The Art Of Writing a Wish List – Specifying Firearms And Ammunition Requirements

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Jorma J. Jussila Ph.D.

Writing weapons and ammunition requirement specifications is not as easy as writing to Santa Claus. These papers serve multiple purposes in organizations authorized to use lethal force. Tactical requirements are paramount. From legal and human rights angle the specification must show that constraints are obeyed. Occupational health and safety issues must be taken into account. The requirements must be accompanied by detailed description of verification methods. Special requirements to this documentation stem from the fact that the papers will be used as procurement contract appendixes. It means that the wording must be unambiguous and requirements unequivocally verifiable.

Tactical requirements describe the police tactical issues, concerns and objectives. It should also necessarily also describe in general terms the constraints and objectives set on injury potential to target person, bystander safety and police officer occupational safety. Tactical requirements do not have to be elaborate. They should be written with the objective of conveying the general ideas and principles and at this point avoiding any specific technical statements.

Technical specification describes detailed requirements that must be met to meet the tactical requirements. It also contains forensic, logistic, training and maintenance issues. This document describes what properties must an acceptable product have and what its performance should be. We, however, face a balancing dilemma. How do we establish decision rules that take into account that product A has better precision than B, which in turn has one useful, feature more. Basically, there are two approaches. We can award merit points or set a minimum mandatory level of performance. Merit points make evaluation complicated so one should use it only for the requirements that cannot be properly assessed using mandatory minimums. There is also another problem with merit points. You cannot use them for acceptance inspections of factory deliveries. You still must establish the minimum performance level.

Requirement categorization is important. If all requirements are mandatory, you may receive one or two offers, but some quite acceptable products bail out. What I suggest is that all requirements are assigned one of categories “mandatory”, “important” or “desirable”. Then we say for example, that 100% of “mandatory”, 75% of “important” and 50% of “desirable” requirements must be met. Describe requirements from the perspective of what should be accomplished, not how the product should be built. Avoid describing technical implementation. For example, there is no sense to demand certain type of barrel rifling if what you actually need is good precision. You could again exclude some perfectly good and innovative solutions.

A requirement must be necessary. When categorizing consider what is the worst thing that could happen without the requirement. If you cannot think of anything, don’t make the requirement. If the consequences are only minor, then the requirement may be only desirable.

Requirements must be verifiable. In a tender competition you can use the following options. “Visual inspection” is good for properties that either exist or don’t. “Tender documentation” can be used if you accept manufacturer declaration or third party laboratory report. “Tested” means that you are actually

going to carry out a verification test. In this case the method used should be described in a test methods manual and referred to as “Tested according to manual of test methods MD-A-001 method 32”.

Requirements must be attainable. When defining acceptable performance keep in mind four things.

  1. Do not define excessive performance. You might again unnecessarily exclude perfectly good products. Do your homework to find out what you can reasonably require
  2. Nothing can be produced to absolute dimensions but to certain ± tolerances
  3. Nothing can be measured with absolute precision but with some ± measurement error. Any measurement must be carried out at least 6 times and the mean and standard deviation values used as result. This assures basic statistical confidence. Measurement uncertainty must be considered and used to the advantage of the tendering party.
  4. Even if a requirement is technically feasible, the impact on cost, delivery schedule, logistics and support might become intolerable. The more special a product you require the more alone you will be and the more you limit your own free choice.

Wording is important especially because a majority of buyers and manufacturers do not have English as their native language. Yet English is the “international standard”. The text must be concise and precise. Any requirement must be easy to find, refer to and update. Here are some basic rules and ideas.

  1. Every requirement is given a reference number
  2. If a requirement is mandatory, then it “…must be…”, if important or desirable it “…should be…”. You might even consider simply describing a property: “…standard deviation does not exceed…” and ranking it separately beside the requirement and in the category table.
  3. You may refer to some in-house standard or even a trade name, but if you do, write “…or equivalent…” as you must not give an unfair advantage to any manufacturer.
  4. Do not use ambiguous terms like “easy”, “quick”, “good”, “adequate”, “effective”, “normal”, “if practical” and so on unless you have a specific test to measure the compliance. It must, for example, be easy to disassemble and reassemble a service weapon. We have used user tests for measuring. More about them later.
  5. Use consistent terminology. If you suspect any possibility of misunderstanding, add a dictionary as an appendix explaining what is meant by for instance “circumferential trigger reach”.

Test methods must be repeatable and the results traceable. In case needed you must be able to prove that your instrumentation gives correct readings. The best way to achieve this is have devices calibrated. Here is an example of issues every method description must address.

  1. Scope – what the test is supposed to reveal
  2. Materials and tools – what is needed to run the test
  3. Sampling and test specimen preparation – how large is the sample, how is it picked and conditioned for testing
  4. Method – Step by step description of how the test is done
  5. Sentencing – How the results are interpreted
  6. Reporting – How the results are recorded and reported
  7. Measurement uncertainty – what is the combined precision of measurement instrumentation

Sometimes you have to use people as your “tools”. All people have their preferences and opinions that may subconsciously affect their performance. They are in fact unintentionally trying to prove their preconceived opinion correct. There are ways to overcome that. I’ll give you some examples.

  1. When testing precision of ammunition with your service weapons you naturally use good shooters, but don’t let them see what the ammunition types are. This is called blind test.
  2. When testing ammunition or service weapon precision, reduce the effect of human error. If every shooter fires three five shot targets with each ammunition or weapon type being tested, discard the worst result. Of the remaining two targets discard the worst shot.
  3. If you test handling abilities with service weapon candidates, select at random maybe three instructors and three beginners, maybe from police school. Don’t let them find out what the guns are. When at the shooting range forbid any discussion once you show the weapons. Allow it only after everybody has completed the test. Don’t let them see each other’s performance or results until everything is done. Teach everybody the same manipulation techniques which may naturally differ depending on weapon type.

The properties like ease of handling can be measured using a stopwatch to record for example disassembly and reassembly times. To measure shooting properties you can record result vs. time. Fixed times, like 3 second turns of target, are quite good. It may not be advisable to introduce stressors like Comstock-count (score divided by time) or competition. They measure shooter’s abilities.

Last but not least a word of warning. If your specifications and test methods have some kind of fault, do not expect all manufacturers to correct you or ask what you mean. The reason is that their question and your reply also help the competitors. In case a tender competition is lost the manufacturer may use the weakness in your specifications to take you to court for unfair ruling.

Jorma Jussila is retired from the Finland police where he has worked for 27 years. The last 15 he has acted as a senior advisor on police weapons technology participating in several national and Nordic tender competitions as a specialist and technical writer. While at work Jussila acquired a doctoral degree in wound ballistic simulation and associate professorship in small arms technology. He has also been an active shooter for more than 50 years.