can provide higher muzzle velocities. The LGG structure is a long tube fill with the light gas, a piston at one end is launch by regular gunpowder behind it to push the light gas through a narrowing nuzzle in the outer end. Behind this muzzle is a rupture disk, designed to rapture at a precise pressure and launch the projectile behind the disk at a hypersonic speed.There are many engineering problems preventing the militarizing of this technology, one of them is the need to constantly refill the long tube in light gas after each shot made. A modify silencer could be developed to recycle the light gas, allowing the bullet to leave the barrel quietly and reducing the size of gas tank needed for multiple shots.

Far Future 

Without chemical propellant needed, the railgun can fire slugs without generated muzzle blast and the ability to adjust the power output gives the gun an “dial-a-velocity” capabilities. However, the friction between the projectile's sabot and the twin rails creates a plasma flume ejected out of the muzzle. Like in the case of conventional gun's muzzle flash, some silencer type device will be needed to prevent detection.  

Gauss Gun
Similar with the railgun, the Gauss Gun use no chemical propellant and thus, does not produce any noisy blast, and it too, can well tune its projectiles velocities to suppress supersonic crack. Gauss Gun edge over railgun is the lack of plasma flume; the projectile is accelerating by and within the coils without contact them. 

Hybrid chemical-EM
There was a lot of thing I didn't fancy about the Neill Blomkamp's Elysium, its depiction of future tech was certainly not one of them. One of the weapons at Elysium armory was the Chemrail, a hybrid carbine size gun combining the traditional chemical propellant with the assistant of rails to further accelerate the bullet.
A real version of such gun with EM accelerator mount at the end of the barrel could use its rails/ coils to accelerate subsonic bullet to the required supersonic velocity to control the supersonic crack at bay while the muzzle blast is dissipate between the rails/coils in a controlled volume like in a suppressor.     
Silenced firearms and poplar media
No one ever blame Hollywood and other makers of poplar media for getting firearms technology and terminology right and the portraying of silenced firearms as seen in movies, TV & video games is no exception. If you believe those sources as reliable, the minute a silencer is screwed on top of the pistol, the gun blast's roaring thunder is reduced to shallow, almost cute, whistle. So much so, that in the firearms community, that all-too-familiar sound is jokily referring to that as "Mouse fart". In real life, no silencer can deliver such a promise, the sound reduction however good it may be will never eliminate to firing sound. The source of this misleading "Mouse fart" is unclear, most likely some movie's prop or audio specialists add it somewhere in some movie at the past which been copied ever since but how was this original sinner we may never know.    

Silenced Firearms and Science Fiction
Science Fiction generally suffers from the same tropes and misconceptions other genres had and the silence firearms is no exception. The all my-silencer-make-all-noise-go-away trope is common, just ask any PC or console warrior and he will tell you that with little silencer you can take down one sentry without his comrade one meter away even notice… yeah, in video games apparently the silencers can mute the sound of your saline foe crumbling to the ground. Two specific aspects of silence guns relative to SF is the presence (or lack of them) in space, after all space is huge and it have plenty of room to movies, novels, TV series etc. to go around. 
In the vacuum of space of course no one can hear you scream, or spraying bullets. No muzzle blast, no supersonic crack… noting. In fact on the surface of Luna, a missing bullet can pass less than an inch in front of your spacesuit face shield and you wouldn't know it! If the slug wouldn't hit something or someone there would be no indication, at least without some optical sensors or radar. The muzzle flash will also be avoided because without oxygen the unburned gunpowder residues leaving the muzzle have nothing to burn with. Conclusions – in outer space the dream of truly quiet guns will be true. A completely different scenario onboard spaceship or space stations, in the tight corridors and rooms of those packed metal tubes any boarding team or station cop ought to have suppressed weapon or suffer hearing loss. 


The Pop-up Silencer from Judge Dredd (2012)
The Lawgiver is the standard and prime gun of the Judges of Mega-City 1 and it packed with all sort of goodies inside including: voice activated ammo type selector, self-destruction against unauthorized users and last but not least a build-in extractable-retractable silencer. The silencer is the only firing mode of the Lawgiver that is not only voice-activated, which may make sense, you don't call out loud and you don't want the Lawgiver robotic voice to replay the command to all foes to hear.
The Imperium of Man Stalker-pattern Bolter from the Warhammer 40k Universe
The Warhammer 40,000 universe is not the place you might expect to find suppressed firearms given the vast arsenal of over the top distractive weapons. One type of those legendary bolters is different; the Stalker-pattern Bolter is a variant of the common clay bolter with longer barrel, telescopic scope and massive suppressor. It is a sniper/ marksmanship rifle loaded with special Stalker bolter ammo. These bolt shells have a pressured gas canister instead of rocket engine and solidified mercury slug replaces the mass-reactive warhead for lethality at subsonic projectile speeds.      
The M-11 Suppressor from the Mass Effect Universe
The case of the M-11 is a prime example of style over logic, since most small arms in the Mass Effect universe are using mass effect field. The mass effect field is basically an artificial gravity mass accelerator to propel sand grain sized projectile at relativistic speed, so there there is essentially no chemically produced muzzle blast or flash need to be suppressed. In addition any projectile travels at near light speed will centrally create some serious supersonic boom! So,we have a suppressor intended to suppress non-existing muzzle blast with ear shattering supersonic crack that it can't suppress… this does not compute

The Suppressed 9mm MAC-10 SMG from Escape from New York
In 1981, we would get one of the most badass sci-fi movie characters: Snake Plissken. During his mission to rescue the POTUS from the Federal Prison of Manhattan, Snake is armed by the US Police Force base on Liberty Island for his rescue mission with some unusual weapons, including an sound suppressed MAC-10 9mm SMG with an rifle scope attached. While current opinion is divided on if this submachine gun is goofy or badass, its historical context is correct form the time-period along with its two stage Sionics suppressor.
The 9mm MAC-10 fitted with the suppressor was fairly quiet, and the hushed MAC-10 was used by some commando units during several conflicts and classified operations. It is known that DELTA used suppressed MAC-10s along with the Navy SEALs in Vietnam. This could be the reason why the production crew armed Snake with the MAC-10, given its use real-world history with commando units.
It also makes tactical sense for an low-profile operation. From the film, it seems that none of the inhabitants of the Manhattan prison had access to firearms, even the Duke of New York (A #1!), and if an unsuppressed firearm was used, everyone on the block would know that someone from the outside was on the island and it likely involved the POTUS in some way. The odd thing about Snake's MAC-10, more than the rifle scope, was the off-again-on-again sound suppression of the silencer. Snake uses the MAC-10 several times, and it is muffled in a convicting way, but when the Duke is firing one round at a time to toruter the President, the gunshots are loud-and-clear...no sound damping despite the suppressor still being attached. Very odd. After the film, the suppressed MAC-10 would not make an appearance in the bullshit 1996 sequel, but has been featured in most of the action figures of Plissken along with the aborted video game.

No sound suppressor weapons were seen in the HALO game universe until the 2009 HALO 3: ODST video game (the hushed M7 was in the book HALO: First Strike). The UNSC’s elite light spaceborne infantry units, the ODSTs, were armed with unique weaponry for their unique missions and skills. As the Rookie character in the game, you start off alone among the darkened streets of New Mombasa armed with two suppressed weapons: the M7S PDW and the M6C/SOCOM. First seen in HALO 2, the M7 is the standard UNSC PDW that fires an 5x23mm caseless round from an left side horizontally mounted magazine.  In the hands of the ODST armory techs, the M7 was modified for low-profile operations; mounting an SS/M 49 series sound suppressor, a tactical light, and an SLS/V 5B smart-linked open reflex sight. During major engagements, ODSTs Marines used normal UNSC weaponry, however, for the original mission template at the beginning of HALO 3: ODST, the VBSS of an alien warship, the M7S PDW was ideal for close quarters warfare. 
During gameplay, the M7S PDW sounds brilliant and has a nice hushed tone that is more in-line with real-world suppressed PDWs and SMGs. It does suffer from a reduced magazine size from the regular M7 and it is simply underpowered to deal with the threats presented in the game. Vast amounts of ammo are needed to take down anything more than a grunt, and this is coupled with the Rookie not being a SPARTAN. Since the 2009 game, the hushed M7 variant has not really been seen since, which the M7 was given an update from HALO 5: Guardians.   

The Suppressed Colt Commando Carbine from Terminator 2: Judgement Day
In one critical secene of the 1991 film, (the real) Sarah Conner takes aim at Dr. Miles Dyson, an cybernetic scientist in the employ of Cyberdyne  Systems who is key in development of Skynet. The goal was to assassinate Dr. Dyson and prevent the creation of Skynet. Her tool of assassination unusually for the time: an Colt Commando carbine fitted with an sound suppressor, laser sight, and early example of ACOG scope. She fires single shots until it is clear that Miles knows what is up, and she sprays his office with suppressed 556.
The sound used in the film is close to the real hushed report of an M16 using an suppressor. but the flash is unrealistic and the use of a visible laser is tactically unwise. While the film shown weapon is supposed to be an Colt Commando Model 629 carbine, but in reality it is an modified Colt Sporter I. In the original script, the the weapon was going to be an FN FAL...which makes sense for the job.

The Suppressors from the Crysis Universe
One of the great things about Crysis 2 and 3 was the ability to customize your weapon-of-moment with all manner of attachments, scopes, and even an sound suppressor. The best thing about the sound suppressor is that when you have engaged the cloak, you can fire the suppressed weapon to maintain your stealth has long as possible. The suppression sound effect is kind of odd...it sounds like a puff with a hint of smoke rather than an thump.  
The Shadow Marshall M66-SD SMG from Killzone
In the first Killzone game on the PS2 from 2004, one of the ISA playable characters was Shadow Marshall Agent Luger, and she was armed with the M66-SD submachine gun. This was a specially modified variety of the M66 SMG and this one fires an subsonic version of the standard SMG 7.62x33mm ammunition. This is the same size as the US M1 Carbine .30 cartridge from Korea and World War II. In the gameplay, the M66-SD has two firing modes: suppressed or regular load. The regular mode is full automatic fire, while the suppressed fire mode is single fire. The in-game reason is given that the SMG suppressor has an high temperature alloy can allow for single-shot suppressed fire, but is loud at full-auto fire.
This is an attempt to explain why the suppressor is fitted both during hushed and full-auto banging. The real-world model was based on the H&K Mk. 23 SOCOM pistol. The M66-SD would make its next appearance in Killzone 3 during the stealth Kaznan Jungle level. This M66-SD is graphically updated and seems more realistic than the Killzone one version, along with the hushed gunfire, which was complete Hollywood in the first game.

The Suppressed Weapons from the Splinter Cell Universe
The shadowy adventures of everyone’s favorite NSA Agent Sam Fisher are laced with the use of suppressed weaponry. The entire gameplay mechanics are centered around stealth and timing, and this makes Fisher’s choice of silencer weaponry key to his success. In the bulk of the games, Agent Fisher of the Third Echelon uses an FN Five-seveN 5.7mm suppressed pistol and suppressed FN F2000. Due to copyright issues, either weapon is called by the real-world names. They official the "5.7mm SC Pistol" and the "SC-20K MAWS". 
The suppressed pistol sound effect is very close to the real-steel Five-seveN 5.7mm suppressed...Ubioft Tom Clancy games are known for their research. The FN2000 is not so lucky. It is pretty average suppressed sound in-game, while the real-world FN F2000 suppressed has a nice sound that should have made into the game. The nice touch to the SC-20K MAWS is the 30mm GL-1 grenade launcher loaded with less-than-lethal munitions, behaving more like the real-steel FN 303 18mm less-than-lethal.  

The Suppressors from Call of Duty Black Ops II/III, GHOSTS, and Advanced Warfare
In the COD games set in the near-future as well as the game set in more distant future, sound suppressor/silencers are extremely common in both the campaign as well as multiplayer. The multiplayer modes are were the silencers really shine. When added to nearly all types of weapon types (save for DEW in Black Ops: III), the suppressor prevents the player from appearing on the mini-map when the weapon is fired so that some asshole can’t knife you from behind. However, suppressors reduce range of the gun by 20%-30% and some claim that suppressors reduce damage output as well…despite it not being proven. 
Another advantage of  using one of your slots for the suppressor is reduced muzzle flash, which helps with some guns, like the M27 from Black Ops II. Some of the weapons available in COD have integrated suppressors, like the Honey Badger from Ghosts, and others operate better than others with the silencer attached, like the M27 assault rifle and the Remington 870 shoty from Black Ops: II. Some players will run around a map with silenced pistol like a 00 Agent as well, living out some Bond fantasy while hushpuppying you to dead. Super annoying.   

The magnum 12mm pistol has been around the HALO universe since the first game and over the course of its life, it has been altered every single game. One of the most radical alternations was the sound suppressed variant seen in the HALO 3: ODST and the HALO Helljumper comic limited series. The UNSC’s elite light spaceborne infantry units, the ODSTs, were armed with unique weaponry for their unique missions and skills. As the Rookie character in the game, you start off alone among the darkened streets of New Mombasa armed with two new suppressed weapons: the M7S PDW and the M6C/SOCOM. 
The M6C/ SOCOM is an specialized variant of the HALO 3 M6 Magnum and is one of the only specialized variants known to exist for the 12mm M6 Magnum pistol featured in an game. The SOCOM “C” variant is set apart from the regular issue M6 by the laser/light module mounted under the barrel along with integrated sound suppressor, and is topped off by the advanced VnSLS/V 6E smart-linked scope. In the game, this advanced scope system coupled with the suppressor, allows the Rookie to pick off grunts with headshots with expert marksmanship. Truly, one of the best moments in ODST is pulling off hushed headshots and watching the alien body drop. Another unique feature of the M6C/SOCOM is that it fires the rarer M228 semi-armor-piercing high-penetration (SAP-HE) 12.7x40mm ammunition. While the weapon is effective in "hushpuppy" tactic, it suffers when engaging Covenant in close quarters over the traditional M6 pistol. Much like the M7S, the M6C/SOCOM, it has only really appeared in the ODST game. 

The H&K Mk 23 SOCOM Suppressed Pistol from Metal Gear Solid
For many of us, our introduction to the mysterious H&K Mk 23 .45ACP SOCOM offensive handgun was the landmark 1997 Metal Gear Solid video game. With stealth being a key aspect of the MGS franchise, Solid Snake using an hushed pistol was a no-brainer...but why this relatively unknown (at the time) pistol? According to game, the events of MGS take place in 2005, and with the Mk 23 entering service, it was believed by some to be the next-gen US combat pistol. Also, given that the offensive pistol was developed with cutting edge technology and a rather cool futuristic look, it was a perfect fit for the game. The symbol of Snake with an Mk 23 SOCOM became iconic in the MSG franchise. The other reasons, has given in interview with MGS artist Yoji Shinkawa, that since the Mk 23 SOCOM (like the FAMAS) was more bulky in appearance, it would work will with the graphic limitations at the time. They also liked that it chambered the .45 ACP round. Yoji chose the prototype version of the H&K Mk 23 over the issued version because he liked that look more. For the most part, the Mk 23 suppressor in the 1997 game is fairly accurate. There is a puff of smoke and it goes thump-thump instead of the same normal film/video game snake "zip" sound.

The Sound Suppressor from The Ghost Recon Universe
Common among the near-future Ghost Recon games, going back to the original computer games, are suppressors.  These tools have been a critical part of the US Army Special Forces Group for Specialized Tactics armories through every game due to the Ghosts' role as a Special Mission Unit similar to other TIER-One groups. As with RAINBOW Six: Vegas, Ghost Recon allowed for suppressors to be attached to most firearms in the game, despite the weapon selected. However, in the vast majority of games, the Ghosts had only certain weapons that were suppressed. In Ghost Recon 2 for the original Xbox, some assault rifles, sniper rifles, and pistols were suppressed, which lowered their punch and given the spotty A.I., it didn't help that much. In the recent Future Soldier, suppressor were able to be attached to most weapons in the Gunsmith Mode on the weapon's modification points. However, the silencers could not be toggled off/on in-game causing some gamers to be upset at the lower damage output for their primary. It looks like we will get some weapons modification with the new Ghost Recon: Wildlands being released in March 7th, 2017.

Next on FWS Armory – Rocket Guns
In the last couple of centuries, the terms “firearm” or “gun” uniformly describes a well-built pressure cooker with projectile as the pointy lid thrown by the explosive discharge of gunpowder. Few attempts made in the 20th century to undermine the slug throwers hegemony by a different paradigm – the self-propelled projectile or more simply called the rocket. The most well-known attempt was the MBA Gyrojet concept in the 1960’s, but it wasn't the first and it might not be the last. In the next installation of this continues series, we'll examine those odd ducks of firearm’s history, their advantages & disadvantages over regular sluggers and check their influence on Sci-Fi.   

Next Time on FWS...
What sci-fi weapon fires an .75 or .998 caliber kinetic explosive round, that is the wielded by genetic warriors that zealously serve their god-emperor, and is specifically designed to take down demons, eternal damned space marines, and dark gods? The Imperial Bolter from Warhammer 40,000 universe! In the next installment of Weapons of Sci-Fi, we will finally(!) be discussing the Bolter in all of its massive glory!


  1. Another very well researched article, as I've come to expect. I'd like to add a few points, however.

    The idea that "suppressed guns do less damage" is a common, and annoying, trope in video games. It's probably meant to balance gameplay, if they were going for realism however switching to subsonic ammo would make sense: less damage and range, but vewy vewy quiet....

    Many shooters actually prefer to shoot suppressed all the time, due to the advantages listed, as well as increased accuracy: many precision shooters swear that titanium direct thread suppressors close their group sizes slightly. They also report slightly increased muzzle velocity, with the extra propellant burning up in the confines of the suppressor, and imparting just a little extra kick to the projectile.

    Another thing I'd like to add is what's known as first round "pop". Particularly on automatic weapons, with certain suppressor designs, the first round in a string of rapid fire is usually the loudest, due to burning up the extra oxygen in the suppressor. Subsequent shots this oxygen is expelled, and results in slightly less noise from gas expansion at the muzzle.

    It's also worth mentioning that suppressors are used on air rifles as well, despite them not burning propellant, just using pressurized gas. Any weapon using pressurized gasses for propulsion could benefit from a suppressor, it would even be possible for similar muzzle devices on other advanced types of weapons. Railguns are known for intense electrical arcs, especially those which use plasma armatures, so some type of flash mitigation would be helpful. One of my own far future particle beam weapons emits a plume of plasma as a side effect of the acceleration process, and a magnetic nozzle at the muzzle is used to dissipate this.

  2. I had an "suppressor" on my Colt Commando paintball carbine for years. PB Suppressors were very common in the early days of paintball until the ATF cracked down on homebrew suppressors of the PB market.
    I like your plasma suppressor!
    Thanks for the comment! Yoel does an amazing job.

  3. Another excellent article about Suppressors in Sci-fi. And a tip of the hat to the anonymous person about what he said in his comments about suppressors in video games.

  4. A very enlightening article there Yoel. Though to be quite honest, I never heard of the alternate term "moderator" for the silencer/suppressor. Though something tells me that it would be the most accurate when describing the effects it would have on conventional firearms, especially of the autofire variety. And I never knew that there were wet silencers and even bow silencers, something to keep note. Also interesting to note that the mechanics of the gun that can make the "silencing" of a gun even more problematic, though from the articles alone the act of suppressing the cycling of the round is largely the realm of the shooter themselves. It almost lends itself to an atmosphere of suspence to make that all important firt shot, lever lock not withstanding in said drama.

    Never knew that there were such a thing as piston cartridge, though by the sound of the effect said piston has on the bullet, it doesn't have much purpose outside of "wetwork" operations on its own. Which is probably where the chem-Rail operation comes into play. To be quite honest, I wasn't really sure how a chem-EM weapon would work until this article, if only because of my limited interaction with the subject at hand. It certainly gives me a few ideas for my own setting's version of the over/underslung gunlauncher: The round being pushed into acceleration via chemically-accelerated intergrated piston into the coilgun assembly. Now just how to work out the whole piston-cartriage ejection... Then again, now that I thought about it, probably a better idea to go with the captive-bolt operation rather than have it all encapsulated within a single cartridge. It would be lighter for a soldier to carry just subsonic blanks rather than having pistol-cartridges that would have to be longer than conventional cartridges, double that if one wanted the bullets to accelerate at a respectible distance. Then again, how would one even perform an autoloader version of this setup? Granted, its probably best to make it a single round like many other contemporary attached grenade launchers, but still the brain worm still burrows and won't leave the idea alone. Eh, I'll probably have to sleep on it or something.

    Speaking of the piston cartridge, it also helps me personally on how to imagine LGG for at least semi-automatic fire. Though considering the total length said LGC would have to be to have it be of considerable range unassisted, the smallest magazine-fed platform would have to be anti-material sniper rifles (would it still be considered a rifle considering the initial setup?) wielded by 40K style power armor troopers. It would probably still be within the realm of heavy ACVs and large vessels both seaworthy and orbital. Still, an interesting idea to entertain oneself.

    The idea of a Reactive Muffler that either uses destructive interference or frequency shift to remove the audible boom of a gun does sound interesting and potentially show technological advance in an otherwise contemporary or near-future setting, though the electronic Regulated Gas Valve would sound the most plausible given the skeptisim of the former. Speaking of which, I always wondered how silencers would work on a shotgun when it uses either birdshot or buckshot. Wouldn't all those beads just collect in the buffering chambers, if not damage them?

    I'm also figuring that the main reason why one would choose a disposable suppressor instead of a normal suppressor would be mass and cost. Though I have a feeling that those two points would be nullified if one were to carry multiple disposable suppressors. Initially, thanks to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater demo, I thought that a disposable suppressor was due to the early-generation aspect of all silencers of the era. That is, the technology to make suppressors reliable after many rounds wasn't pioneered until decades later.

    1. Had to split it because it was too long......

      Also, I too like Anonymous' proposal for a plasma suppressor for Charged Particle Beams. Not too sure if it also applies to Neutralized Particle Beams in space use, but I have a distinct feeling that it would apply as well.

      Looking forward to the article on Bolterguns.

  5. Your question as to whether shotgun suppressors could be damaged from the use of shot (pellets) is a point I wanted to make that I had forgotten, the reason shotguns generally don't suppress well is that the bore size on the suppressor has to be appropriately huge compared to other firearms. As soon as the wad (little cup that holds the projectiles) leaves the bore it is no longer being compressed by the barrel, and starts to spread. A shotgun has a large bore to begin with, and the suppressor needs to be even larger to prevent baffle strikes. The spread isn't that much, video games and movies have skewed people's views of the range of shotguns as being point-blank range only, when in reality even the most compact shotguns are useful at 15-25 yards.

    My plasma suppressor really only applies to my personal particle beam weapon design, which actually is a neutral beam. It utilizes tritium-deuterium fusion to create a plume of relativistic neutrons, which serves to deal the actual damage. The plasma is just an unavoidable side effect, and as it is relatively low velocity isn't worth much in the way of damage. Charged particle beams in vacuum are invisible, but in air are unavoidably bright due to their ionization of the air. Neutral particle beams may be mostly invisible in atmosphere, but the idea there is to accelerate as many of the atoms as possible, and any kind of flash suppression likely won't be necessary. It's all speculative technology though, so adding one for the sole reason of "it looks badass" is perfectly acceptable.

    Another thing I forgot was about silencing bows, most modern bows have numerous built in vibration dampers to reduce noise. It would be interesting to see if this tech could be applied to firearms as well, there are already companies who sell silent buffer springs for use with suppressed AR-15s, in addition to a number of other accessories meant to improve suppressed rifles.

    1. The adjustable gas valve that bleeds off propellant to reduce the projectile velocity is an interesting idea, one that I really hadn't heard of before. The weapons operation would likely have to be handled electronically as well, the recoil impulse and gas pressure would likely be too varied between super and sub sonic settings to allow normal mechanical operation, as it is in modern firearms. The Mp5SD is designed to bleed off gas and reduce 9mm to subsonic velocities, but it is not configured for nor capable of firing supersonic ammo.

      Another thing that I think is interesting to note is the over the barrel suppressor. As it sounds there is a section of the suppressor that extends over the suppressor, and allows gas escaping the muzzle to travel backwards. It increases the internal volume without adding any length to the weapon, which is useful since suppressors are fairly heavy, most weighing over a pound, and they're way out on the muzzle where leverage is working against the shooter. The downside to over the barrel suppressors is that they are somewhat limited as to the barrels they can be installed on: some handguards, gas blocks, bayonet lugs, or even a barrel with too large a diameter can all interfere with mounting an over the barrel suppressor.

      Another thing to add is that suppressors can be differentiated by internal design: most use baffles to disrupt the gas flow, but some newer designs use "flow through" layouts, which supposedly reduce back pressure.

      The suppressor function of the law giver from the Judge Dredd reboot was just silly: if you've got a suppressor built on to your gun, why not use it at all times? And also the way it just kinda slides out forward a fraction of an inch: what's going on internally? Any gain in internal volume would be minimal, and not worth having to add the mechanical actuator to move the blasted thing in the first place. Some of my designs have integrated suppressor components: for example baffles or expansion ports machined into the exterior of the barrel itself, which reduces weight and enhances cooling when shooting unsuppressed, but the bulk of the suppressor remains totally detachable.

      I can't think of anything else to add, my hands on experience with suppressors is limited at the moment, but when I have the disposable income, I will certainly try to aquire a couple. As a final note, I've commented here before but have been unable to log into my Google Play account lately. I'll try to sort that out shortly.

    2. While I do realize that shotgun spread isn't as dramatic as portrayed in popular media (Mythbusters and Deadliest Warrior saw to that), it's still something of a concern when dealing with shots that are designed to spread over a wide area when a suppressor is utilized. I can only assume, since I don't hunt myself let alone own a shotgun, is that a shotgun suppressor would be best useful against game that are too temperamental when an unsuppressed slug shot is used.

      I also realize that the plasma suppressor for apparently neutralized particle beam weaponry is for your own setting, but the idea is interesting enough to consider. Granted, until someone can figure out how to mitigate the whole radiation backwash of particle beam weaponry outside several layers of armor, it would probably remain within the realm of heavy ACV. Let alone infantry small arms, though I guess there's some way to use magnetic fields to push the radiation backwash away from the shooter but something tells me that it won't work that way....

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  7. Thank you for taking the time to write this article. It is really good and useful article about silencers. A lof of illustrations make it easier to understand how suppressors work. You can add information about Salvo shotgun suppressor which was recently released.