Ballistics (from the Gr. βάλλειν, to throw), the science of throwing warlike missiles or projectiles. It is now divided into two parts: - Exterior Ballistics, in which the motion of the projectile is considered after it has received its initial impulse, when the projectile is moving freely under the influence of gravity and the resistance of the air, and it is required to determine the circumstances so as to hit a certain object, with a view to its destruction or perforation; and Interior Ballistics, in which the pressure of the powder-gas is analysed in the bore of the gun, and the investigation is carried out of the requisite charge of powder to secure the initial velocity of the projectile without straining the gun unduly. The calculation of the stress in the various parts of the gun due to the powder pressure is dealt with in the article Ordnance.

I. Exterior Ballistics.

In the ancient theory due to Galileo, the resistance of the air is ignored, and, as shown in the article on Mechanics (§ 13), the trajectory is now a parabola. But this theory is very far from being of practical value for most purposes of gunnery; so that a first requirement is an accurate experimental knowledge of the resistance of the air to the projectiles employed, at all velocities useful in artillery. The theoretical assumptions of Newton and Euler (hypotheses magis mathematicae quam naturales) of a resistance varying as some simple power of the velocity, for instance, as the square or cube of the velocity (the quadratic or cubic law), lead to results of great analytical complexity, and are useful only for provisional extrapolation at high or low velocity, pending further experiment.

The foundation of our knowledge of the resistance of the air, as employed in the construction of ballistic tables, is the series of experiments carried out between 1864 and 1880 by the Rev. F. Bashforth, B.D. (Report on the Experiments made with the Bashforth Chronograph, etc., 1865-1870; Final Report, etc., 1878-1880; The Bashforth Chronograph, Cambridge, 1890). According to these experiments, the resistance of the air can be represented by no simple algebraical law over a large range of velocity. Abandoning therefore all a priori theoretical assumption, Bashforth set to work to measure experimentally the velocity of shot and the resistance of the air by means of equidistant electric screens furnished with vertical threads or wire, and by a chronograph which measured the instants of time at which the screens were cut by a shot flying nearly horizontally. Formulae of the calculus of finite differences enable us from the chronograph records to infer the velocity and retardation of the shot, and thence the resistance of the air.

As a first result of experiment it was found that the resistance of similar shot was proportional, at the same velocity, to the surface or cross section, or square of the diameter. The resistance R can thus be divided into two factors, one of which is d2, where d denotes the diameter of the shot in inches, and the other factor is denoted by p, where p is the resistance in pounds at the same velocity to a similar 1-in. projectile; thus R = d2p, and the value of p, for velocity ranging from 1600 to 2150 ft. per second (f/s) is given in the second column of the extract from the abridged ballistic table below.

These values of p refer to a standard density of the air, of 534.22 grains per cubic foot, which is the density of dry air at sea-level in the latitude of Greenwich, at a temperature of 62° F. and a barometric height of 30 in.

But in consequence of the humidity of the climate of England it is better to suppose the air to be (on the average) two-thirds saturated with aqueous vapour, and then the standard temperature will be reduced to 60° F., so as to secure the same standard density; the density of the air being reduced perceptibly by the presence of the aqueous vapour.

It is further assumed, as the result of experiment, that the resistance is proportional to the density of the air; so that if the standard density changes from unity to any other relative density denoted by τ, then R = τd2p, and τ is called the coefficient of tenuity.

The factor τ becomes of importance in long range high angle fire, where the shot reaches the higher attenuated strata of the atmosphere; on the other hand, we must take τ about 800 in a calculation of shooting under water.

The resistance of the air is reduced considerably in modern projectiles by giving them a greater length and a sharper point, and by the omission of projecting studs, a factor κ, called the coefficient of shape, being introduced to allow for this change.

For a projectile in which the ogival head is struck with a radius of 2 diameters, Bashforth puts κ = 0.975; on the other hand, for a flat-headed projectile, as required at proof-butts, κ = 1.8, say 2 on the average.

For spherical shot κ is not constant, and a separate ballistic table must be constructed; but κ may be taken as 1.7 on the average.

Lastly, to allow for the superior centering of the shot obtainable with the breech-loading system, Bashforth introduces a factor σ, called the coefficient of steadiness.

This steadiness may vary during the flight of the projectile, as the shot may be unsteady for some distance after leaving the muzzle, afterwards steadying down, like a spinning-top. Again, σ may increase as the gun wears out, after firing a number of rounds.

Collecting all the coefficients, τ, κ, σ, into one, we put

(1) R = nd2p = nd2f(v), where

(2) n = κ σ τ,

and n is called the coefficient of reduction.

By means of a well-chosen value of n, determined by a few experiments, it is possible, pending further experiment, with the most recent design, to utilize Bashforth's experimental results carried out with old-fashioned projectiles fired from muzzle-loading guns. For instance, n = 0.8 or even less is considered a good average for the modern rifle bullet.