10 mm FedLite

After the legendary Miami shootout, the FBI’s firearms people were faced with a fistful of problems. Not only were they charged with the responsibility for developing or selecting a new gun for their agents, they also had to come up with a protocol for selecting cartridges and loads. Some dedicated people went at it hard for a considerable period of time, and came up a standard procedure of shooting a series of shots of a given load into properly calibrated ordnance gelatin and through various kinds of intervening barriers. After a while, the so-called “FBI protocol” came to be accepted as the best means of evaluating defensive cartridge performance. Routinely used by the major ammunition makers, it is a reliable standard. That portion of the effort was a resounding success.

The new gun and cartridge did not fare as well. The gun was a short version of the S&W Model 1006, called the 1076. It had a host of persistent problems that eventually defeated the idea of a 10 mm service auto.

The 10 mm came along in the early 1980s, intended for the Bren Ten pistol. Loaded by Norma, the first loads drove a .40-caliber, 200-grain bullet to a muzzle velocity of 1,200 fps. Early on, it became obvious that such a loading was a bit ambitious and velocity dropped to 1,150 fps and bullet weight to 180 grains. Everybody who made ammunition quickly got their version on dealer’s shelves. About the same time, the FBI and Federal jointly developed the Bureau load—a 180-grain JHP at 950 fps. It was quickly nicknamed “FedLite” in recognition of the 200 fps drop in velocity. Since most observers of the handgun scene were enthusiastic about the power of the 10 mm cartridge, the loading down for FBI use drew some amount of scorn. As it turned out, the FBI gun people may have had a more viable cartridge than the speed-freaks. In a short period of time it became obvious that building a 10 mm pistol involved a good deal more than re-barreling a .45 and fitting a different magazine. Everybody tried it, but the forces at work in the hot-loaded 10 mm ammo made almost all models badly worn in less than a thousand rounds. 

However, the guns that fired “FedLite” seemed to roll on forever. There are still a couple of original-style 10 mm loads made with velocities are in mid-1,100 fps range. Many more loads are made with slower velocities and often times lighter bullets. The trend in 10 mm ammo is pretty much toward the 180 grains and 950 fps of the “FedLite.” At the same time the FBI was working on all of this, Smith & Wesson was also developing another 10 mm cartridge, which was introduced in ’91, called the .40 S&W. In terms of terminal ballistics, the .40 S&W is pretty much the same thing as the 10 mm FedLite.

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9 Responses to 10 mm FedLite

Harry P wrote:
October 26, 2012

“Larry”: With all due respect, and paraphrasing, “Have you ever learned of civility?” or, perhaps, “How to read?” I am more than willing to believe that there are people who know more about any one particular subject than those who might write about it and perhaps that is the case here but even if it is, do you fully understand the subject of this article? It is about a particular load (not a gun), how it came about, what it is today & what it compares to. The Bren Ten is mentioned once but only in an historical context because it is the firearm most closely linked (in most people’s minds) with the development of the original 10mm round. The Smith 1076 is mentioned (also only once) because while it is more closely associated with the FBI’s 10mm load (the actual focus of the article), its problems in that role are often thought to be reason for 10mm’s (not just the FBI concept’s) “failure” to catch on in a bigger way. No other guns are mentioned by name. In that regard, Mr. Clapp states correctly (for the timeframe his article considers: the early 80’s through 1990; Note his article says “91”, which I assume is a misprint for I’m sure that he was at SHOT in 90 when the .40S&W was introduced) that “almost all models” made by “Everybody” became “badly worn” in what (compared to firearms passed from one generation to the next) was a relatively short time. The Glock Model 20 was not around during this period, as I don’t think that it was introduced until ’91 but I am not sure. But I am sure that it was not part of the early days of the cartridge in general or of the FBI project in the late 80’s that is the reason for this article being written. Additionally, in looking at the vast number of past & current handguns discussed in Mr. Clapp’s conventional-length print media articles, I am sure that his not mentioning other models here was also due to the fact that this necessarily shorter, online length piece just doesn’t offer enough space to include them even as an aside.

Larry wrote:
October 25, 2012

Mr. Clapp, have you ever heard of the Glock 20. It is a 10mm pistol that has been around for many years and has no problem digesting tens of thousands of rounds of full power 10mm auto rounds. Its polymer frame and the new Generation 4 double spring result in recoil that is no worse than hot .45 ammo. Honestly, if all you're going to research your subject, including update your knowledge, I think it would be better if you didn't write.

Cal wrote:
October 25, 2012

I wanted more than the 9mm and found a used G-29 an unsuspecting husband bought for his wife. Nope, that didn't work. It does for me. With a Trijicon Red dot sight machined slightly into the slide and suppressor night sights - my progressive bifocals are no longer a hindrance. Fast acquisition and plenty of power. Concealed with a Fricke IWB append. carry and no one will know until they say thank you.

Ed wrote:
October 25, 2012

If you prefer pistol over a revolver an want around 700 ft-lbs energy, consider any .45 H&K loaded with .45 Super rounds.

Mark wrote:
October 25, 2012

It about time an article like this was written. for the longest time I have been telling shooters about the 10mm. Everyone is so enamored by the 45, which never impressed me. The .40 is nasty to shoot; yet much weaker than a 10, which is far more comfortable to shoot in the hottest loads, at least in the EAA models.

Dennis wrote:
October 25, 2012

Pete. If you try a 10MM, you will immdiately know why the 10 is so good.I have 3 different Glock model 20 pistols and I anxioulsy await a new model 20 Gen 4. They work, ( Although not very pretty),they have an incredible range, and they stop what ever they stike. I have compared my Smith & Wesson 4006 (40 S&W) to the 10MM, no contest, the 10 wins.

Joel wrote:
October 25, 2012

One thing to consider is the enormous range of today's 10MM Auto loadings. Factory ammo varies dramatically in power. Hotter loads include those from Double Tap (180 gr claimed @ 1305fps from Glock 20). Lighter loads are also available (PNW Arms 155 gr claimed at 955 fps). This is quite a range of performance, kind of like the difference between a 38 special and a 357 Magnum, but in the same cartridge. So, 10MM users can shoot what they please--hotter loads or lighter ones--before reloading is considered in the mix. I am a 10MM fan and use the lighter loads for casual practice in hopes of extending the life of my Colt Delta Elite.

Gary wrote:
October 21, 2012

There are quite a few manufacturers making 10mm pistols now so maybe they have the longevity thing figured out. But the real story here is that the hot-loaded 10mm is nothing less than a .41 Magnum "Lite." With the 200-grain 10mm capable of 1200 fps and the 210-grain .41 Magnum clocking only one or two hundred fps more, people should recognize just how much gun they have here. Even if you only got a 1,000 rounds or so out of your pistol, that would still allow for load development, sighting-in, and many comforting years of carrying it in dark timber and dark alleys. For those that want a powerful pistol over a powerful revolver, this is what they want and need. But since all the available pistols probably have un-supported chambers, new factory ammo and new-brass handloads would be required for safety. This is as close as we can get to a "Magnum" auto cartridge these days in a regular-size pistol so for those that think the .40 is a little wimpy and the .45 is a little slow, step up to 10mm power. You will never have to play the "am I carrying enough gun" game again.

Pete wrote:
October 20, 2012

Thank you! Your article was very timely for me, as I was thinking of getting a 10mm pistol of some sort...now I am rethinking...if it is not that different than my .40 S&W, why spend the money?