Ammo article


This is an Associated Press article at Yahoo main page. It questions US military use of smaller calibre ammo. Having no combat experience (besides being married) I offer no professional opinion, but still much rather use 7.62x39. … SUzH0DW7oF


The quest for the best caliber goes on :-) As a Korean combat veteran think the 5.56 is not up to street fighting with the type of buildings in Iraq and hopped up enemy. Are there any medical records from the scant use of the 303 “Dum Dum” HP bullets? Of course the reporter writing the article did not know up from down as usual and probably selected his interviewies to get his point across!!



I spent a very long time in the USAF, but that sure doesn’t qualify me as a small arms expert, but I’ll take a shot at this thread to start the conversation.

First data point: When I was in Vietnam in '66 we were issued AR-15s, a fine weapon. The 173rd Airborn on the other side of Bien Hoa carried the M-16 and it was reputed to be a far less reliable weapon than the AR-15, but I have also been told it was the powder in the ammo. Anyway, I met and talked to a lot of those guys and nobody complained about the stopping power of the 5.56 ammo in use at the time. In fact, I heard stories of wounds that were much more deadly than the M14s still carried by a good number of American soldiers at the time. The story was that the 5.56 bullet would tumble in the body causing great damage compared to the 7.62 NATO round of the M14. Other advantages was a much greater combat load (lots more rounds of ammo for the same weight) and the gun was a lot lighter than the M14. The Hawk missile battery at Bien Hoa had the M14 and I had an opportunity to shoot it on a number of occasions. Heavy compared to my AR15, and not as comfortable to shoot semi auto. Second and third shots were slower to get off than with an AR15, particularly if they were aimed. Fully auto the M14 was worthless while the AR15 was relatively easy to control. At the time the people I talked to generally reckoned that the 5.56 was more deadly than the 7.62x39. In fact, the only guys I met who preferred to carry a 7.62x39 caliber weapon were FACs who were issued 5.56 carbines with a loud distinctive sound. The FACs figured if they were on the ground they didn’t want a weapon that sounded so distinctive.

Second data point: Lots of soldiers and others have seen too many movies where a person is shot and falls down dead. It just doesn’t happen that way the majority of the time. I’ve shot a lot of deer and antelope and they don’t fall down dead either most of the time. I used a 303 British Enfield for a while and then a 30-06 Springfield. Made up 7mm Mausers, 6.5mm Mausers and 7.92mm Mausers for friends. Even with Soft Point or HP bullets deer don’t fall down dead, and neither do humans. With a full metal jacket 30-06 or 7.62 NATO, the same applies.

Third data point: in the 1970s the weapon system of the 80s trials led to the original version of the current 5,56 round. To give it more range and make it more approprate for a MGs the bullet was made more stable (so I have been told by a number of the people in the business). The result was to lose the terminal effect of the original 5.56mm loads.

Fourth data point: The Russians were impressed enough with the 5.56mm that they developed a replacement for the 7.62x39mm that looked a lot like the 5.56x45. The big difference is that they kept the focus on the terminal ffectse and the steel tip in the Soviet small caliber bullet is asymetrical so that on impact is moves slightly forward and causes the bullet to tumble, retaining the wound effects of the old version of the 5.56 (so I am told).

I think the 5.56, with the original terminal ballistics, is a damn good general infantry cartridge and we need to modify the current version to recapture the terminal effect of the old cartridges. Paired with the 7.62x51mm in the M60 it was a deadly combination. The 5.56mm squad level MGs have apparently left lots to be desired from some of the current reports and soldier surveys I’ve read that the Army has run. Bottom line- NATO Standardization and rule by committee screwed up a perfectly good infantry cartridge.

I also hear that the extremely long ranges in Afganistan really require something in a squad with more long range capability than the 5.56. If we had M60 out there in quantity we would have less of a problem but the SAW just won’t reach out and touch people effectively at these ranges, often shooting up hill. I know the SOF guys have looked at something in 7mm with less energy than the 7.62 NATO but a lot more energy and range than the 5.56. In fact, the round sounds a lot like the British 280/30 that US politics tubed in the 1950s in favor of the 7.62x51mm.

Bottom line is that no cartirdge is ideal in all combat situations. Each cartridge has to be weighed based on its range and flight ballistics, terminal effects and logistics impacts including the combat load for the soldier. I agree that today’s 5.56 load isn’t what we need for an infantry cartridge, but the article is simplistic and returning to the 7.62 NATO as the standard infantry cartridge is stupid. The article is what I’ve come to expect from the press, shallow and stupid, and I am seldom surprised by what the press produces.

I started out by saying I’m not an expert in this area, but am a good listener. Others will disagree with what I have said and I look forward to hearing what they have to say.




Happy Memorial Day, LEW & Guord! The holiday was made for men like you. Really interesting information. Extreme knowlege!



My 2 pence worth.

The only advantage I think small calibre ammunition has is it’s lower recoil should make it easier to make better shots out of the soldier although it is true that a hit on an enemy with a small cal bullet is better then a miss by a larger cal bullet.

In my personal experience I’ve always carried the largest most powerful cal weapon the Army could give me, but then I think we should still be using .577 as the basic rifle calibre…full auto anyone ;-)


I think the whole point of the smaller calibers today comes down to 2 main factors: Lighter weight to carry more cartridges, and also the “tumbling” effect that modern bullets have after initial penetration. The Russian’s 5.45x39 WASP bullet with the air cavity in front of the steel penetrator was designed for just this, and the tumbling effect that these small bullets have inside a target equals that of other HP bullets (which are banned for military use most places due to Geneva convention of course). So as long as the soldier is carrying many more cartridges, and as long as the bullets behave the way they should after initial penetration, they should be fine with smaller calibers. I will say though, that the steel core AK 7.62x39’s and NATO 7.62x51’s still can’t be beat as far as penetration when it comes to trees and construction material, and so for shooting through junk they are still a fine choice. The bottom line is that there is no jack-of-all trades caliber for every single situation, there is always a give and take with features.


Lew - while the M60 is not in big supply anywhere in the Army, I think that in Afghanistan, like everywhere else in the Army, the FN GPMG 7.62 x 51mm is in service, and is a better gun than the M60 ever was, although a lot of improvement has been made in the M60, mostly by private, civilian companies, I believe, in the years since VN. The 7.62 x 51 is a very hard cartridge to beat when everything is considered, but I will admit that Lew is correct in saying that it would be, at this point, silly to go back to it as the standard infantry rifle cartridge. I hope they continue to retain it as a machinegun cartridge, though. Everything I have heard about the FN Minima being used in 5.56mm by the US has run from “mediocre” to “bad”. A couple of friends who have done tours in Iraq have said it is useless to even try to use the M16 magazine feature on it. I admit that I would love a chance to fire one, under a lot of conditions (as long as no one is shooting back at me. Slow, 68 year old fat men make easy targets) so that I could form my own opinion, as in principle, I think the format of the gun is excellent.

I have also heard, and television news photos seem to confirm it, that the M14 - a great rifle in my opinion - is making somewhat of a comeback, with many being pulled out of storage and issued for special ops purposes.

A recent show on the History Channel showed some firing with the AK-74. The bullet would not penetrate a both sides of a hollow cement building block, penetrating the front side and basically disintegrating on the inner side of the rear portion of the block, without going through. The 7.62 x 39 broke the block in half. So, although it has wound ballistics approximately equal to the original .223, the penetration of the 5.45 x 40 seems to be very, very poor in hard materials.

All of these rounds are lethal, and I agree with Lew entirely in that no one cartridge is perfect for all conditions. I’ll go one step farther and say that no one load (in ball and AP ammunition - am not talking about tracer, incendiary, etc.) in any given caliber is perfect for all conditions. Any hunter knows that.

By the way, Lew, just as a side note to what you said about the 173rd Airborne, a dear friend and high school class mate of mine, who went on to West Point and did a couple of tours in VN in the real thick of combat, was on Okinawa where they received their first M16s, before going on to RVN. They had a chance to really learn the weapon and find out its strengths and weaknesses before going in country to combat with it. They learned that like any military weaon - yes, even the Kalahnikoff (a customer once brought a civilian AK into us with the piston rusted to the gas housing fixture at the front of the gas tube - you couldn’t even retract the bolt) - it had to be cleaned once in a while. He reported that they had no significant problems with the M16 in combat, unlike many other units, and that is a matter of Congressional record, as well. It is called “weapons discipline.” They had the early cartridges, also, of course, and while they were not ideal. a lot of the problem with the M16 not only stemed from powder its system was not designed for, but also a lack of cleaning materials in the hands of troops (the Army’s problem) and poor weapons discipline among the troops in some units (a unit commander’s problem). During the VN war, two items we sold the most to guys doing repeat tours in VN were cleaning supplies for .22 rifles, and the little Colt 3X scope!


For those interested in the many trade-offs related to the adoption of the various cartridges and weapons used by most military forces today— I highly recommend Tony Williams book on Assault Rifles.

Bottom line is that no single weapon/ammo combination will satisfy every perceived need (or every soldier or reporter), or tactical scenario.

Read the book. And, I highly recommend Tony’s other books too, which cover the similiar dilemmas encountered with aircraft weapons and ammunition, as well as medium and larger caliber guns for armored vehicles, aircraft or ships.

Of course, a reporter cannot be bothered to read expert analysis like that, as it may interfere with their making a point which may driven more by political point of view than ballistics.


I finally took time to read the article referenced on this thread. In actuality, the article is not bad at all - well researched and in my opinion, pretty accurate. Two men interviewed, who I a privileged to personally know, Dr. (Colonel) Marty Fackler and Gary Roberts, a former Navy Officer who worked often with Dr. Fackler at the Letterman Army Institute of Research, Letterman General Army Hospital, Presidio of San Francisco, California (when it was still a military post and LAIR existed), are top men in the field of wound ballistics. Their tests at LAIR pretty much confirmed what Lew and others said here about the “new” 5.56 round, using the Belgian SS109 type projectile - good on penetration, not so good on wound ballistics, but not too bad out of the M16A2 rifle.

The key to that is the rifle. One of the culprits is not the cartridge itself, but rather the increased issue of the M4 carbine, a nifty little personal defense version of the M16A2 (I guess there is an A3 version now, too), but in my opinion, and that of many others, not a suitable replacement, with its 14.5" barrel, for the 20"-barreled M16 rifle. It was the opinion of Dr. Fackler that the M4 reduced the wound-ballistics capability of the 5.56 cartirdge down to about 150 to 175 meters for maximum performance. Unlike with pistol ammunition, where high velocity and light bullets can be a detriment in fight-stopping capability, velocity does count in rifle ammunition, especially with the current diminutive calibers. They were made to perform well at the 3000 +/- fps level. When that leveel is reduced due to shortening of barrels, their combat effectiveness at all but short ranges is reduced along with it.

I, personally, don’t think we need a new caliber, but if the tehnology exists, we definitely need a new loading if the M4 carbine is going to continue to replace the full-sized M16 rifle among first-line infantry troops. I know they all like the reduced weight and size, and that in house fighting these have an advantage of their own, but as an overall infantry “rifle” the M4 is, in my opinion, a poor choice over the full-length M16. This is probably magnified in terrain like Afghanistan’s, where I imagine fighting distances can be long, judging from early photos I have seen of the Muhadjadeen engaging soviet troops at distance that appeared to be in excess of 500 meters. Having never been in that part of the world, for which I am thankful, I cannot say for sure, of course.