I got a chance to test Shell Shock Technologies’ 9mm Luger NAS3 brass and loaded cartridges from L-Tech Ammunition. I believe I’m looking at a displacement in the archetype of cartridge performance. This is a product worthy of more than a glance.
The Shell Shock Technologies 9mm Luger NAS3 brass is made in two pieces, rather than one. The components consist of a nickel plated solid aircraft grade aluminum base and a nickel alloy stainless cylinder. The two sections are fused together in a proprietary process.
Manufacturing cartridge brass out of two pieces has all kinds of commercial advantages. First, the aluminum base can be anodized in any color, allowing for quick identification of cartridges. This is probably not a big deal for the average user, but several agencies in my area use 9mm submachine guns and 9mm handguns. The cartridges are definitely interchangeable, but the sub-gun users tend towards 147-grain cartridges, and handgun users employ 124-grain cartridges. Shell Shock Technologies could create a custom head stamp, if requested. The company is a manufacturer supplier and normally doesn’t deal with end-user customers like law enforcement officers, or even agencies. However, the advantages to the individual officer end-user cannot be overlooked.
Here are eight reasons why law enforcement should have a look:
1. They work smoothly
When the powder is ignited inside a metallic cartridge, the brass contains a release of energy and expands to the dimensions of the chamber. We will talk about reloading in just a bit, but one of the first steps to reloading a metallic cartridge is to size the brass to its original dimension so that it easily fits back into the chamber.
This might be the most obvious difference to the user. Brass has more ductile properties which allows it to flow into the chamber. It deforms to conform to chamber dimensions, then somewhat maintains these dimensions. A bit more elastic, steel expands inside the chamber, then contracts quickly, no longer maintaining the dimensions of the chamber. What the shooter feels, if they look for it, is a quicker and smoother ejection. The empty cartridge flies out of the chamber.
Here’s a funny thing I found: I thought that the ejected brass would form nice neat little piles near my feet. This didn’t happen. In fact, some of the ejected brass flew 8 to 9 feet from my shooting position. This is likely evidence of a faster ejection.
There are a couple of reasons why the ejection is much smoother. First, the brass is down to the original dimension that caused it to enter the chamber smoothly. Second, 9mm Luger NAS3 is smoother than standard cartridge brass. Over several months of testing, we never had a failure to feed or eject in any of our handguns. This included factory loaded rounds and my own reloads.
The nickel-plated aircraft grade aluminum base is softer than the steel in any handgun extractor. It won’t cause excessive wear on the extractor.
2. They can handle high pressures
Steel is stronger than brass. More accurately, the tensile strength of most steels is greater than the tensile strength of brass. Tensile strength refers to the amount of stretching a material can handle without breaking. The other ability that is critical is the ability to be stretched without permanent deformation, often called yield strength. Because ammunition brass is cylindrical, the direction of stretching when placed under stress is outward from the cylinder.
The cartridge brass and chamber contains the pressure of the gases that propel the projectile when ignited. Although there are definite limitations, good cartridge brass is essential when assembling a cartridge with a +P (higher pressure) designation.
Shell Shock Technologies’ brass was independently tested when it was first introduced. The cases easily handled pressures higher than normal for 9mm cartridges—up to 65,000 psi—significantly higher than +P+ for 9mm cartridges. That’s a little more than twice the “normal” pressures for 9mm.
Although chamber pressure and bullet velocity are not directly proportional, theoretically this means higher bullet velocities. Anyone who has been following the trend of higher performance in 9mm will recognize that velocity is the one factor that closes the gap between a 9mm and “bigger” cartridges.
Higher velocities are critical for the new cartridges being offered in 9mm. Many manufacturers have gone with non-lead bullets, usually made of copper or copper alloys. They are generally lighter bullets which require higher velocity and pressures to perform.
One of the loaded cartridges that I tested was from L-Tech Enterprises. Through the barrel of my FNP-9, I chronographed velocities a little shy of 1,200 fps. I was mildly surprised. Generally, we should expect a +P 124 grain to go about 1,175 to 1,200 fps. After barrier, the penetration averaged 13.4 inches. In bare gelatin, it averaged 15.90 to 15.95 inches.
Creedmor Ammunition has produced a 9mm 124 grain cartridge based on the Hornady XTP bullet and the Shell Shock Technologies case. We already know about the superior performance of the Hornady XTP bullet. Combined with the inherent reliability of the Shell Shock Technologies case, it’s definitely worth considering for a law enforcement cartridge.
3. The cases are magnetically retrievable
You read that correctly. Shell Shock Technologies deliberately added enough iron in the mix to make the cases magnetic. I used a common industrial magnet that I purchased for less than $10 to pick up my empty cases on the range. I passed the magnet over them and they jumped on. This is much quicker than other brass retrieval products. Admittedly, I find myself cleaning iron filings off of the magnet once in a while, but this is unique to our range. Our IDPA shooters in Safety First Shooting Association (our NRA-funded local facility in Winton, California) are a bunch of brilliant engineers who are always building things. There are always iron filings around, and we are proud of it.
When I talked to Andrew Vallance of Shell Shock Technologies, I commented about the fact that a nickel alloy body was physically connected to a steel cylinder in order to make each brass. I noted that since it was two different metals, it might be problematic in saltwater because of galvanic corrosion. When two different metals are touching or electrically connected, saltwater acts as an electrolyte. One of the metals has a tendency to corrode faster than the other. All seaworthy vessels have some sort of device which prevents galvanic plating or corrosion.
Vallance said that this was an interesting observation, because Shell Shock Technologies uses specific alloys that resist galvanic corrosion. The base of the product is electrolytic nickel plated. It was assumed from the beginning that Shell Shock Technologies’ products were going to be used extensively in marine environments. They recognized the military application potential early, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in military service sometime in the future.
4. They are light
The combination of the alloy head and the nickel alloy body makes this brass lighter than standard brass. The head is aluminum alloy. Because the body material is stronger than brass, it can be manufactured with a slightly thinner wall. Overall, each case is about 50 percent lighter than standard cartridge brass.
Lighter brass brings out a lot of different advantages. For military applications, weight is everything when it comes to military transport. For law enforcement, a full standard capacity magazine of 18 rounds is more than an ounce lighter on the belt when loaded with 9mm Luger NAS3. The weight difference means the average officer can carry 12 extra rounds.
5. A low price point
The raw alloy materials used in Shell Shock Technologies’ cases are generally cheaper than brass, therefore products made from them are potentially cheaper.
On the average, brass used for 9mm manufacture runs about $0.085 cents per unit. Shell Shock Technologies runs about $0.07 per unit. Not only that, they have every intention to offer law enforcement agencies good purchase order prices.
6. They fail differently
I reloaded my Shell Shock Technologies 9mm brass until they would not function reliably. In other words, I tested the cases until failure. On the average, I got more than 10 reloads per case, an unlikely scenario with standard brass.
They fail differently, but first I need to talk about failure a little. When cartridge brass fails in the reloading process, it is rarely in the testing or firing sequence. Testing to failure is rarely dangerous for the person in the testing process. They usually fail when sizing or spreading the case mouth to accept a new bullet. Brass gets brittle and tends to crack or split near the case mouth. When brass fails during firing, it can be catastrophic. This is exactly why only fools go to a shooting range without wearing eye and ear protection.
9mm brass tapers slightly from the case head to the case mouth. The more times the brass was reloaded, the more the overall circumference of the case increased. The brass became fatter after a certain number of reloadings, proportionally with this taper. The change in dimension was not readily evident—they appeared to increase only in tens of thousands of an inch. (I was able to detect the increase only after 1/1,000 of an inch.) Throughout the firing and reloading process, the brass never lost its concentricity, nor did it crack or split. They also continued to function in my gun.
Interestingly enough, the increase in overall circumference made the brass hard to resize to the point that it wouldn’t chamber in my test guns. Mind you, this was way beyond the number of times that a user would “normally” reload brass. We can only conclude that the inherent design of this product has a natural way of protecting the user from cartridge failure in the field. Before they fail, they probably wouldn’t chamber.
7. They reload differently
Shell Shock Technologies went to S3 Reload for a custom die designed to fit standard benchtop reloading presses. They differ from conventional dies by their spring-loaded mechanism that push cases out of the dies, rather than pull them out using the rim of the case. This will cause the 9mm Luger NAS3 to last longer by preventing separation of the two components.
I have a 5-station Hornady Lock-N-Load AP press. Actually, I have five presses, but my Lock-N-Load can run circles around the others. Using the S3 Reload dies, production is actually a little faster. These dies can be used with conventional brass, which run rather smoothly in this set up. The die kits include only a carbide sizing and flaring die. Bullet seating and crimping dies should be purchased separately. They are relatively inexpensive and worth owning, even for conventional brass reloading.
I reloaded commercially made bullets, and lead bullets that I poured myself. I shot thousands of rounds using this brass without any issues. Reloaders would be interested in the fact that this particular brass does not bulge in the area of an unsupported chamber, a common design in many handguns. It consists of an open area at the rear of the chamber where there is no steel surrounding the brass of the cartridge. This allows many handguns to be more reliable because the back end of the chamber (at the rear of a barrel where the cartridge goes in) is like a funnel. In some reloading operations, the entire length of the brass needs to be squeezed down to its original shape because it was fired in an unsupported chamber.
8. They are pretty cool
I am the kind to embrace new technology. I definitely like products that improve shooting. The Shell Shock Technologies 9mm Luger NAS3 brass will likely change the way we look at firearms products in the future. Anything that improves putting rounds downrange works for me.