The U.S. Army is on the verge of retiring the Vietnam-era 5.56-millimeter caliber bullet.
The Army believes the older bullet has insufficient range, armor penetrating power.
The new bullet and gun combination will shoot farther, penetrate thicker armor, and weigh less, likely involving new technologies to help the service reach its goals.
The U.S. Army is finally poised to field a new bullet designed to penetrate body armor at greater ranges. The new round is part of an overall shift towards big power warfare, where combat against adversaries such as the Chinese or Russian armies could lead to soldiers squaring off with enemies fielding the latest body armor. The new 6.8 millimeter round will arm the new Next Generation Squad Weapons, the upcoming replacements for the M4A1 carbine and M249 squad automatic weapon.
In 1965 the U.S. Army began purchasing M16 rifles. The M16 was lighter than existing rifles and used a lighter 5.56-millimeter (.223 inch) caliber bullet. Although the new bullet was smaller it had less recoil, making it more controllable during full automatic fire. It was also lighter, enabling soldiers to carry more bullets per pound than the older 7.62-millimeter round.
The U.S. Army believes the 5.56-millimeter caliber is slowly growing obsolete. Today’s M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round, or “green tip ammo,” is designed to penetrate body armor while still causing incapacitating wounds. Performance is mixed, with reports that the new M855A1 round tumbles requires a greater travel distances within the human body to begin tumbling. The service believes that the 5.56 caliber is pretty much maxed out and it needs a new round to overmatch future body armors.
According to Military.com the Army is settling on a new, slightly larger caliber: 6.8-millimeter (.267 inch). A new, larger diameter cartridge could pack more gunpowder in the casing, creating greater chamber pressures in pounds per square inch to drive a bullet downrange. This in turn means a higher velocity bullet and a greater ability to penetrate steel, ceramic, and other armors.
The 6.8-millimeter bullet is reportedly very similar to the M855A1, consisting of a “consisting of an exposed steel penetrator that sits on top of a copper slug and is partially encased in a copper jacket.” The bullet is designed for speed and armor penetration, meaning features such as a hollow point for wound channel expansion, explosive tips, or any exotic gimmick is out of the question.
Exactly how that bullet is integrated into the gun differs among the three companies--General Dynamics/True Velocity, Textron, and Sig Sauer competing for the Next Generation Squad Weapons contract. The Army is demanding that each new 6.8 round weigh 30 percent less than a traditional brass cased round. The General Dynamics/True Velocity system replaces the brass shell casing with a lighter composite. Textron uses a so-called cased telescoped round, in which the bullet is encased in a lightweight plastic casing. Sig Sauer is going with a hybrid brass and steel casing.
The U.S. Army plans to equip its first combat unit with the new bullet in 2023.
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