Sabot (firearms)

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Armour-piercing discarding sabot projectile with sabot (left), without sabot (center), and without jacket (right) 24 mm slpprj m49.png
Armour-piercing discarding sabot projectile with sabot (left), without sabot (center), and without jacket (right)
Obus-fleche francais OFL 120 F1.jpg
Sabot separating.gif
Saboted long-rod penetrator projectile before and after launch. The sabot is discarded after launch (right).
.30-06 cartridge with sabot projectile 30-06-sabot.jpg
.30-06 cartridge with sabot projectile

A sabot ( UK: /sæˈb,ˈsæb/ , US: /ˈsb/ ) is a supportive device used in firearm/artillery ammunitions to fit/patch around a projectile, such as a bullet/slug or a flechette-like projectile (such as a kinetic energy penetrator), and keep it aligned in the center of the barrel when fired. It allows a narrower projectile with high sectional density to be fired through a barrel of much larger bore diameter with maximal accelerative transfer of kinetic energy. After leaving the muzzle, the sabot typically separates from the projectile in flight, diverting only a very small portion of the overall kinetic energy.


The sabot component in projectile design is the relatively thin, tough and deformable seal known as a driving band or obturation ring needed to trap propellant gases behind a projectile, and also keep the projectile centered in the barrel, when the outer shell of the projectile is only slightly smaller in diameter than the caliber of the barrel. Driving bands and obturators are used to seal these full-bore projectiles in the barrel because of manufacturing tolerances; there always exists some gap between the projectile outer diameter and the barrel inner diameter, usually a few thousandths of an inch; enough of a gap for high pressure gasses to slip by during firing. Driving bands and obturator rings are made from material that will deform and seal the barrel as the projectile is forced from the chamber into the barrel. Small caliber jacketed bullets do not normally employ driving bands or obturators because the jacket material, for example copper or gilding metal, is deformable enough to serve that function, and the bullet is made slightly larger than the barrel for that purpose, (see full metal jacket bullet and driving band).

Sabots certainly use driving bands and obturators, because the same manufacturing tolerance issues exist when sealing the saboted projectile in the barrel, but the sabot itself is a more substantial structural component of the in-bore projectile configuration (Drysdale 1978). [1] Refer to the two APFSDS (armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot) pictures on the right to see the substantial material nature of a sabot to fill the bore diameter around the sub-caliber arrow-type flight projectile, compared to the very small gap sealed by a driving band or obturator to mitigate what is known classically as windage. More detailed cutaways of the internal structural complexity of advanced APFSDS saboted long rod penetrator projectiles can be found at reference 2. [2]


function of an APFSDS sabot
red: propellant
orange: long rod penetrator
yellow: propellant gases
green: sabot
blue: gun barrel TRESPI-5 APFSDS.PNG
function of an APFSDS sabot
red: propellant
orange: long rod penetrator
yellow: propellant gases
green: sabot
blue: gun barrel

The function of a sabot is to provide a larger bulkhead structure that fills the entire bore area between an intentionally designed sub-caliber flight projectile and the barrel, giving a larger surface area for propellant gasses to act upon than just the base of the smaller flight projectile (Drysdale 1978). Efficient aerodynamic design of a flight projectile does not always accommodate efficient interior ballistic design to achieve high muzzle velocity. This is especially true for arrow-type projectiles, which are long and thin for low drag efficiency, but too thin to shoot from a gun barrel of equal diameter to achieve high muzzle velocity. The physics of interior ballistics demonstrates why the use of a sabot is advantageous to achieve higher muzzle velocity with an arrow-type projectile. Propellant gasses generate high pressure, and the larger the base area that pressure acts upon the greater the net force on that surface. Force, pressure times area, provides an acceleration to the mass of the projectile. Therefore, for a given pressure and barrel diameter, a lighter projectile can be driven from a barrel to a higher muzzle velocity than a heavier projectile. However, a lighter projectile may not fit in the barrel, because it is too thin. To make up this difference in diameter, a properly designed sabot provides less parasitic mass than if the flight projectile were made full-bore, in particular providing dramatic improvement in muzzle velocity for APDS (Armor-piercing discarding sabot) and APFSDS ammunition.

Seminal research on two important sabot configurations for long rod penetrators used in APFSDS ammunition, namely the "saddle-back" and "double-ramp" sabot was performed by the US Army Ballistics Research Laboratory during the development and improvement of modern 105mm and 120mm kinetic energy APFSDS penetrators (Drysdale 1978), permitted by the significant recent advancement in the computerized Finite element method in structural mechanics at that time; and now represents the existing fielded technology standard. (See for example the development of the M829 series of anti-tank projectiles beginning with the base model M829 in the early 1980s, to the recently fielded M829A4 model, employing ever longer "double-ramp" sabots). Upon muzzle exit, the sabot is discarded, and the smaller flight projectile flies to the target with less drag resistance than a full-bore projectile. In this manner, very high velocity and slender, low drag projectiles can be fired more efficiently, (see external ballistics and terminal ballistics). Nevertheless, the weight of the sabot represents parasitic mass that must also be accelerated to muzzle velocity, but does not contribute to the terminal ballistics of the flight projectile. For this reason, great emphasis is placed on selecting strong yet lightweight structural materials for the sabot, and configuring the sabot geometry to efficiently employ these parasitic materials at minimum weight penalty (Drysdale 1978).

Made of some lightweight material (usually high strength plastic in small caliber rifles, (see SLAP Saboted light armor penetrator), shotguns and muzzle loader ammunition; aluminium, steel, and carbon fiber reinforced plastic for modern anti-tank kinetic energy ammunition; and, in classic times, wood or papier-mâché – in muzzle loading cannons). The sabot usually consists of several longitudinal pieces held in place by the cartridge case, an obturator or driving band. When the projectile is fired, the sabot blocks the gas, provides significant structural support against launch acceleration, and carries the projectile down the barrel. When the sabot reaches the end of the barrel, the shock of hitting still air pulls the parts of the sabot away from the projectile, allowing the projectile to continue in flight. Modern sabots are made from high strength aluminum and graphite fiber reinforced epoxy. They are used primarily to fire long rods of very dense materials, such as tungsten heavy alloy and depleted uranium. (see for example the M829 series of anti-tank projectiles).

Sabot-type shotgun slugs were marketed in the United States starting in about 1985. When used with a rifled slug barrel, they offer vastly improved accuracy compared to traditional shotgun slugs. They are now legal for hunting in most U.S. states.


Sabot types:
1. Cup sabot
2. Expanding cup sabot
3. Base sabot
4. Spindle sabot
5. Ring sabot Sabot types.svg
Sabot types:
1. Cup sabot
2. Expanding cup sabot
3. Base sabot
4. Spindle sabot
5. Ring sabot
1. Cup sabot
Delvigne system.jpg
Paixhans Shell and Sabot.jpg
(Left): Lead bullet being supported by a wooden cup sabot in a Delvigne gun
(Right): Sabot shell for an 1824 Paixhans gun
2. Expanding cup sabot
Series of individual 1/1,000,000 second exposures showing shotgun firing shot and expanding cup sabot separation
3. Base sabot
24 mm slpprj m49.png
Swedish 37/24 mm slpprj m/49 APDS round with both ring sabot and base sabot.
4. Spindle sabot
Obus-fleche francais OFL 120 F1.jpg
Sabot separating.gif
(Left): APFSDS long rod penetrator with "saddle-back" sabot
(Right): APFSDS long rod penetrator separating from "double-ramp" sabot
(see Drysdale 1978)
5. Ring sabot
125mm Bm15 APFSDS.JPG
Soviet BM-15 long rod penetrator round with ring sabot

Cup sabot

A cup sabot supports the base and rear end of a projectile, and the cup material alone can provide both structural support and barrel obturation. When the sabot and projectile exit the muzzle of the gun, air pressure alone on the sabot forces the sabot to release the projectile. Cup sabots are found typically in small arms ammunition, smooth-bore shotgun and smooth-bore muzzleloader projectiles.

Expanding cup sabot

Used typically in rifled small arms (SLAP, shotguns and muzzleloaders), an expanding cup sabot has a one piece sabot surrounding the base and sides of a projectile, providing both structural support and obturation. Upon firing, when the sabot and projectile leave the muzzle of the gun, centrifugal force from the rotation of the projectile, due to barrel rifling, opens up the segments surrounding the projectile, rapidly presenting more surface area to air pressure, quickly releasing it.

Although the use of cup sabots of various complexity are popular with rifle ammunition hand-loaders, in order to achieve significantly higher muzzle velocity with a lower drag, smaller diameter and lighter bullet, successful saboted projectile design has to include the resulting bullet stability characteristics. For example, simply inserting a commercially available 5.56mm (.224) bullet into a sabot that will fire it from a commercially available 7.62mm (.300) barrel may result in that 5.56mm bullet failing to achieve sufficient gyroscopic stability to fly accurately without tumbling. To achieve gyroscopic stability of longer bullets in smaller diameter requires faster rifling. [3] Therefore, if a bullet requires at least 1 turn in 7 inch twist, (1:7 rifling), in 5.56mm, it will also require at least 1:7 rifling when saboted in 7.62mm. However, larger caliber commercial rifles generally don't need such fast twist rates; 1:10 being a readily available standard in 7.62mm. As a result, the twist rate of the larger barrel will dictate which smaller bullets can be fired with sufficient stability out of a sabot. In this example, using 1:10 rifling in 7.62mm restricts saboting to 5.56mm bullets that require 1:10 twist or slower, and this requirement will tend to restrict saboting to the shorter (and lighter) 5.56mm bullets.

Base sabot

A base sabot has a one piece base which supports the bottom of the projectile, and separate pieces that surround the sides of the projectile and center it. The base sabot can have better and cleaner sabot/projectile separation than cup or expanding cup sabots for small arms ammunition, but may be more expensive to manufacture and assemble.

In larger caliber APDS ammunition, based on the cup, expanding cup, and base sabot concepts, significantly more complex assemblies are required. Reference 3 presents a cutaway of a modern 105mm APDS Armour-Piercing Discarding Sabot showing its numerous internal parts and sub-assemblies. [4]

Spindle sabot

A spindle sabot uses a set of at least two and upwards of four matched longitudinal rings or "petals" which have a center section in contact with a long arrow-type projectile; a front section or "bore-rider" which centers that projectile in the barrel and provides an air scoop to assist in sabot separation upon muzzle exit, and a rear section which both centers the projectile, provides a structural "bulkhead", and seals propellant gases with an obturator ring around the outside diameter. Spindle sabots are the standard type used in modern large caliber armor-piercing ammunition. Three-petal spindle-type sabots are shown in the illustrations at the right of this paragraph. The "double-ramp" and "saddle-back" sabots used on modern APFSDS ammunition are a form of spindle sabot (Drysdale 1978).

Shotgun slugs often use a cast plastic sabot similar to the spindle sabot. Shotgun sabots in general extend the full length of the projectile and are designed to be used more effectively in rifled barrels.

Ring sabot

A ring sabot uses the rear fins on a long rod projectile to help center the projectile and ride the bore, and the multi-petal sabot forms only a single bulkhead ring around the projectile near the front, with an obturator sealing gases from escaping past it, and centering the front of the projectile. The former Soviet Union favored armor-piercing sabot projectiles using ring sabots, which performed acceptably for that era, manufactured from high strength steel for both the long rod penetrator and ring sabot. The strength of the steel ring was sufficient to withstand launch accelerations without the need for sabot ramps to also support the steel flight projectile. [5]

See also

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Kinetic energy penetrator High density non-explosive projectile

A kinetic energy penetrator is a type of ammunition designed to penetrate vehicle armour using a flechette-like, high-sectional density projectile. Like a bullet, this type of ammunition does not contain explosive payloads and uses purely kinetic energy to penetrate the target. Modern KEP munitions are typically of the armour-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) type.

Bullet Projectile propelled by a firearm, sling, or air gun

A bullet is a kinetic projectile, a component of firearm ammunition that is shot from a gun barrel. The term is from Middle French, originating as the diminutive of the word boulle (boullet), which means "small ball". Bullets are made of a variety of materials, such as copper, lead, steel, polymer, rubber and even wax. Bullets are made in various shapes and constructions, including specialized functions such as hunting, target shooting, training and combat. Bullets are often tapered, making them more aerodynamic. Bullet sizes are expressed by their weights and diameters in both imperial and metric measurement systems. For example: 55 grain .223 caliber bullets are of the same weight and caliber as 3.56 gram 5.56mm caliber bullets. Bullets do not normally contain explosives, but strike or damage the intended target by transferring kinetic energy upon impact and penetration.

Armor-piercing ammunition

Armor-piercing ammunition is a type of projectile designed to penetrate either body armor or vehicle armor.

Rifling Gunsmithing technique

In firearms, rifling is machining helical grooves into the internal (bore) surface of a gun's barrel for the purpose of exerting torque and thus imparting a spin to a projectile around its longitudinal axis during shooting to stabilize the projectile longitudinally by conservation of angular momentum, improving its aerodynamic stability and accuracy over smoothbore designs.

Caliber Internal diameter of the barrel of a gun

In guns, particularly firearms, caliber is the specified nominal internal diameter of the gun barrel bore - regardless of how or where the bore is measured and whether the finished bore matches that specification. It is measured in inches or in millimeters. In the United States it is expressed in hundredths of an inch; in Great Britain in thousandths; in Europe and elsewhere in millimeters. For example, a "45 caliber" firearm has a barrel diameter of roughly 0.45 inches (11 mm). Barrel diameters can also be expressed using metric dimensions. For example, a "9 mm pistol" has a barrel diameter of about 9 millimeters. Due to the fact that metric and US customary units do not convert evenly at this scale, metric conversions of caliber measured in decimal inches are typically approximations of the precise specifications in non-metric units, and vice versa.

Terminal ballistics

Terminal ballistics is a sub-field of ballistics and refers to the behavior and effects of a projectile when it hits and transfers its energy to a target.

Muzzle velocity is the speed of a projectile with respect to the muzzle at the moment it leaves the end of a gun's barrel. Firearm muzzle velocities range from approximately 120 m/s (390 ft/s) to 370 m/s (1,200 ft/s) in black powder muskets, to more than 1,200 m/s (3,900 ft/s) in modern rifles with high-velocity cartridges such as the .220 Swift and .204 Ruger, all the way to 1,700 m/s (5,600 ft/s) for tank guns firing kinetic energy penetrator ammunition. To simulate orbital debris impacts on spacecraft, NASA launches projectiles through light-gas guns at speeds up to 8,500 m/s (28,000 ft/s).

Smoothbore Weapon that has a barrel without rifling

A smoothbore weapon is one that has a barrel without rifling. Smoothbores range from handheld firearms to powerful tank guns and large artillery mortars.

Gun barrel Firearm component which guides the projectile during acceleration

A gun barrel is a crucial part of gun-type ranged weapons such as small firearms, artillery pieces and air guns. It is the straight shooting tube, usually made of rigid high-strength metal, through which a contained rapid expansion of high-pressure gas(es) is used to propel a projectile out of the front end (muzzle) at a high velocity. The hollow interior of the barrel is called the bore, and the diameter of the bore is called its caliber, usually measured in inches or millimetres.

Steyr IWS 2000 Anti-materiel rifle

The Steyr IWS 2000 is an Austrian single-shot bolt-action anti-materiel rifle produced by Steyr Mannlicher. IWS stands for Infantry Weapon System. Like many anti-tank rifles, it is actually a smoothbore weapon and not a true rifle. This can help accelerate projectiles and increase ballistic effectiveness, but the lack of rifling imparting inertial stability requires the projectile to have stabilizing fins. It fires a 15.2×169 mm armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding-sabot round, and is the first man-portable rifle to use this type of ammunition.

Armour-piercing discarding sabot Artillery projectile

Armour-piercing discarding sabot (APDS) is a type of spin-stabilized kinetic energy projectile for anti-armour warfare. It consists of a sub-caliber round outfitted with a sabot to increase velocity compared to a full caliber round by firing a smaller lighter projectile from a relatively larger propellant-charge. The higher velocity gives the round increased penetration against armour. To not break at high speed impacts, APDS rounds traditionally features a hardened core made by tungsten or other hard material.

Internal ballistics, a subfield of ballistics, is the study of the propulsion of a projectile.

Shotgun slug Type of ammunition used mainly in hunting game

A modern shotgun slug is a heavy projectile made of lead, copper, or other material and fired from a shotgun. Slugs are designed for hunting large game, self-defense, and other uses. The first effective modern shotgun slug was introduced by Wilhelm Brenneke in 1898, and his design remains in use today. Most shotgun slugs are designed to be fired through a cylinder bore or an improved cylinder choke, rifled choke tubes, or fully rifled bores. Slugs differ from round-ball lead projectiles in that they are stabilized in some manner.


The M829 is an American armor-piercing, fin-stabilized, discarding sabot (APFSDS) tank round. Modeling was designed at the Ballistic Research Laboratory (BRL) at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), which was incorporated into the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in 1992. The round is specifically modeled for the 120 mm M256 main gun on the Abrams M1A1 and M1A2 main battle tanks. The penetrator is carried by a sabot during its acceleration in the gun barrel.

Sub-caliber round

A sub-caliber round is a round which has a smaller diameter compared to the internal barrel diameter from which it is fired. Firing sub-caliber ammunition has several potential benefits compared to full-caliber ammunition. For example it can allow for much higher muzzle velocities due to smaller lighter rounds being fired from relatively larger propellant charges. It can also lower the cost of ammunition due to less material being used to produce the round compared to a full-caliber round etc.

Armour-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot

Armour-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS), long dart penetrator, or simply dart ammunition, is a type of kinetic energy penetrator ammunition used to attack modern vehicle armour. As an armament for main battle tanks, it succeeds Armour-Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) ammunition, which is still used in small or medium caliber weapon systems.

The following are terms related to firearms and ammunition topics.

The saboted light armor penetrator (SLAP) family of ammunition is designed to penetrate armor more efficiently than standard armor-piercing ammunition. It was developed by the Marine Corps during the mid/late 1980s and was approved for service use in 1990 during Operation Desert Storm. It uses a reduced caliber, heavy metal (tungsten) .30 inch diameter penetrator wrapped in a "plastic" sabot or "shoe" of .50 inch diameter.

Caliber (artillery)

In artillery, caliber or calibre is the internal diameter of a gun barrel, or - by extension - a relative measure of the barrel length.