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Getting the lead out - Memorial Day, 2014

The M855A1 complete cartridge, and two-piece bullet
The M855A1 complete cartridge, and two-piece bullet
Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army

Major John Plaster, the guy who literally wrote the book on sniping, has an excellent piece in the June 2014 issue of The American Rifleman on the M855A1 ball cartridge. This new cartridge was the eventual result of the Department of Defense (DOD) effort to "go green". As Plaster reports,

Various Army institutions initially emphasized the bullet’s environmental impact . . . This program aspired solely, “to annually eliminate 2000 metric tons of hazardous material,” and that, alone. Army reports abound with terms such as “environmentally friendly,” and, “the Army’s commitment to environmental stewardship.” The M855A1’s development was even called a “moral obligation” in the Army’s 2010 Life Cycle Environmental Assessment. . . . Accuracy was not an issue until well into the cartridge’s final development. Despite America’s military forces being seven years into war, a 2008 PowerPoint briefing listed the M855A1’s first consideration as “Environmental Compliance. . . "

Reading Plaster's report reminds us that -

  • DOD policies don't always prioritize on the well-being of the individual troop in the field; as Plaster indicates, going green was more important that accuracy.
  • DOD policies have put some unknown number of troops unnecessarily into an early grave. For more on this, study the early history of the M16 rifle or the Chauchat machine gun.

The 5.56mm M16 rifle, after overcoming initial problems with malfunctioning,

the rifle was initially delivered without adequate cleaning supplies or instructions and so, when the M16 reached Vietnam with U.S. troops in March 1965, reports of stoppages in combat began to surface.

proved to be a very potent man stopper, because it fired a (M193, 55 gr) projectile that was 'stable enough' in the air at the short ranges it was used at in Vietnam. Then, when the bullet hit the enemy, it started yawing, and sometimes fragmented, creating a large wound channel, thus usually incapacitating the enemy quickly.

After that, the M16A2 was adopted with the M855, 62 gr projectile. According to Plaster, these were optimized for a 1:9 twist. But the M856 Tracer round required a 1:7 twist for best accuracy. This reduced the effectiveness of the M855 projectile, because it tended to punch an 'ice pick' hole through the enemy, doing little tissue damage, and with resultant failure to incapacitate the enemy quickly. This lack of effect was reported in Black Hawk Down (remember, in a gunfight, the first priority is to take your assailant out of the fight. Whether or not he dies, is of secondary importance).

Plaster reports that the new ammo begins to yaw in less than one inch, and thus should produce the desired tissue damage against the enemy, while providing better penetration (than the M855) against hard targets. It looks like, after many millions of dollars, they got this one right.

GI's go off to war. Given the proper training and tools, they win again and again against all sorts of enemies. Some of them always die in the process. Such is war.

But, this Memorial Day, as we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, "going green", and fielding untested weaponry are not acceptable reasons for their deaths.

May God give peace and comfort to those who have lost loved ones in the service of our great nation.


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A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences. Proverbs 22:3 (NLT)

Disclaimer: The information and ideas presented in this column are provided for informational purposes only. Firearms, like cars, kitchen knives and life itself all can be dangerous. You should get professional training as part of any plan to use firearms for any purpose. I have made a reasonable, good-faith effort to assure that the content of this column is accurate. I have no control over what you do, and specifically accept no responsibility for anything you do as a result of reading my columns. Any action or lack of action on your part is strictly your responsibility.

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