Posted : Sunday Jun 6, 2010
LONDON — Britain has joined a search for a better-performing 5.56mm bullet, contracting with supplier BAE Systems, which intends to deliver 1 million rounds of a new ammunition to the Ministry of Defence for testing by year’s end.
The high-performance ammunition offers better range and lethality, and has the bonus of being lead-free, making it environmentally friendly for use during training exercises.
The British are following in the footsteps of the Pentagon, which is now starting to field deadlier ammunition amid concerns that the NATO-standard SS109 bullet — known as the M855 in U.S. military service — is not effective against adversaries such as the Taliban at anything but short range.
In March, Army Times reported U.S. troops’ complaints that the M855 was ineffective against “barriers such as car windshields and often travels right through unarmored insurgents with less than lethal effects.”
British troops use the 5.56mm rounds in SA80A2 assault rifles and light machine guns.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence purchased more than 400 7.62mm rifles from U.S. company Law Enforcement International as an urgent operational requirement to allow troops to fight Taliban insurgents at longer ranges than the standard 5.56mm weapon.
Yet both BAE and MoD spokesmen denied that their work on a new round is related to the current war.
A BAE spokesman said the development of its new round is not related to “operations in Afghanistan, although it does make progression of development at a good speed more desirable.”
A company executive said the round will offer “improved lethality against unprotected targets and improved effectiveness against light vehicle targets.”
One industry executive said the standard round would likely become increasingly ineffective if used against conventional troops wearing body armor.
An MoD spokesman said the BAE work was nothing to do with Afghanistan and was part of a continuous ongoing development program for small-arms ammunition.
“We work closely with industry to ensure there is a continuous process of improving and upgrading our equipment. Our troops in Afghanistan are provided with a range of weapons they can use when fighting the Taliban.”
The MoD is having the new ammunition subjected to detailed independent analysis by defense research company QinetiQ.
BAE, which has a 15-year contract with the MoD to supply the bulk of its munitions requirements under a deal known as the Munitions Acquisition Supply Solution, is spending 83 million pounds ($121 million) to expand and modernize its Radway Green, England, small-arms ammunition plant. The refurbished plant will be able to produce more than 300 million rounds of small-arms ammunition a year.
Current annual production is around 200 million rounds split roughly 70-30 in favor of 5.56mm over 7.62mm. The company says it will switch all of its 5.56mm production over to the new round if the high-performance ammunition is adopted by the armed forces here.
The new technology replaces the traditional steel tip and lead core with a single steel core, while retaining the gilding metal envelope.
Work is currently being undertaken by BAE to produce the new round. A low-rate production batch of 1 million rounds is scheduled for delivery to the MoD around the end of the year.
The spokesman said that if development of the new 5.56mm round is successful, the company would consider undertaking similar work for its 7.62mm ammunition.
In the meantime, the new development closes the performance gap between the two calibers while retaining the benefits of the smaller, lighter 5.56mm weapon, he said.