Jul 13, 2010

Corps takes a new look at green bullet

By Dan Lamothe and Matthew Cox
Posted : Monday Jul 12, 2010

The Marine Corps intends to purchase 1.8 million rounds of the Army’s new green bullet in addition to the millions of U.S. Special Operations Command cartridges already downrange as the service looks to find the best replacement for its Cold War-era ammo.
The new environmentally friendly M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round is on the way to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, Army officials said, with about 1 million rounds arriving soon. The updated 5.56mm round is touted as more effective than old M855 ammunition and, in some cases, 7.62mm rounds currently in use.
The new M855A1 will be used by the Army to replace the Cold War-era M855 round, which was developed in the 1970s and approved as an official NATO round in 1980. In recent years, troops have widely criticized it, saying it is ineffective against barriers such as car windshields and often travels right through unarmored insurgents, with less-than-lethal effects.
The Army plans to buy about 200 million rounds of the new ammunition over the next 12 to 15 months, Army officials said late last month. The announcement came 11 months after the service had to halt the program when the M855A1 lead-free slug failed to perform under high temperatures.
The lead-free M855A1 is more dependable than the current M855 and delivers consistent performance at all distances, Army officials said. It performed better than the current-issue 7.62mm round against hardened steel targets in testing, penetrating æ-inch-thick steel at ranges approaching 400 meters, tripling the performance of the M855, Army officials said.
“For hardened steel, it is definitely better than the 7.62mm round,” said Chris Grassano, who runs the Army’s Project Manager Maneuver Ammunition Systems.
The Corps had planned to field the Army’s M855A1 until the program suffered a major setback in August 2009, when testing revealed that some of the bullets did not follow their trajectory or intended flight path. The bismuth-tin slug proved to be sensitive to heat, prompting Marine officials to choose the enhanced Special Operations Science and Technology round developed by U.S. Special Operations Command instead. Commonly known as SOST ammo, the bullet isn’t environmentally friendly, but it offered the Corps a better bullet after the Army’s M855A1 round failed. Marine infantrymen began using it in Afghanistan this spring.
The Army has replaced the bismuth-tin slug in its new round with a copper one, solving the bullet’s problems, Army officials said. More than 500,000 rounds have been fired in testing.
With the improvements to the lead-free round, the Corps is again considering it as a long-term replacement for the old M855 bullet, said Capt. Geraldine Carey, a spokeswoman for Marine Corps Systems Command, based at Quantico, Va. The Corps already has bought 4.5 million cartridges of SOST ammo as “interim enhanced capability,” but also will receive 1.8 million rounds of the new Army bullet in July, she said. A decision to field the new M855A1 bullet will be based on how well it does in additional testing. Either way, the Corps plans to continue replacing the older M855 round.
The SOST bullet weighs 62 grains and has a lead core with a solid copper shank. It is considered a variation of Federal Cartridge Co.’s Federal Trophy Bonded Bear Claw round, which was developed for big-game hunting and is touted in a company news release for its ability to crush bone. It uses an open-tip match round design common with sniper ammunition, provides Marines deadlier ammunition with more stopping power, and stays on target through windshields and car doors better than conventional M855 ammo.
The new Army round also weighs 62 grains and has a 19-grain steel penetrator tip, 9 grains heavier than the tip on old M855 ammo. Seated behind the penetrator is a solid copper slug.
Unlike the old M855 round, the M855A1 is designed for use in the M4 carbine, which has a 14.5-inch barrel, compared with the M16’s 20-inch barrel. The propellant has been tailored to reduce the muzzle flash of the M4, but it also works in the M16A4 and other rifles chambered for 5.56mm ammunition.

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